Alex Hebert of A Tom Collins on working with Bob Ferbrache and touring in Europe
A. Tom Collins, the five-piece band fronted by Aaron Collins, has a sound that's equal parts ragtime, honky tonk blues and tin pan alley. The outfit, which has smartly left its rough edges intact, is driven by Collins's piano and impassioned vocals, and while the act may teeter on the edge of chaos at times, it is reined in by its strong rhythm section and well-crafted, dynamic melodies.
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Although A. Tom Collins is from Colorado, there seems to be more than a bit of New Orleans musical DNA in the band's music. The band just celebrated the local release of Stick & Poke, its latest album, which is slated for national release this July on the Greater Than Collective imprint. We recently spoke with drummer Alex Hebert about the new album, working with Bob Ferbrache on the new record and the group's upcoming European tour.
Westword: You're putting out Stick & Poke nationally in the last half of July?
Alex Hebert: Yeah, we had a Denver release this last week. Sort of a thank you to Denver and we just kind of wanted to throw a party before we hit the road. The reason we're doing the national release in July is that we signed with Greater Than Collective, and they're presenting us with a lot of great opportunities.
We're really stoked to have some help after doing it ourselves for three years. They're helping us get legit national publicists. We just signed with a radio promoter. They want to launch us properly and make something happen nationally. The album's been in the works for a long time, and they were really eager to get it out there. It's ten songs, and it's being released on CD and vinyl.
What's the significance of the title?
"Stick & Poke" is one of the lyrics in one of our songs, "Hospital." It's sort of about a wild night that captures a lot of times in Aaron Collins's life. There's this line about a stick & poke tattoo. A stick & poke tattoo image ended up being the album cover as well.
You recorded with Bob Ferbrache? Why did you want to work with him? What was it like working with him?
We've known Bob for a while. We're fans of Slim Cessna's Auto Club and Sixteen Horsepower and other things he's done in the past. In 2011, we started demo-ing the record with plans to record it and release it ourselves. We started recording and laying tracks down, and things weren't working that great, given our own limitations with equipment and time.
Somewhere Bob Ferbrache heard that we were making a record. We'd opened up for Slim Cessna's [Auto Club] a couple of times, and Bob knew who we were. He called up Aaron and said, "I want to make your record." We kind of figured that if Bob Ferbrache wants to make our record, who are we to say no? He's got a great ear, he makes great-sounding records, and we really wanted, from the beginning, to get someone from outside the band to help produce it, who could think outside the parameters we're normally thinking.
It worked out really well. We were wary at first because most of Bob's stuff is rock with country twinges, and we hadn't really heard anything with horns on it before. But he really stepped up to the challenge and pushed everybody really hard to perform well. He really captured the energy of the band -- really representative of our live sound but a little bit more polished.
When you say he pushed everyone, what sorts of things did he do?
With the horns especially, he focused on getting the tones right and getting great performances. We've had horn lines and stuff written out for a while for a lot of these songs. We did a lot of retooling of the sound. He said, "This doesn't really work here. You can do better than that."
Doing the parts over and over again made us really think about what each individual was doing and finding something that worked and playing it as best as the musician could. So it was really good to have someone pushing, and of course, we all highly respected his opinion as a musician who has been making albums for thirty years or longer. So we kind of followed his lead on that.
Presumably you recorded in his basement studio?
Yes. He's got a ton of great gear and dozens of amazing guitars and keyboards -- all kinds of great stuff. He really put his sound on the record, as well, while really working with us and taking our input to heart. We would ask him to do things, and he would say, "I don't like doing that." But he would do it anyway. "Let's boost the gain on this. Let's make this dirty."
As a drummer, I like my drums to sound pretty raw and overdriven. He likes to capture good tones and make it sound really pretty. I asked if he could dirty up my drums. He said something along the lines of, "So you spent all this time recording your drums and making them sound perfect, and now you want me to make them sound like shit?"
I said, "Exactly." Needless to say, he didn't do that. But he gave me a little bit of what I wanted, and he got what he wanted. We tried things we wanted done, and we'd listen back to it in the mixing process, and be like, "Yeah, Bob, you were right. Let's go with your plan." That's kind of what the end result of the record was: a really collaborative effort between Bob and us.
Your first extensive tour is going to actually be in Europe. How did that opportunity come about?
I've been touring Europe for about five years. I've been over there with Reverend Deadeye several times, and our band Broken Spirits went a couple of years ago. I've booked several tours, so I have a lot of connections, and I have a route. I gave the last A. Tom Collins album out to people last time I was in Europe, and they asked, "When is this band coming out?" About halfway through the record, I said, "Let's plan a tour around this record." We don't have a U.S. booking agent so I said, "Let's go over there and just do it." I have this feeling we'll go over really well over there.
I started booking the tour, and this other booking agent out there helped us with Belgium and Holland. We got lucky, after lots of finagling; we got on four dates with Slim Cessna's Auto Club as a support act. We'll be doing dates in Holland and Belgium, Germany, a few dates in Switzerland, France and a date in London with Slim.
Touring over there, do you rent equipment?
That's the nice thing about touring with this band, too: lots of acoustic instruments. The horn section will be taking their horns. I'm going to rent a drum kit. We'll rent a bass amp, a keyboard amp and a keyboard and a van and hit the road. I've met people in touring over there so I have some pretty good connections.