I recently had an interview with songwriter and guitar player Greg Loiacono, covering a wide range of topics centering around his upcoming shows and a new studio album, due out May 15 via Blue Rose Music.
A founding member of The Mother Hips, Loiacono plays on a couple of new live albums: “The Mother Hips Live at The Great American Music Hall,” released Nov. 29, and the Green Leaf Rustlers’ debut, “From Within Marin,” releasing on March 6. Green Leaf Rustlers include Chris Robinson, Pete Sears, Barry Sless and John Molo. The double-LP is a live record of classic country rock songs, captured by the legendary Betty Cantor-Jackson.
Jon: You’re getting close to releasing your first record in a few years. What’s different this time around? How did the time between “Songs From A Golden Dream” and the upcoming record manifest itself in regards to how your songwriting has evolved with the new songs?
Greg: Well, “Songs From A Golden Dream” was a mix of old songs and new songs written just after the “Sensations” record in 2005, and up until 2016. For instance, “The Red Thread Pt. I” was a brand-new song written for the record while “Mahalia Mornings” and “Away From The Stones” were songs that I had been playing live for years.
The new album (titled “Mystic Traces” -due out in May) has a different feel – It’s more acoustic based. There is a full band on most of the tracks, but the overall feel is a little more toned down in vibe and I explore some different dynamics. Some of the subject matter is a little darker than usual, as well. These songs were all written in about a two-year period. So, the focus is more honed than on SFAGD.
Jon: You’ve released a couple of songs so far as singles, and you have a new one coming out soon. Can you tell us a little more about them?
Greg: Sure. Going chronologically from newest to oldest, “Animal Clouds” is coming out on Feb. 21.. This track really resonates with me right now. It was one of the first tracks that Scott Hirsch and I tracked for this album. One of my favorite parts on this song is Kyle Field (Little Wings) on 12-string electric guitar. He had come up from Malibu to Ojai to hang out in the studio. I was hoping to get him to do some freestyle singing over the end of one of the songs. Kyle had picked up an electric 12 string that was on a stand next to him. He was noodling around while we were getting sounds for “Animal Clouds.” Scott and I both tuned into what he was doing and thought it was excellent. Scott turned on an amp, I got a cable and plugged it into the guitar. Scott put a mic on the amp and before Kyle even knew it, he was playing along to the track. The little guitar hook figure that plays at the beginning and end of the song is all Kyle free forming.
The previous single was “Chamberlain’s Trunk,” which features Neal Casal on guitar and harmony vocals. Neal was kind enough to offer to come down to the studio (Scott Hirsch’s Echo Magic Sound in Ojai, California) to track on a couple of songs. The other song he played on is the opening track on the album, “Shoot The Messenger,” where he played a great slide guitar part on his tobacco burst Telecaster. “Chamberlain’s Trunk” is a song that contains some of those darker elements from time spent dealing with addiction, both as a counselor, and from personal experience way back in the day.
“Close Your Eyes (We’ll Be There Soon)” was the second single and is about the magic of Hipnic in Big Sur (The Mother Hips’ annual festival). “San Felipe” (the first single) is autobiographical — a recollection of visiting San Felipe with Carolina long before we were married. Jamie Drake sings the duet with me. She also sings on the outro of “Close Your Eyes.”
Jon: Who else plays on the album?
Greg: Scott Hirsch plays guitar and some bass, Syd (Erin Sydney) plays drums, Daniel Wright, Oliver Newell and Brendan Willing play bass, and Mikael Jorgensen from Wilco plays most of the keys. Barry Sless plays pedal steel on a track. So many other fine musicians participated. Deren Ney made the music videos for the first three singles, and my wife, Carolina, did the art for “San Felipe” as well as “Chamberlain’s Trunk.”
Jon: It’s killer that it’s DIY all within the community. Any cool stories about gear or the process? What drew you to Scott Hirsch’s studio?
Greg: I’ve known Scott for a while, dating back to him being in bands that I’ve played on bills with, such as the Court and Spark, and Hiss Golden Messenger. Beyond that, Scott released a couple of solo albums over the last few years and I really loved the vibe he created. I thought he’d be a great fit for this record.
Jon: Scott has a cool style, very unique, that’s for sure.
Greg: Yes, he does.
One piece of gear I fell in love with is the electric guitar I used on “San Felipe.” It was hanging on the wall at Brotheryn Studio where we tracked that song and a few others. It’s a BilT guitar. The F-holes go all the way through the body. I tried it out and Scott and I both it agreed it just sounded perfect in the track, so we used it. Now, I need to get one!
Jon: I love stories like that. You have a few upcoming shows this week with your band. Where can people see you, and when?
Greg: This Thursday (Feb. 13) we’ll be at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz. On Friday (Feb. 14) we’ll be at the Chico Women’s Club, and on Saturday (Feb. 15) we’ll be at Goldfields in Sacramento. In addition, on Feb. 22, the day after “Animal Clouds” is released, I’ll be on Rene & Irish Greg’s Pop Up podcast in San Francisco doing a bit of a Q&A and playing a few songs. In addition, we’re playing The Wildflower Festival in Chico on April 25. Sensie Nation will play our usual late-night Tavern set on Friday, May 15 at Hipnic. I’m also planning more shows in Southern California and throughout the state when the new record comes out.
Jon: When will it be available?
Greg: It’ll be coming out on May 15.
Jon: For these shows this week, will you be doing a revue-style similar to what you did in October when I saw a few shows? I thought that was rad.
Greg: Yes. The lineup is a little different this time. Scott Hirsch will be playing in the band as well as doing an opening set, like last time. He’s been up here with me working on a new album I’m producing for Reid Genauer.
This time, we have Sean Nelson on drums, and Brian Rashap on bass. Alex Koford will also be playing guitar, singing harmonies, and playing some percussion. They are all great players. And I love singing with Alex.
Jon: Yes, he’s terrific, and can play so many different things. Also, you just touched on something I’ve always wanted to ask you and have been curious about – so you’re producing a new album? How do you like it?
Greg: I’m really enjoying it. Reid Genauer hit me up and asked if I’d be interested in producing his next solo record and I was.
We tracked for three days at Tiny Telephone this past weekend. It all went really well. Reid has some fine songs and we put together a very strong band. There is a still lot of work to do but I it’s been so enjoyable that I can’t wait to get back into it.
Jon: That’s awesome to hear. I’ve always considered you a prime candidate to be a terrific producer. You have such a wide range, just with The Mother Hips – rock, folk, country, you guys jam, but then your solo efforts are eclectic as well – it seems natural to me that all of those things would lend itself well to you imparting it onto other bands and songwriters.
Greg: Thank you. I’m definitely excited to do more production work in the future.
Jon: Last question – if all of this wasn’t already enough, you still play and tour with The Mother Hips and Green Leaf Rustlers. Anything new to share there?
Greg: The Green Leaf Rustlers have a new live album coming out (March 6 via Silver Arrow Records – “From Within Marin”) and The Mother Hips have some cool gigs this spring – we play BeachLife Festival in Hermosa Beach and the Belly Up in Solana Beach. The Hipnic in Big Sur happens on the weekend of May 15. Lots of fun stuff to look forward to this spring and summer.
Jon: I’ll be at the Belly Up for sure!
Greg Loiacono and The Sensie Nation Revue
-- Thursday, Feb. 13
Moe’s Alley, Santa Cruz
-- Friday, Feb. 14
Chico Women’s Club, Chico
-- Saturday, Feb. 15