I’ve followed the musical career of David Slade since 1994, when I saw him in a band of young upstarts called Halo 8 at a Fresh Blood Night show at Vino’s Brewpub (before they even added the Brewpub part). I think they also opened for one of my first bands. He’s been one of the forces behind American Princes, along with Matt Quin, from their beginning in 2001. It was when he moved back from New York to Little Rock, around 1993, that they really got going, joining forces with Matt and Collins Kilgore (on guitar and vocals). Their first two albums were released on Little Rock’s own Max Recordings. They were signed to North Carolina’s Yep Roc Records in 2005 and they released two more great albums with them. They shared stages with bands such as Big Star, Apples In Stereo, The Flaming Lips, The Roots, The Hold Steady and many more. Arkansas should be extremely proud of their accomplishments (and their stamina). The current lineup is David Slade on rhythm guitar and vocals, Collins Kilgore on guitar and vocals, Will Boyd on guitar and vocals, Matt Quin on drums and Jack Lloyd took over bass duties where the late, great Luke Hunsicker left off. Luke, the much loved musician who had also been in Big Boots, The Evelyns and Sugar and the Raw, died of brain cancer at 29 in 2010.
On Saturday Dec. 27, American Princes put on a relentless twenty-one song set at the White Water Tavern. Since it was completely sold out and there were several old friends in town for the holidays, the whole night beamed with magic, especially after such a tragic year that involved the loss of a few of our closest music scene family. David, more or less, presents as the “front man” but Collins and Will also sing lead on songs and I don’t get that usual weird tension of one person trying to steal the spotlight or egos clashing. Both Collins and Will have a masterful use of guitar pedals and effects such as chorus, echo & tremolo and they play intricate hooks and polyrhythms. Jack Lloyd played bass effortlessly, as if he’d been in the band from the beginning. Matt Quin was sort of hidden in the back corner on drums, but as important as the human heart beating along. This band seems to write pop music at its core but have a knack for presenting occasional serious messages while keeping it fun and not cliché. All I can say is you need to be at their next reunion show no matter where it’s held.
I’ll leave the rest of this with the eloquent email Q&A I had with David Slade:
What other bands have you been in? I know of American Princes, Wicked Good & Magic Hassle, but tell me about your early bands. Was it a Vino’s “fresh blood night” when I saw you in Halo 8? Was that around 1995?
You’ve hit the main ones. For most of my life as a musician, I could only really focus on one band at a time. The overlap in American Princes and Magic Hassle was likely due to the fact that Matt Quin and I are in both bands. But barring that exception, I was never very good at committing to more than one project concurrently. Thus, I haven’t been in a ton of bands. I did some stuff in New Haven in my early teens, and then again in college, but most of my time spent playing music has been with the groups you identified.
Re Halo 8: you nailed it. Would’ve been late ’94 or early ’95. We were in tenth grade. We’d spent all of ninth grade writing songs, and played our first show that summer in Jeff (and Ben) Nichols’ parents’ back yard. After that, we wanted to play clubs. Which, of course, meant open mics. Likely, our first big show would’ve been playing with you guys (Techno-Squid). Certainly, it was a highlight of my life, then as much as now.
Are there any plans recording and/or touring with American Princes or is this more of a holiday get together thing for the fun of it?
As I write this, my three year old is dumping roughly 300 toy trains into a laundry basket and launching said basket down the stairs after one of my dogs. As a follow up, he’s taken Christmas ornaments from our tree, hurling them at the wall like it’s a fireplace in Gone With the Wind. I say this not to tell tales on my three year old, but more as an explanation for how, if I ever brought up the subject of tour with my wife, she would punch me in the face.
As far as recording songs goes, I’d love to. First, they have to get written, though, and that’s a daunting task. When we went on hiatus, we were both at the height of our powers and wrestling with the terminal illness of an essential songwriting partner (not to mention best friend to each of us). Coming back with new material after these intervening years—and without Luke—is really scary. I’ll be honest, I just don’t know if I’ll ever have it in me to write another American Princes song. I’ve tried a few times, and have failed miserably. What we wrote before feels unassailably sacred. Trying to add to that body of work…I just don’t know. A lot of me wants to do it, but I just don’t know.
Where’s the best place to listen to and purchase your music online? Is the American Princes website no longer active?
Yeah…we got our website nabbed by cyber-squatters. It’s frustrating, and we’ve mulled over trying to get it back, but it would involve a complicated and costly litigation that we’re ambivalent towards, collectively. As far as the “best” place to listen/buy our music online, that’s open to interpretation. Certainly, you can stream our stuff on services like Spotify (and if you can tell us why “Watch As They Go” has gotten almost a quarter of a million plays in the last few months, please do…we’re delighted but are also super curious). You can also buy MP3s via iTunes, Amazon, etc. I am hopelessly ignorant of digital distribution methods these days. My recollection is that Apple takes an obscene cut if you buy stuff through iTunes…maybe Amazon is better? I honestly don’t know, and I’d be surprised if that were the case. I’m sure this is a golden opportunity to plug some incredibly generous, hard-working digital distributor that has this remarkable, artist-friendly business model and is carbon neutral and provides a wholesome breakfast for all of the interns, etc., but I’m gonna blow it and just say I have no idea.
You probably could’ve sold out any larger venue in Little Rock so why did you pick the White Water Tavern?
The White Water has always been our home. It hosted our first show in Little Rock, and so it’s always nice to bookend our career with our last show being at White Water (even if we do so annually). Those folks are like a second (really first) family to us, and there’s really no way to describe the joy that comes from playing in that place. Every band has a venue like that, I suspect. The White Water is a part of us, and vice versa.
Now, we’ve also been exceptionally blessed by the kindness of Chris King. He is one of the most giving people I have ever met—whenever the scene has needed him, he has always opened his doors to the community and never asked for anything in return—and playing his venues (the Rev Room and Stickyz) is always a genuine pleasure. As far as this year goes, I think we just reckoned that we would not sell out the White Water. It was gratifying that we did, of course, but also a little surprising. I was apprehensive…it’s been a long time since we released new material and it’s been a few years since we’ve played our reunion shows; it seemed sensible to do one show and gauge the response. The response, of course, vastly exceeded expectations. On the one hand, that’s awesome: I love you, Little Rock, and I’m so grateful for your support. On the other hand: I apologize tremendously to anyone who wanted to see the show but couldn’t. It was our mistake, and we’ll fix it, moving forward. We just didn’t anticipate the goodness.
How did you become a musician? Who or what influenced you (local & worldwide)?
When I was five, my Dad played me the Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane single. I heard the line “It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out/it doesn’t matter much to me” and was enchanted by how the melody and words combined to make this achingly sad moment. Particularly when, as best as I could tell, the guy was talking about strawberries. That’s what drew me in. From there, the influences rapidly spiraled out of control and could never be cataloged in a single take. I will take the time to give a special shout out to Techno-Squid Eats Parliament and Chino Horde, however.
Why is it important to help support local music?
Again, that’s a complicated question. I can only talk about it as a guy who both consumed and produced local music, so my view is hopelessly biased, and also skewed in such a way that I probably can’t answer it the way you’re wanting me to. But here goes…when you find yourself still performing past the age of, say, twenty four, the likelihood is great that you’ve had a moment where you realize “my band is not going to be The Who.” And yet, that doesn’t matter. You’re still writing songs and rehearsing them and performing them because the thing that motivated you when you were twelve—being The Who—fell by the wayside quite awhile back. Instead, you’re doing what you do because it’s an elemental part of you. And once you realize that you’re doing this for no purpose that rational, ordinary people can understand, you not only appreciate the company of other musicians, you actually need them.
So, to my mind, that explains why it’s important for musicians within a scene to stick together and support each other. We’re all these bizarre miscreants whom no one else will ever take seriously, so we might as well be nice to each other and enjoy each other’s company.
As far as why it’s important for non-musicians to come to our shows…well, I guess that depends on one’s perspective. I’m not going to force anyone to come to my show as opposed to some national tour at Verizon, but I will say this: in my travels, which for a time were extensive, I would always meet people who were eager to tell me about some formative group that their friends had, or their friends of friends. These were never groups you or I have ever heard of, and based on the CDs that were foisted on me over the years, many of them were no great shakes to the objective listener. BUT, to the people I met in those random towns, these bands had created a soundtrack to their youth; it was so empowering for these folks, and the rapturous way in which they conceived of this local music made the value clear. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but if you live a little bit of it at house shows, and live a little bit of it through songs that were written by someone who regularly makes/serves your pizza, then your life is probably the richer for it.
What do you think of the music industry today?
I don’t. And I’m not trying to be glib; it’s just the truth. When I left playing music professionally (and I use “professionally” in the loosest sense of the word), terms like “transition” and “upheaval” and “Armageddon” were being bandied about at every SXSW industry panel. Sure, MP3s changed things, as did the decreased costs of CD production, as did the surge in inexpensive digital recording, as did MySpace, as did the explosion of bands…but this is pop music, and everything is always changing in radical ways. I just don’t know. I’m sure some things are less stupid than they used to be, some things are more stupid than the used to be, and most things are just as stupid as they ever were.
What are the best things about the Arkansas music scene, specifically Little Rock?
The bands, the venues, and the audiences. Now, as always, no two projects sound alike, and yet they’re all incredible and they all get the support and love of the community. We’re a town that is perennially overlooked (in a state that is perennially overlooked) but that’s an advantage in the long term. We make our own fun and we punch above our weight, and that makes being here vastly superior to being in a major market where everything is a preordained exercise in being told what to enjoy by idiot tastemakers. I never, ever enjoyed being from anywhere but here, and that’s as true today as it was in 1993 or 2003.
What can we do to better the music/art scene here?
I have no practical answers. I’ve got friends in Scandinavia who receive stipends for their art that allow them a living wage while making music. Suffice it to say, they’re pretty shocked to learn that’s not in the cards in the States. But past that I’m not sure. Again, I’ve travelled to a lot of places, but I’ve always thought that Little Rock is the best. In terms of pragmatic strategy, forging good ties with Fayetteville and Conway and Russellville and Fort Smith and all the other places where interesting people are making cool music or are establishing cool venues always helps. That was such a nice part of being in a band (finding other like-minded friends). I think, for those of you who are still serious about making a go of this (I am not), the best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and make friends. Don’t just saturate your town and feel sweet because you get free drinks at the one bar where you always play. Go out and be a part of something larger. It’s not hard. There are a shocking number of inspiriting people within 150 miles of you.