Houston Calling

SXSW preview: Jimmy Webb and The Webb Brothers

March 17th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Any serious music fan knows Jimmy Webb’s music. Maybe not firsthand, but songs like “Wichita Lineman,” “Macarthur Park,” and “Galveston” are among the most recognizable and classic songs of the 20th century. Webb’s songwriting talent has been utilized by Glen Campbell, Richard Harris, and The Highwaymen (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson), among others, and was passed to his sons — Christiaan, Justin, and James — who record as The Webb Brothers. On Beyond The Biosphere, Maroon, and a  self-titled third album, the then Chicago-based Brothers spun a spacey blend of druggy, British-influenced pop that earned the band U.K. opening spots with Doves and The Darkness.

This Yahoo! UK review sums it up:

Across 13 tracks of painful intensity and singular beauty, The Webb Brothers play out their almost vaudeville themes of heartache, hedonism, betrayal and excess with mesmerising grace.(Graham Waveney)

Also, Magnet had this to say about the band:

Combining production bits lifted from Abbey Road-era Beatles and the smart vocal flourishes of early Todd Rundgren with a dusting of mid-period Pink Floyd, the duo also kept an ear cocked to indie-rock landmarks such as Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville. The Webb Brothers released Beyond The Biosphere, a right-cross to the heart, in 1998, then went for a knockout left-hook to the chin with the Stephen Street-produced Maroon.

Later this year, The Webb Brothers plan to release Cottonwood Farm, an album the group recorded with their father, but thankfully the family plays a show during South By Southwest this year. The Webb Brothers’ Christiaan Webb recently answered some questions for Houston Calling.

Houston Calling: What brought about this show of you guys and your father playing together?

Christiaan Webb: We have been talking about doing a project together for years. We were contacted by some people in England about doing some shows together (Jimmy Webb and The Webb Brothers) and we were really surprised about how much interest there was for a joint project. One thing led to another and we decided to make a record together. It’s called Cottonwood Farm — It’s a really eclectic “Americana” record. Fans of my dad’s 70’s albums or The Webb Brothers’ stuff will have a lot of new material to dig into. We are looking for a fall release in the U.K. and a November tour over there to follow.

HC: What can people expect to hear at the Jimmy Webb and The Webb Brothers showcase at this year’s SXSW?

CW: We are leaning toward towards the “country” stuff — some Jimmy Webb classics, a few Webb Brothers songs to kick things off. Lots of stuff from the new record. We’ve got Cal Campbell (Glen’s son) on the drums [and] also an amazing pedal steel player. No one has ever really seen my dad perform like this. We are all really excited about it.

HC: I saw your band play with Caviar during South By Southwest in some tent near Emo’s a few years ago. Anything memorable stick out from your time in Austin?

CW: Good things always happen for us down there. One time we iced a record deal. Another time we got the ball rolling for a huge tour with The Darkness. We’ve come to think of SXSW as Disney Land for musicians. One thing is for sure, you are always going to run into people you really love that you haven’t seen in a long time. I always look forward to that, there is always an air of mystery about just how the weekend is going to go.

HC: What are you hoping to get out of this year’s SXSW? What are you most looking forward to?

CW: We are definitely looking forward to getting the word out about this record. The debut of performance of Jimmy Webb with The Webb Brothers for sure!

HC: Your albums received positive reviews when they came out, and the band was bigger in the U.K. than at home. What do you think kept your albums…from reaching a wider audience? Do you think it was the typical major label BS, the advent of downloading/piracy, or what…?

CW: I really can’t complain. Considering what has happened to many friends of mine, we had a pretty good ride. We were coming up right when stuff like Napster was just starting to happen. There was a lot of turmoil at the major labels, people coming and going and what not. Our debut single on Atlantic, here in the States, was scheduled to be released the day after 9/11 so that certainly didn’t help. Still Warners in the U.K. stuck with us for three records through all of that. That was really unheard of at the time. I wouldn’t trade that period of my life for anything in the world.

HC: I read that Jimmy Webb had five top ten hits within a 20-month period back in the day. Have you ever felt pressure to somehow try to live up to the musical success your father has experienced in his career? Did he offer advice when you were making your albums in the 90s?

CW: We didn’t feel pressure but we were definitely aware of people’s expectations. It helped that the records were received well and that our career was already well on its way before people noticed the connection. My dad’s success was really magical — I don’t think he can really explain how the amazing run he had in the 60’s happened. It’s “right place, right time” kind of stuff (and, of course, the right songs). I can’t even imagine the pressure he felt to live up to that early success. That would be difficult.

He did give us tons of valuable advice. The most important: “Don’t believe your own press.” No one likes a braggart in this business.

HC: The Webb Brothers’ songs cover a lot of music ground, depending on which album you listen to. What do you consider to be your primary musical influences and how do you think they play into your songs?

CW: That first record, Beyond the Biosphere, was heavily influenced by Guided By Voices. I can really hear that now when I go back and listen to it. We were very lucky that groups like Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips had success in the UK right before we went over for the first time. They really opened the door for us. We always loved groups like that who wouldn’t allow themselves to be pigeonholed. We were definitely riding that “New Psychedelia” wave that was happening at the time.

Wilco was also a huge influence. We really looked up to them cause they were from Chicago too. Of course, all the wonderful 60’s and 70’s music that we grew up with and were exposed to through my father.

HC: How has digital technology changed the way you record and/or write your music?

CW: Our first album was 16-track analog. Now we are recording mostly in our own home studios digitally. That sorta says it all. The revolution that has happened over the last 10 years. It has completely changed how we approach recording vocals and arrangements. Songwriting, not so much. It is really amazing how much time and money the technology saves when it comes to working out vocals and arrangements. This bi-coastal project with our dad would not have even been possible ten years ago.

HC: It’s been years since I’ve heard anything from your band and thought it had gone the way of most of the Chicago-area bands during that period. What are the band’s plans for 2009? Any chance for a new Webb Brothers album?

CW: We are focused on the Jimmy Webb with The Webb Brothers album. Cottonwood Farm will be released in the UK first, and we are going to tour behind it over there in November. Beyond that, we will let the record take us where it chooses to. It should be interesting. U.S. stuff is still in the planning stages, but of course we want to bring the act over here as well.

HC: What did you think of Dwight Yoakum’s cover of “Wichita Lineman”?

CW: I’ll have to check it out. I thought the James Taylor version was really cool. That song is such a classic. It would be very tough to find a comparable song that has had such an amazing life since it was written in the 60’s. We’ve had a lot of fun working up our own version.

Jimmy Webb and The Webb Brothers play an official showcase on Saturday, 3.21.09, at Prague at 11pm. Visit The Webb Brothers online at MySpace. Visit Jimmy Webb online at www.jimmywebb.com.

Tags: Interviews · Music · Show listings · SXSW

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 SXSW previews // Mar 21, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    […] RSS ← SXSW preview: Jimmy Webb and The Webb Brothers […]

  • 2 Jimmy Webb plays The Woodlands // Jul 30, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    […] about the musician may be found on his website. I interviewed one of The Webb Brothers prior to this year’s SXSW, where the brothers played with their famous father in anticipation […]

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