Next weekend, January 17 & 18, it’s gonna be an Athens-Georgia sonic love fest, featuring the Tractor gang (above, wayyyyy back in the day) plus OH-OK and Magnapop. If those names don’t resonate with ya, you have clearly found the wrong music website.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY JOHN BOYDSTON
There hasn’t been much good news ushering in 2020, far from it. But in the spirit of finding joy where it resides – here’s something fab for Love Tractor fans. The new year is bringing not only just better sounding Love Tractor recordings, but new music too. And to celebrate, the band is playing two shows – Friday Jan 17th at the 40-Watt Club in Athens with OH-OK opening, and Saturday January 18th in Atlanta with Magnapop opening that show.
I reached out to Love Tractor guitarists Mark Cline and Mike Richmond to preview the shows and releases – not to mention to add some crucial, and resonant, context to this beloved Georgia outfit’s colorful legacy.
Love Tractor is back from a long breather (pictured above is guitarist Mark Cline) doing live shows, restoring their back catalogue for new vinyl and digital re-release. And if that’s not enough for fans, get ready for new music from the band as early as this spring. (Below: guitarist Mike Richmond)
BLURT: Tell me about the upcoming re-issue of the first Love Tractor LP, originally released in 1982:
Mark Cline: We just finished reconstructing the album as the ¼” masters were a mess. Tracks were missing or corrupted so it forced us to go back to the 2-inch 16-track masters and remix the entire album. The record sounds great. Dave Barbe and Bill Berry chaperoned the remixing process, and Jeff Calder (from the Swimming Pool Q’s) was key in locating the tapes and having them digitized.
We tried our hardest to remain true to the original Bruce Baxter mixes, but the 1st remixed record has a lot more power to it. Someone in the studio, perhaps Bill (Berry) said when listening back to the remix that “it’s like cotton has been taken out of my ears.”
Mike Richmond: Mark, Army (Armistead Wellford, pictured below), and I were joined by Doug Stanley, Kevin Dunn, Bill Berry, and Mike Mills in the studio for this. It came out really nice and we were able to make slight improvements while staying true to the original. I think the plan is to re-issue record one in April of 2020 and then follow up with Around the Bend, Til The Cows Come Home EP, This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship, Themes From Venus, and The Sky at Night. We also have a recording of new material in the works.
Mark Cline: We did three additional enhanced mixes for Record Store Day. We have new material which we have started recording so those songs will be coming out as digital singles in-between the rereleases. At least that is the plan as of today, might change tomorrow.
Part of the beauty of Love Tractor music is how melodic and simple it sounds – but I know it is very complex from a player’s point of view. How do you get ready for these live shows, since you aren’t doing many per year at this point?
Mike Richmond: Love Tractor songs are deceptively difficult to play. I have to really stay on top of it by rehearsing several times a week. We live in different states (Georgia, Virginia, New York) so it is not easy for us to rehearse or perform. We all have to do this on our own and then a few days before we perform, we get together as a whole unit and go through the songs.
Mark Cline: For me, more than the other guys, when performing, I’m shocked at the level of precision the songs require and how many of my parts are quite difficult to play.
So, the music is dense, and you’ve added players for live shows – tell me about that.
Mark Cline: The auxiliary players in some cases are for large shows, so we can perform the albums as they were recorded. Love Tractor has been since 1986 a 5 piece band, Doug Stanley from The Glands was officially inducted into the band in the ’90’s, Doug is a brilliant musician, he is absolutely on the same wave-length as me, Mike and Army and in my opinion he really shaped the sound of The Sky at Night. Joe Rowe is an amazing drummer (also PRS’ new beat man). For the really big shows, if they are available, we like to add the Late B P Helium (Elephant Six Collective) and Jay Gonzalez (Drive by Truckers) and Kevin Dunn from the great seminal Atlanta band The Fans— it fills out the sound. The decision is artistic.
Right now, we are playing as a five piece, but one never knows who will be joining us on stage. (Ed. note, if you want to catch original Love Tractor drummer Bill Berry with the band, he’s prone to get up on stage at the Athens shows – visual evidence in below 2017 photo, below, where he’s pictured on the left – but you never know.)
Mike Richmond: Initially we had everyone that played in the WE LOVE TRACTOR tribute band. Jay Gonzalez (Drive by Truckers), Bryan Poole (Of Montreal), Doug Stanley (Glands), Joe Rowe (Glands), and then we added our long-time friends Kevin Dunn (The Fans), and Bill Berry (REM). It was great playing with all those guys on-stage. Nowadays the performing band is Army Wellford, Mark Cline, myself, Doug Stanley, Joe Rowe on drums. I have nothing but fondness for all the people that have played with Love Tractor.
What surprises you most about playing these songs live again?
Mike Richmond: It is pleasantly surprising that I never get tired of these songs. That don’t seem dated to me but evergreen.
Mark Cline: How fresh and timeless they sound – in some cases I realize what influenced a particular song (“Paint Your Face” and “Stand in a Corner” — in my opinion, which was influenced by Neu!).
What can fans expect from these two upcoming shows in Athens and Atlanta?
Mark Cline: We have been attempting to perform the albums in chronological order. Thus, the first few shows were exclusively our first album, then we added material from the second album and the EP. These next two shows we will begin performing a few songs from This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship, Themes From Venus and The Sky at Night.
I’ve heard of people flying in from different parts to catch a show, and for my part, I met a fan who drove from New Jersey. Any surprise there for the band about fan loyalty?
Mike Richmond: I was almost entirely unaware of what fans would think of us now or if we would even have any fans at all. So the response has been great. With the rise of social media, I get a sense that people are very receptive to the idea of seeing LT live, some of whom were too young to see us in the ’80s. It could literally feed the band in the sense that we could release new material or tour. That almost depends solely on fan support.
Mark Cline: The response has been great! We really want to give a great performance, it is also interesting for us as artists to revisit certain songs. Now of course they want us to tour, but we don’t have an “organization” (managers, agents, office) in place to really make touring happen. So right now, we are limited to where and when we can play.
All the new music and reissues will have a new home – Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records or HHBTM. Check out its home and impressive roster here: https://www.hhbtm.com/bands/
So, fans – now’s your chance with two shows coming up:
1) Friday January 17th, 2020 Love Tractor, at the 40Watt Club in Athens, GA. It’s a co-bill with OH-OK playing first, featuring original members Lynda Stipe and Linda Hopper, a band who got their big break when R.E.M., the band her brother happened to be lead singer for, needed an opening band in a pinch. (One of those Wiki factoids so good I don’t care if it’s true.) Playing with a full band tonight so the rock starts early.
2) Next show is the next night in Atlanta, at The Vista Room, Saturday January 18th, 2020, with co-billed Magnapop opening. Also featuring Linda Hopper on vocals, there’s Ruthie Morris on guitar, Shannon Mulvaney bass, and David McNair on drums. Magnapop doesn’t fuck around so get there early, don’t miss ‘em – and you are welcome!
Ye Olde Editor Side Note: a legendary party – statutory restrictions prevent me from detailed disclosure – in Chapel Hill that had brought R.E.M. and a bunch of their pals to the NC college town on the group’s initial non-Georgia mini-tour. That entourage included the lovely Ms. Hopper, who confided to aforementioned editor that she had a band percolating herself. That prediction came true. They were a delightful combo. She’s pictured more recently below in John Boydston’s photos of Magnapop from not all that long ago.