I was expecting to hear confessions of extreme illicit substance analysis, of trumped-up marijuana charges, of ecstacy, or enough bags of reds and blues to keep Quadrophenia's mods stoned on their scooters far beyond Brighton. Then I realize I'm not talking to Shaun Ryder. No, I'm speaking with Jake Black, a.k.a. the Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love, who has just told me that the techno-country-gospel carnival that is A3 (or Alabama 3 to the outlaw in attendance) won't be setting foot on Canadian soil (in particular, for their opening slot with Chumbawumba) because he liberated and AC and DC. Oh no, lock up the country! The great British hydro robber's comin'. Bureaucratic bullshite!
And it's our loss. The foundation for A3 was fabricated when Jake met Rob -- sorry, Larry Love (I'm guessing that when Jake talks of 'Rob' he also means 'Larry') -- A3's other focal point, at a party in Peckham in 1989. It all started with house beats and Hank.
"They were playing acid house records, and afterwards I was in the kitchen making tarts and singing old Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers songs. Rob came running into the kitchen when I was singing 'Lost Highway,' me and my pal Stuey, and he said, 'That's 'Lost Highway' you're singing!' We were very impressed, and I said, 'The boy knows Hank Williams, give him a chocolate fuckin' watch."
Of course, the two of them got to talking, and the idea came to them to use the melodies of traditional American forms and put them over beats. "What we started doing is just going into the studio and messing about with samples and stuff, different drum beats and samples of Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker, and we would put it over the top and do monologues over that. Then I didn't see Rob for awhile. He went and did a track with a party collective in Nottingham called DIY and made a version of 'I Shall be Released' by Bob Dylan. It was sung by a gospel diva and it was over house beats."
"It went down really well at the time, and Rob took the ideas 'round to the record company and they were dumbfounded. They said, 'How can you even think of putting Hank Williams together with house music?' Of course, we just started doing the parties and going over to Italy a lot."
Maybe it's just my Western obliviousness, but I can't picture the trendy kids of Milan gettin' jiggy to Grand Ol' Opry types. "There were a lot of acid house fans there," Jake says. "We used to play our own stuff over the top and sort of insidiously turn them on to it. Larry used to get the mic, and instead of ranting like a normal South London DJ -- you know, [ranting] 'I'm an ninja, I'm a ninja' -- he would sing old Gram Parsons numbers right over the top, and it was fucking brilliant."
With the groundwork laid down, D. Wayne and Larry figured it was time to gather all the "love," meaning put together a band. They came up with analog terrorist and harmonica player, the Mountain of Love; percussionist Sir Real "Congaman" Love; guitarist Mississippi Guitar Man Love; keyboardist the Spirit; drummer Little Boy Dope; security guy the Book of Love ("the fourth most-tattooed man in Europe"); socialist I.V. Lenin; and D. Wayne's ladies, Lady Love and Little Eye Tie.
"We just built the group up bit by bit until we had a sort of live rock format. Basically it would swing like a rock and roll group. Then we took a massive step about 18 months ago: we did two gigs in local pubs in Brixton and then in London did the same thing. Loads of A&R people turned up, and we ended up doing a record deal and then we ended up doing an American record deal [on Universal]. You know, the A&R people got excited and they were vying for the early demos."
Music, religion and politics make strange bedfellows. In the 80's, Stryper was a cheese-rock band which combined hair-spray with Jesus and yielded middling success. Stereolab's lyrics are full of Marxist sentiments which I cannot comprehend. And now along comes A3 singing about "Socialism in the Mainline." I ask him what the hell Socialism has to do with gospel. Would Hank want it this way? D. Wayne eventually answers the question. I guess getting there is half the point.
"The reason for all that is there are many different people in the group, and we all share some very different opinions on things. For instance, Larry has a Mormon upbringing, and because of that he has this incredible crisis of faith feeling. That's what all the searching songs are about. We take the traditional road; that is, we feel that the only way to do a gospel is to do a proper gospel, you know, talk about God. God is the antithesis of Socialism."
"Basically, the idea of 'Socialism in the Mainline' is that D. Wayne invented this drug called 'Accelerated Class Consciousness.' He sent two of his best off to the Kremlin to take a biopsy from Lenin, and they designed the drug from cells taken in the biopsy. Take five milligrams of that and you're a street fightin' man, mate. That's basically it. You know Lenin is Vladimir Ilyich Lenin -- we just switched it to I.V. Lenin. Intravenous Lenin."
If you've heard A3's song "Hypo Full of Love," then you know that the Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love is equal parts Ernest Angely and Carolina madman Hasil Adkins. The best way I can describe the good Reverend is as a snake-oil salesman trying to cop a free meal at a brothel. Televangelism is something to be watched, absorbed and parodied, say A3.
"D. Wayne is sort of a composite of all the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the leadership of the so-called silent majority -- Falwall, Jim Bakker, all those kinds of people, you know, like Newt Gingrich. Crypto-Fascists with quite a lot of power. And a lot of material comes out of novels I've read -- by Faulkner, Caldwell, Harry Crews, Raymond Chandler -- and watching old movies. D. Wayne is this evangelical demagogue who sells drugs and endorses prostitution on the side [he laughs heartily]. That's the whole idea behind 'Hypo Full of Love.' It's just a complete satire of these kinds of people and the values they espouse and what they actually fuckin' mean. I do it straight-faced and people take it very seriously. It's actually quite funny."
Jake talks of D. Wayne in the third-person, separating his stage persona from his real personality much in the way that Alice Cooper does. He usually gets into character only before a show, but, he admits, "sometimes I'll be D. Wayne Love all day. It drives the other guys fuckin' nuts!"
One particular group of people who take A3 a little too seriously is the we're-still-relevant-'cause-we've-got-umpteen-greatest-hits-collections-on-K-Tel country dinosaurs Alabama, who threatened D. Wayne and Larry with two things that are definitely prevalent in the Southern States, namely litigation and death, if they continued to use the name Alabama 3. Jake's voice becomes a terse whisper when he talks about it.
"They put a trademark on the word, man. I'm gonna invite them to a debate on the Copyright Act, because I don't think they'd be capable of having a debate. You know, they called me and one of them said he was going to shoot me! I said, 'Well, I'm coming to Birmingham, so come on!!' I've been antagonizing them, calling them all sorts of fucking names. It's been annoying the fuck out of them."
It all reminds me of those crooked, tail light-breaking, speed-trap sheriffs that you see in movies like Jackson County Jail or any 'Hippie Goes to Texas' flick. You can only appear on the Nashville Network geriatric circle jerk for so long before you realize that can't afford the high standard of meat-market mistresses and Jim Beam blowjobs that you're accustomed to. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that the motive behind Alabama's threats is money, and Jake agrees.
"It's a very different entity, you know, no one is going to mistake [A3 with Alabama]. It's purely that if my band has any success, they want the money, and they can't have that. I didn't like 'A3' at first, but I'm getting a taste of the anonymity of it, and I like the sort of U2 element, US3, and all that. I think it's malleable, you know, I think we can manipulate it."
And just what are Alabama getting so bent about? It's not as if they need more money, and A3 certainly aren't shaking the mainstream country gods with their unique mix of whiskey, gospel and technology.
The band's debut CD, Exile on Coldharbour Lane, took me totally by surprise when I first heard it. I was expecting the dance element, but I wasn't expecting the warmth and reverence of songs like "Peace in the Valley" and "Old Purple Tin (9% of Pure Heaven)." I was knocked out by the rich, creamy guitar tones and sweet keyboard stylings which are pasted all over the album. These guys may be taking the mickey when it comes to televangelism, but their sound has more real soul than do the majority of new country, young country, or, as Jake calls it, "country boy Nashville Tory shite," acts.
"My particular favourites must be Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha's gospel stuff, 'Walk with Me' and all that," he says. "You know, Hank was a pretty mean gospel singer, and there's a brilliant guy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, called Reverend Charlie Jackson. He gets up at the pulpit with an electric guitar, man."
I guess the best way to end this story of A3 past and present would be to talk about their future. They certainly have the making for a manifesto, so they must certainly have an agenda.
"We're going to Japan in July for the Mount Fuji festival. Mount Fuji, that's fuckin' wild. I cannot wait 'cause, out of any other country in the world, Japan's the place I wanted to visit. I also can't wait to get to Alabama, 'cuz we're going to Birmingham. I'm very excited about that, it's going to be the acid test. Interestingly, that's where we've had the most interest in the record, down there."
Evolution is the word for the band's future musically: "Next we're gonna be looking at horns and jazz and stuff, and we've got all these new ballads. We're just getting started. I'm gonna do a Brigham Young, a David Koresh thing next... I think."
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