Back Porch Mary: Four Guys Against The World
“If you miss these road dogs when they come to town, you’re an asshole.”
Well, that pretty much says it all. Yep, leave it up to Cody Braun from Reckless Kelly to provide us with an unvarnished opinion of the musical force that is Austin’s very own Back Porch Mary. Some folks call their music “high octane alt-country”, but no matter. The quartet simply calls it rock ‘n roll, with generous doses of Black Label Society, Hank Williams, and Dwight Yoakum added to the brew. And don’t forget the Steve Earle with some Social Distortion thrown in as an exclamation.
Whatever the title, vocalist Mike Krug, guitarist Slim, bassist Joe Miller, and drummer Ryan Kyle have developed a rabid following throughout the country on the heels of a relentless touring schedule, and following the release of “Time of the Broken Heart”, the band’s latest CD, they continue to make the road their home away from home.
At the helm of Back Porch Mary stands Kansas native Mike Krug. A plain-spoken Midwesterner, Krug shoots straight and never blinks when volunteering an opinion. On this day, he discusses, among other topics, Slash from Guns ‘N Roses, fans who burn copies of his band’s CDs, and being a beer snob.
Let’s say A&E wants to do a reality show on Back Porch Mary. They follow you around for a couple of weeks. What will we learn about all of you?
I think everyone would learn how intense it is to be around us. It would make a good reality show, that’s for sure. It would never be boring, there would be a lot going on. There would be a lot of intense situations.
You’ve mentioned intensity a couple of times. Talk about that for a moment.
Well, we got together as a band because we were just really tired of dealing with the normal musician mentality of expecting things to be handed to you and not really being willing to work hard. We wanted to make what we do the primary focus, so we work on it really hard and run our little ship with military precision, and we’re not the normal band in that respect. There’s nothing lackadaisical about what we do, that’s for sure. It’s all very intense, and it moves along in a surprising military maneuver rate.
It sounds as if the band has created a plan to achieve success.
We approach everything with a plan, from our touring vehicle, to equipment, to getting to shows and what we want to accomplish. We’re very goal-oriented and we talk about things all the time, from changing the show to making things different. We just always try to get better all the time.
Communication between band members sounds very important to you.
Everyone in the band is an equal partner and we communicate all the time. Everyone puts in their two cents, and it’s amazing how much we normally agree. We’re all headed in the same direction and that’s why I think we’ve been together so long. We talk and everyone’s opinion matters. Everyone has something that they do well, their role in the group, and we’re all comfortable with it. I’m the songwriter, organizer-guy. Most of the song ideas come from me, as well as the direction we’re going. I’m kinda like the General. Slim, our guitar player, he’s the producer. He takes my ideas and makes them happen. Joe, our bass player, does whatever needs to be done and he dives in and contributes wherever you need him. Finally, Ryan is our public figure. He’s really good with people. The rhythm section is really good at doing whatever’s required.
Reading your bio, it seems that BPM is composed of four very different people, but you obviously make it work.
I think it’s just being respectful of everyone and what they want out of music. People change members in bands all the time, but the bands that have been around forever and are really successful are bands that have had the same guys. They just keep playing and doing the same thing together.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about the music business?
It happened when I visited with Slash. I met him and we had a nice conversation. Walking away, I carried his advice into my own career, and that helped guide what it is that I do today. Up until the time I met him, I was way more in line with the fame he had achieved. When you’re a little kid you think about being famous or selling millions of records, that’s the goal. But when I sat down and talked to him, he spoke to me as a peer and he was just another guitar player. His attitude was that he just did what he did and he got really lucky. He told me he’d be doing it if he made any money or no money at all, and he told me that you just have to keep playing and doing what you do. I thought that was really cool.
How did the two of you meet?
We were playing with them, and after we played, his guitar tech said, “Hey, he watched you play, and he’d really like to say hi to you.” So, I went up on the bus and was scared to death. He invited me to sit down, and we just talked. He told me how lucky he was to be in the position he was in and how much he loved playing guitar. He was just so genuine about his love of music. He was playing a little club with his solo band and there were probably 400 people there, but he was playing as if there were 60,000. He’s one of my heroes and was just so nice to me. Sometimes it can be dangerous to meet one of your heroes, because what if they’re a jerk or something? But I couldn’t have scripted that to go better with him.
Speaking of Slash, Guns ‘N Roses have a new album out.
It’s weird. To have one guy…it’s like if Robert Plant went out and called himself Led Zeppelin. Without the rest of the guys it’s really not Led Zeppelin. It’s like Mick Jagger touring and calling himself the Stones, with no Stones. I’m just a real big band guy. I love bands and the camaraderie. I love having a band name and being all for one, you know, like these guys against the world.
Talk more about the camaraderie you enjoy so much.
You know what? I’ve played music with so many different people, and when you’re friends with people and have a vested interest in them as people, it makes the music better. In our band, we’re family. My guys know they can call me up and they know they can count on me for anything, and I can do the same to them. It doesn’t end with our musical life. We help each other out all the time with different things. When we have a day off, everyone comes over to the house and we’ll have a barbeque. Everyone brings their girlfriends and we all hang out.
Does anyone have a job outside of the band?
No one has a day job. We live in Austin, Texas, and everyone but our drummer Ryan owns a home. We do things on the side. I may go play guitar on someone’s record and get paid. When you’re not on the road you have to fill the time and pay an extra bill or two. Everyone has stuff that they do but none of us have what you might call “a job.”
What went through your mind when holding “Time of the Broken Heart” for the first time?
I couldn’t believe that we did it. It seemed like a miracle. That was a very, very difficult record from start to finish. Going through a divorce, writing all the songs, that was the hardest part, along with the amount of time it took. It was a real chaotic time, and it was strange, because we were on the road all the time, and then we’d come home and we’d have to record. Then we’d record and go back out, then come back…it was really hard.
What is the ideal way for you to record?
Set up the mikes and record a show. I’m not a fan of the recording studio. Slim, our guitar player, he loves it. I don’t. I don’t like the process. I want it to be done. I can hear it in my head, and I know what we have to do, but I just don’t like the process. It’s really difficult for me to stay on task. The reason that Slim produced this record and the last three records is that he knows how to do that stuff. The reason he’s in charge is because he has the patience to sit there and make sure everything gets done right. There’s a lot of repetition in the studio, and even though I’m always excited to do what I’m supposed to do, I want it all right then.
What causes your fans to tell their friends, “You’ve got to come with me tonight and see Back Porch Mary”?
It’s probably the musicianship. The guys are really great players. You have the upright bass and a great Telecaster player. We have cool songs and our show is different than any other band shows in the Americana scene. We don’t just stand there and stare at our shoes, it’s an event.
Given the knowledge you’ve gained from years of playing, what advice do you give to the person who wants to start a band?
First, do the search to find the right guys, and if someone doesn’t feel right or it doesn’t seem like it’s going to work, move on. Make sure you find that core group of guys and work on that, even though it may take awhile. Then, go out and do shows to find out what you’re all about. Just play, play, play and don’t worry about what your band’s name is. Just really work hard at playing together. I see a lot of bands live and I hear a lot of records, and I’m amazed at the fact that these bands don’t play very well together. They don’t seem like they’re listening well to each other, they don’t seem like a cohesive unit. To this day, we have band practices with a click track, and we sit there and go over and over stuff, so we’re really tight. Everyone listens and really works at that, and I think a lot of bands miss out on that. Don’t worry about getting your first gig, just rehearse, please! Don’t worry about getting your t-shirts printed, just become a solid band. Write songs, and don’t be afraid to rewrite those songs. Always work on the songwriting aspect. Figure out your strengths. If you have a bad-ass guitar player, showcase that, make sure you can fit that in. Make sure your drummer and bass player are playing well together. I see a lot of bands that aren’t tight, they aren’t together. It’s all about fundamental band practice that you have to work on. Then the other stuff, like girls, t-shirts, and beer will come.
In the future, how do you see music getting from artist to fans?
Just on the Internet, and at live shows. I think instead of CDs, you’ll come out to our live show, hand me your iPod, I’ll stick my USB cord in it, and boom, I’ll download the new CD into it. Then, you’ll say, “Here’s five bucks. Thanks!” People will show up with their iPhone, which will be their phone, music player, and everything else, and we’ll load up it with our songs right from the merch booth. If you want tonight’s show, cool, we’ll put it in there for you also. It’ll definitely be what happens. I’ll just shoot the songs right into your player.
So, a guy walks up to you at a show and says, “Hey, a buddy of mine just gave me a copy of ‘Time of the Broken Heart’.” What’s your response to the fan?
My response? “Kick-ass. Do you like it?”
It’s almost like the music is an advertisement for you.
There will always be people that buy music and it will always happen. I don’t see it as something that will be free. But, it has become something that more people are getting for free. If people get a burned CD, I think it’s cool, because they come to the show and buy a t-shirt. It doesn’t bother me at all when someone burns a CD and gives it to a friend, because then the person listens to it for a couple of weeks, then says, “Hey, I want to go see these guys and I want to buy their old CDs.” I’ve been ripped off way more by bar owners than our own fans.
When reading your bio, the word “independent” pops up over and over. What is your definition of “independent”?
To be independent you have to be totally self-contained and self-sufficient, and I think that sometimes bands are way too quick to get an investor. They’ll say, “We’ve got an investor, he’s given us 50 grand.” Really? What are you going to do with it, rent a bus? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I saw a band do this. They came out of Louisiana, and they got an investor, rented a Prevost bus and went touring. Well, that was brilliant, because they went through the investment money in three months. With Back Porch Mary, we own our own recording studio where we make our records. We own our rehearsal unit, van, trailer, name, merch, and all the rights to all our albums. Nobody can stop us, no one can come up and tell us what to do. We don’t have to answer to anyone. Smith is kind enough to distribute our records, help us with radio promotion, and get it into stores, but they didn’t tell us what kind of record to make. We made it. We keep everything in-house. Yeah, we own the rights to all the albums. We own the name, the publishing, everything. I haven’t signed over anything to anyone.
Why don’t more bands take your approach?
The ones that hustle are the ones that go places. I watched some of the rappers, guys like Jay-Z that got out and hustled, made things happen, started their own label, made their own records and sold them at shows, then started their own clothing line. These guys are working, and that’s what everyone in this band does. I work at it everyday. I play guitar everyday, sing everyday…I work at it all the time.
This is sounding like a real job.
I get up at 6am. It’s more than a 9-to-5 job. It’s all the time. Between me and my fiancé we run the merch company and right now we’re booking all the shows. We’re doing everything. We get up and work the Internet sites, check the online sales, and work with the street team.
In five words or less, what is the secret to life for Back Porch Mary?
(Long pause) I can do it in three words.
Go for it.
Always have beer.
We’re all beer snobs, so when we’re going into a festival or some place where we don’t know what the beer situation is, we always stop and get a couple of cases. That way we know we’re safe.