Joey BallsFat Wreck Chords
By Dustin Blumhagen on 04/05/2014 at Email
Old Man Markley are a relatively new band on the Fat Wreck Chords roster, but they quickly became one of the most recognizable with their unique blend of punk rock and bluegrass music. They have toured extensively around the world, covering North America multiple times, rising from openers (for legendary groups like NOFX, Reverend Horton Heat, The Descendents…) to become a sought after headlining act.
The band are currently on the road, working their way up the west coast into Canada and across. The group recently released their 4th 7″, the exciting Stupid Today. Thepunksite.com took some time to speak with Joey Balls (Garibaldi), bassist and vocalist with Old Man Markley as he begins the latest road trip.
First of all, since we last spoke with you Old Man Markley have released the Down Side Up full length and the recent Stupid Today 7”. The full length hit number 1 on the US Bluegrass charts, plus charted on a variety of others as well! Wow, how did that news feel?
It felt great! We had charted at #8 with our first album, so hitting #1 on the Bluegrass charts was awesome.
Stupid Today is fantastic. How do you as a group decide on which band/ song to cover for the B-side of each 7”? I really enjoyed how you snuck a song within a song. How did that come about?
Thanks! Glad you like it. All of our previous 7” feature a B-side punk cover. OMM singer/ guitarist Johnny Carey came up with the idea for covering the NOFX song “Reeko” and arranged it, too. Being huge unabashed NOFX fans we thought it would be a treat to do the slow parts fast, fast parts slow, and do the “song-within-a-song” for extra cred. Street cred.
The first time I got to interview some of the band members, you were kind enough to welcome me onto the bus. It still boggles my mind that so many of you tour so many miles in that outfit, especially the ladies putting up with all of those guys… Has touring together over the past few years brought everyone closer together? Do you long for home at the end of tour? Do the various members take time away from each other when you are home?
We travel in a large group in bus that breaks down in some sort of way every tour. It’s tough but a bonding experience, too. The ladies are as tough (or tougher) than us dudes. They can take all comers. Personally, I love getting home as much as I love leaving for tour. But I’m also the guy in the band with no wife, no girlfriend, no kid, no dog, no day job, etc and yet I still find it rough to put normal life on ‘hold.’ Various members do various things at various times, with the universe allowing over lappage at various intervals. But we hang during the “off season” for the sake of hanging.
There are so many different instruments involved in the Old Man Markley sound. Do the songs take shape as a whole or start small (on guitar or a lyric sheet or something like that) and grow as each member adds their artistic touch?
The latter. Our songs usually start on the acoustic guitar with a melody and words, then add banjo, fiddle, bass, harmonies, let simmer on low… But you pretty much have us figured. Our secrets are out!
There were so many amazing artists that paid tribute to Tony Sly on the Fat release. You covered Feel Good Song of the Year. Did you get to choose the specific song that you covered? Is there a reason that you chose this song?
We did get to choose and ended up being the first band to submit our contribution. We chose “Feel Good Song of the Year” because we wanted to represent something off of NUFAN’s latest release. The harmonies and melody spoke to us. It’s just such a good song.
The first time I heard OMM, it was on the Let Them Know documentary soundtrack. Since the beginning, OMM have been consistently releasing high quality original music, but you also have maintained your commitment to covering great songs with a distinct OMM touch. There are lots of bands who avoid doing covers, but I always appreciate hearing your take on songs I love. Is that something the group consciously decided, to create covers as you move through your career?
When we started the band it was all covers. We were just having fun playing bluegrass style rock, or whatever it is that we play. It’s so fun to take punk songs and give it our take. A punk cover record is not out of the realm of possibility…
Old Man Markley are well known for your commitment to a heavy touring schedule, which seems to be an increasingly rare thing these days. For your latest tour, you are playing some dates with the legendary Reverend Horton Heat, heading up the coast on an actual North American tour (as opposed to those who say that, then only play Toronto and/or Vancouver). On the Canadian leg, you are playing with Edmonton’s Fire Next Time in the west and The Stanfields in the east. Can you tell me how you chose these groups to open? Are you familiar with their work?
Fire Next Time and The Stanfields were recommended to us by the powers that be. With the help of the internet I have become privy to their music and I’m super stoked for the fun we are all about to have. About to have!!
You also have some cool festival dates along the tour. First up is the always fantastic Sled Island in Calgary. You were supposed to play last year, but the city got flooded. Did you bypass the city or did you experience any of the disaster area firsthand?
We were in the thick of it. The club we were playing was on high ground, and we waited patiently and hopefully. The band before us played, and right before we would’ve played the evacuation notice was given. It was such a bummer, we felt horrible for the residents and business owners. Bummer. We were fine but others weren’t as lucky.
You are also playing at Saskatoon’s Jazz Festival, which features a diverse lineup from Ben Harper’s blues project to alt pop stars Tegan & Sara. Do you enjoy playing festival environments? Does it differ from the small club shows playing to punk rock crowds?
I love the big fests. Especially outdoor ones where I can tell my inside jokes outside! We have a lot of fun on stage weather its small club or big fest stage. Just give us a crowd and we’ll make smiles.
Back at the end of last year, you were touring in Europe. How was that tour? Do you feel like there is a noticeable difference to playing shows over there? Do you think that you are drawing more on the punk rock crowd over there, or are they open to the bluegrass side as well?
Our European tour was fun yet grinding (33 shows in 31 days, you do the math). It was our third time over there and we are definitely seeing the fan base grow. Our crowds are a total mix of everything, I think. We have a lot of punks but also a lot of just non punks. Hard to describe, really. I’ll work on my German, go back and get to the bottom of this ASAP!
Your recent chart topper suggests that the notoriously traditional bluegrass crowd is opening up to your groundbreaking sound. Are you seeing a wider variety of concert goers at your shows these days?
Wow, thanks for the kind words! When I think ground breaking I think dudes with sledge hammers and huge biceps. Then I feel warm and need to fan myself. And can’t remember what we were talking about.
You have some pretty great fans, including label head/ NOFX front man Fat Mike. How are things going working with the label? Are they still super fans of the band? If you could see the future, how would you expect the career of OMM to look in a decade down the line?
I went to a fortune teller once. She predicted most of this, with a few details off but mostly accurate. According to her the next thing that happens with the band is that we get a new tour vehicle that flies and never breaks down. We write the best record we ever wrote until the next one we write, Johnny grows hair on his head and under his feet and our washboard player Ryan Markley’s newborn daughter becomes president of the Old Man Markley fan club.