With "Now Again," are The Flatlanders more legend than band or more band than legend? – June 2002
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With "Now Again," are The Flatlanders more legend than band or more band than legend?  Print

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 2002

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"We not exactly ambitious in the normal way," says Gilmore.

Part of the reason - although hard to believe it took close to three decades - for the long gap was logistics and competing interests. "Because of the fact that Butch lives so far away (in Terlingua, Texas, near the Mexican border, while Ely and Gilmore are in Austin), and Joe and I were touring, doing our own individual things, just the plain logistics meant that we did not have very much time together. That was the great thing about it. In the small amount of time we were able to spend together, we came up with so much material."

When the three met to do songs for the movie, they churned out three songs in four days.

"The next time, we did two or three songs in three days," says Hancock. "I think there was one time we did five songs in seven or eight days, which is a pretty good run."

"We were just slow starters," he says, jokingly.

In fact, for the debut, none of the 13 songs were written together. Gilmore wrote three, including among his best known songs, "Dallas" and "Tonight I'm Gonna Go Downtown," while Hancock penned four and Ely none.

"I didn't think that that was legal, and now it's almost required," jokes Ely about the idea of writing together.

"I'd heard of Lennon and McCartney, some movie guys that wrote songs together. I guess for some reason when we first started putting songs together ourselves, we thought that it was not in the realm of possibility. It was (hard) enough to convince (us) that one human being could write a song much less two or three together."

"Now it's almost mandatory," Gilmore says.

All three indicate the writing worked out well. "I don't think it was so much a method as a condition or a situation that was ideal," says Hancock.

"We had a good place to hang out," he says. "Joe's studio became kind of our clubhouse. It was totally a relaxed thing. We didn't have to write a song. It wasn't any kind of pressure thing at all."

"Now Again" is different from the first album in several key ways. The sound is a bit harder and fresher, not as spare sounding with mandolin prominent.

And the debut found only Gilmore singing lead vocals, although others can be heard lending a hand on backing vocals. In reality, Gilmore was The Flatlanders back then. At least legally.

He was the only member to actually sign the record deal with Shelby Singleton for his Plantation Records label. Hancock and Ely did not like what was offered them and as a result were prevented from singing lead vocals.

But on "Now Again," all three take turns at leads, sometimes within the same song. And backing vocals/harmonies are more readily apparent.

"All kinds of different things pop up in our songs - the rhythm, the phrasing," says Ely. "A lot of things you don't think of in a song besides words and melody. There are always pieces of it - different parts that intersect. We also worked on harmony whch we never did before."

Hancock says, "The whole process was something we had not yet defined because we had never sat down and done anything like this before. We defined it as we went."

And how did they decide who would take lead vocals?

"That was another evolutonary process," says Gilmore. "Because of the fact of going about it in this strange way - not having a a record deal, Butch has his own, but not having a Flatlanders deal - we went out touring, doing mostly thse songs as we wrote them. Mostly new songs, which surprised everybody. They were always astounded that we didn't have a record deal or a new reord, and we were touring. Part of the beatuy of that was that we got to learn the songs in performing rather than the wierd opposite process where people record the song the first day it's written and then find out what it's about. We got to really record the song and discover ways to go about it. We'd just have different ideas and suggest them to each other."

"In some of them, I don't really know why," Gilmore says. "There are some Butch sings the entire lead on."

Ely says the decisions stayed within the group. "We can't blame it on an A&R guy," he jokes.

Answering more seriously, Gilmore says, "Somebody would just maybe make a suggestion. The three of us for some reason have this capacity a lot of times. We don't ever vote on anything, but we can just tell. When we all three agree on something, there is just a sense of it."

The only cover is the lead-off song, "Going Away" from the late U. Utah Phillips.

"We all loved Utah Phillips," says Gilmore of the folk singer. "We almost always had Utah Phillips in our repertoire. Not because we had any fetish or anything. Just because he wrote really good songs. This is one we hadn't done in those days. In fact, I learned it from Bruce Bromberg (head of HighTone Records). I just loved it, and I just played it for Butch and Joe one night not with any idea of it being on the record. They just started singing along with it. It was sort of after that - Joe said we have to record that song. I loved the song, but I was kind of surprised really that it made such an impact on them."

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