The Last Night | From Tupac to Grandpa Joe

last-night 75It’s like rock ’n’ roll and Country and Western had an illegitimate child and left if on our doorstep to raise.

 

 

 

I got a chance to hang out with the songwriters from the local alt-country band The Last Night at the Venice Café. Billy Croghan and Tony Compton’s writing styles and influences are different but blend nicely: Cow-pop meets gritty, growling folk is the overall sound. Their live performances are enthusiastic, playful, and tight. The songs vary by the writer but are pulled together by the classic themes of love, loss, and overindulgence. The musical style adds to the cohesion: It’s strong, distinctively theirs, and not overworked.

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If time and place didn’t matter, who in a band would you date if you could?

TC: Willie Nelson, hands down. No sex, just dating and music.

BC: I think if time and place didn’t matter, I’d like to take out Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane. I don’t think it would go anywhere, we’d probably end up in jail somewhere for drunken stupidity, but I’ve always wished I could have hung out with her.

Why did you pick your band name? How did you form?

TC: It sounded good. We formed by Ben, Billy, and I wanting to keep playing music together after doing a Halloween cover band show for STL Fringe.

BC: It was 2012 and everyone was freaking out about the apocalypse (again) and we were just in a basement making music. I think we spent like four hours bouncing around ideas, and mostly it was junk, but Bukowski had a lot to say about it.

Tony moved to St. Louis and started coming out to play open mics. He saw me one night up at Venice Café and he hated me because I was wearing a navy blue blazer. I think the first thing he said to me was, “Hey, I liked your set.” He is a very transcendent man, after all. We started playing songs together soon afterward and he came and did a part on one of the songs on my solo record. After that, we were looking for an outlet for some of our more electric songs and we spent a lot of nights drinking beers at Ben Sturdevant’s house and playing.

For some reason, I thought of this Bukowski line, “I tell you such fine music waits in the shadows of hell.” I guess it matches thoughts of an apocalypse.

Who are your musical and non-musical influences for your songwriting and performing?

TC: Oh man; shall I just give spectrums? Anything from Pink Floyd to John Mellencamp. Hank Williams to Bob Dylan. John Prine to Outkast. Tupac to my grandpa. Old neighbor ladies to strangers walking down the street. Big bird to you. Exes to crushes… OK, that’s enough.

BC: Musically speaking, I have to tip my hat to Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and all those guys doing singer songwriter stuff in the ’70s. With this project, I probably channel more Waylon than anything, but I can’t pin any of it down anymore. I don’t know if I have a lot of non-musical influences for why I write. I guess just experience; most of my lyric writing is pulled directly from things that happen in life.

What is your songwriting process? With both of you writing, how do you decide what to play or how to play it?

TC: When we write together we just sit wherever we are (usually Billy’s living room) and are playing guitar/banjo/piano or whatever, and one of us (usually Billy) starts singing something and we go from there. Other times, one of us will have something we want to work on.

BC: We’ve been doing a lot more co-writing lately than when we started this thing. Tony will come with a riff or I’ll come with a chorus. We’ll sit around the living room and develop the idea and make it into something we like. We’ve probably thrown out as many since we started writing this way as we have actually performed. Some go into the recycling bin and resurface in one of our solo projects, and some go directly into the trash bin never to be spoken of again.

It’s basically an organic process. If Tony wrote the song on guitar, he’ll usually take the rhythm guitar part and I’ll make up a lead, and vice versa. Lately, since we’ve been writing together more, it seems like we’ll just pick up different instruments and see what they might sound like. We’ve got one where I’m on banjo now, and hopefully we’ll have more and more like that.

What musical category or categories do you think your band falls into?

TC: Country ’n’ roll. Like rock ’n’ roll and Country and Western had an illegitimate child and left if on our doorstep to raise.

BC: Certainly we’ve been accused of Country and Southern Rock. All the cool kids are calling those genres alt-country now, but we really just want to make songs into what they’re supposed to be.

How do you think your songs differ from your bandmate’s?

TC: Billy’s songs are better.

BC: Tony tends to write about things directly and doesn’t mince words, where I have a tendency toward over-thinking lyrics. His tunes have inspired me many times to just play it, which is one of the reasons it works for us to play together.

Do you ever change a song’s lyrics in live sets?

TC: Not usually on purpose, but it does happen. If on purpose, it has to do with a conversation we had with the crowd. Like one time we sang “Another Man” as if my mother left me for another man instead of a girlfriend. I’m not sure how the crowd and we came to that being the story, but it was what it was.

BC: Almost every time. If you are trying to sing along, good luck.

What is the most common thing people say when commenting on your music?

TC: “You suck.” That’s not true. Usually, “Hey, good stuff; you guys rocked it.” Or, “I’m digging that sound.” Other musicians say, “Hey, nice set; sounded good.”

BC: “Nice set” gets thrown around quite a bit.

Do you think that online presence is important for fans to find you and critics to find your music to write about? What outlets do you utilize to promote your band?

TC: Yes, that and being nice to people who want to talk to you. We use Bandcamp and Reverbnation currently, [and will be] getting a website going soon.

BC: The web is so elusive. I think a lot of people get lucky on there that otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity, but I think the most important thing is for people to like the tunes. Nobody’s forgetting about Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show or the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and their websites look like they haven’t been updated since 1996. Those may be poor examples because they’re so old, but the truth about music is that the songs still matter. The internet is just the new marketing department, and we are practicing at that aspect of our game, but it isn’t the highest priority at this point, still. We’re working on putting out a short EP and then we’ll hit it harder, but the best way we’ve found for getting people out is always word of mouth.

How do you feel about the St. Louis music community? It seems to me that there is a lot of mutual support from your fellow bands and musicians.

TC: I love the music scene. I am from a small town where the music scene was three or four rotating cover bands, so having the option to go see live original music every night is great. And, yes, most of the musicians in town are great people and very supportive of their peers.

BC: It’s my home, you know. I’ll always love this town and all the people that support the things going on here. We’ve all got complex relationships with our families, and so I guess my feelings are simultaneously fully committed and loving and still wanting for that critical mass. Some of my friends are in the best bands I know of, national, regional, or local, and I want St. Louis to know what great things are available right here in our own backyards.

TC: Absolutely; we try to actively participate in that aspect of the St. Louis scene. It’s a self-esteem thing, really: If we don’t love our own people, how can we expect anyone outside to love them?

Have you ever been so moved by a song that you cried?

TC: Many times. The first one that comes to mind is “Changes” by Tupac. I had heard it many times before, but one day I was listening to it with a little help from the grass and it just hit me hard and I cried.

BC: So many times. “House at Pooh Corner” can get me if I’m in the right mood, or else Neil Young’s “Old Man”

Tell us about your next show and why we should be there.

TC: Our next show is on January 16 at Plush, and you should be there because it’s going to be a great time. I mean, really, it is. Our friends in The Defeated County and Psychedelic Psychonauts will be there. And Matt Klose will be debuting his full band and there are like 200 people in that band. OK, like 9, but 200. It’s going to be fun.

And why you should see us: Well, if you haven’t already, then to check us out. And if you have, then to see where we are now. We have progressed and changed so much in the past year. We’ve got new songs we’re playing and could probably have more between publishing this and playing the show.

What is coming up for Last Night as far as future shows, recordings, etc?

TC: Well, there is the said show above and we will be looking to take the show on the road, probably springtime. We’ve got a four-track CD, or EP—or is it PE? I think it’s LBC, yeah. And it is coming out on our Bandcamp page simultaneously with this article. So, if you’re reading this, go there and listen to that.

BC: We’ll probably put out this EP and then book up our spring/summer pretty soon.

And now for what everyone is dying to know: Will you put an end to stoplight cameras in St. Louis?

TC: No, I like to hack them and look at asses and boobies walking down the streets. And cats; cats are cute.

[If you’re looking for a cat go to Animal House on 59th Street. We’ve got plenty of little squishy, loving, heart-stopping, adorable cats and kitties for you to love on.]

BC: Egregious violations of our civil liberties are about to go down. Pretty soon, the SLPD is rolling out its drone spying program, too. I don’t even know what to say anymore; it’s all pretty Orwellian.

Unfortunately, they won’t be ending stoplight cameras anytime soon. For now we’ll have to settle for really good music and great shows.

For what they play and how they sound, they come across as regular guys. They are very good friends who happen to play music. Billy and Tony have an ease with each other performing that you just can’t fake. Their chemistry was evident when I saw their first show as The Last Night. They are the guys next door who happen to play music. Though style-wise they aren’t the same, this vibe takes me back to the early days of Uncle Tupelo. | DL Hegel

 

For more information or to check out their music, visit The Last Night’s Facebook, Bandcamp, and Ustream pages.

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