For the thirtieth installment in the One-Man Band Series we have Jason Matthew McQuillen, a West Virginia native who currently resides in Memphis, and who writes, records and performs his own blend of sloppy folk-punk and alt-blues under the moniker Slate Dump. His project is a rather simple one-man band arrangement in comparison to the remarkably complex setups of some of the other artists, foregoing of all the neat gadgets and bells n’ whistles which evidently serve more as a means to impress and amaze than produce truly brilliant music. So it is safe to say, I think, that Slate Dump is not a novelty act in any sense of the term, but rather a singer/songwriter whose musical endeavor just happens to be an altogether uncomplicated solo one, involving the use of more than one instrument, like acoustic guitar, harp, kazoo, vocals, and the occasional piece of foot percussion.
As we’ve already established, Slate Dump’s sound is not an incredibly technical one. Nor is it a sound typically found throughout the worldwide one-man band scene. It is, however, the sound that best suits him as an artist. And in order to create this sound he strums heavily on the strings of his acoustic guitar, strings which sometimes seem to be slightly out of tune, but deliberately so. While strumming, he occasionally uses his foot to stomp out a fitting beat, though even in his most ambitious compositions the percussion is very minimal. While working his main instruments, Slate Dump incorporates harp or kazoo parts, here and there, to expand upon and adorn the song structures. And, over it all, he delivers his echoey and mid-range vocals.
To date, Slate Dump has released a couple of independent full-length lo-fi albums, as well as two split CDs with fellow one-man band Sleepy Eyes Nelson, “Covered in Blues, Volumes I and II.” He has also played a good many shows throughout the years, more than a few of them alongside some of the most recognizable and admired names in the scene, such as J Marinelli, The Dad Horse Experience, Sleepy Eyes Nelson, Mosquito Bandito, Lone Rooster, and the like. If those things weren’t enough, he received repeated mention in the pages of a recently published book, a comprehensive guide and history of one-man bands, “Head, Hands, & Feet: A History of One Man Bands,” by Dave Harris. And, as a dedicated and passionate member of the one-man band scene, and as an overall music enthusiast, Jason, or Slate Dump, has taken part in the organization of one-man band music festivals, promoted the scene in general, and has assisted artists passing through his region on tour. To be sure, Slate Dump is by far the one-man band scene’s favorite coal bucket outlaw.
A few weeks ago, I had both the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Jason Matthew McQuillen, or Slate Dump, What follows is the content from that interview in its entirety.
To begin, how about a little background information on Jason Mathew McQuillen (aka Neff Sobrino, aka Slate Dump), not just as a singer/songwriter and one-man band but also as an individual, a human being in this mad world in which we live?
Mad world? You wanna talk about madness? Madness is all I know, really. Seriously.
I’ve been working in the field of community mental health for nine years. Started out in West Virginia working at a CSU (Crisis Stabilization Unit), where I consoled up to ten individuals suffering from psychotic reactions, in a house setting, on the graveyard shift, all while manning a suicide hotline, and cooking them breakfast before my shift ended.
Later, I moved on to adolescent substance abuse counseling. Then it was on to working with developmentally disabled adults. Next, I worked at a level-three camp-like setting for adolescents with behavioral disorders. To my current position, as a counselor at a level-four lockdown facility for emotionally disturbed males, ages twelve to twenty. My life, for all intents & purposes, is “fucking intense.” Most Americans haven’t the patience, or the testicular fortitude, to do what I do every day. Period.
Am I getting too old to wrestle shanks from the hands of mixed-up kids? Probably. But when all I’m skilled at involves music and madness, I’ll need a Master’s Degree in something different. Any ideas for me, readers?
What compelled you to take the one-man band route as opposed to being part of a full band lineup?
I grew up in a musical family. My great-grandfather, Hugh McQuillen, was a well-known country bluesman in southern West Virginia. For almost forty years he never saw sunlight on a weekday (he was a coalminer), but evenings would find him in local dives and honkytonks, and holidays would find him playing at family gatherings, as he was a master of all stringed instruments. He had eleven children, nine surviving today, including my grandma Doris, who is seventy-five years old and still plays guitar daily (ala Chuck Berry and Hank Williams).
I consider my great-grandfather Hugh, and my grandmother Doris, the two biggest influences on my sound. If you ever see my show, you will notice that I’ve never had any proper training; I learned by watching them, and I make what most refer to as a “sloppy G chord” using my thumb and middle finger, just as my elders did. I refuse to learn any more chords than the five or six I learned from them; these few chords have served me well, as I’ve recorded over four-hundred songs, more than a hundred of them originals.
Sorry for getting slightly off track. But to answer your question, it’s because of my great-grandfather and grandmother that I got on this path. I’ve always had a sense of rugged individualism, and a hard work ethic. I guess that’s why I’m a one-man band. Self-reliance, the D.I.Y.D.S. (Do It Your Damned Self) attitude. Plus I don’t work well with others.
Your sound is somewhat unique to the one-man band genre, being that it’s more a blend of folk-punk, antifolk, and alt-blues than anything else. What influenced you to embrace such a sound, especially in a genre where the dominating sounds tend to be blues trash, blues punk, primitive rock’n’roll, and garage punk?
I’ve been called it all. I don’t care what they call me…as long as they call me.
I have so many different influences that it’s difficult for me (of limited musical ability) to emulate anyone, so I just “do me.”
This is just the sound that comes out when I open my mouth and bang on instruments. It’s just me being me, with no pretensions…hoping that someone will appreciate my honest singing and playing!
Luckily, this ability to “not be painted into a genre corner” has allowed me to play about anywhere in the states with a variety of different and talented bands, both national and international, of varying genres, and in venues that are traditional, non-traditional, dirty, clean, indoor, outdoor, smoky, holy, and everything in-between.
I consider myself versatile, and I have a huge repertoire. So I can fit in anywhere. I’ve played tattoo parlors, car shows, barn dances, folk fests, blues fests, mountain music fests, charity events, churches; anything from small dives to gorgeous and prestigious historical music halls.
Wherever folks will have me, I’ll be happy to play.
What have been some of your most memorable tour/gig moments to date?
There are so many! This question is difficult!
I’ve been playing music in one form or another for twenty years, but I’ve only been playing on guitar, as Slate Dump, for the last seven or eight.
I’ll just narrow it down to the folks who’ve inspired me while on the road. The traveling partners I’ve had most fun with, or learned from, or have learned things about myself from on the road, would have to be this small handful (in no particular order):Jesco White (WV), James Marinelli (WV/KY), Sleepy Eyes Nelson (Scotland), Dad Horse Experience (Germany), Rob K. (NJ/NYC/DC/HI), Uncle Butcher (Brazil), O LendarioChucrobillyman (Brazil), Johnny Lowebow (AK/TN), Captain Catfeesh (WV), Slackeye Slim (OH/MT/WI), Joseph Christ (TN/VA), Mosquito Bandito (MO), The Limbs (CO), Evan Ray Mitchell (IL), MussyCluves (MO).
There are many, many more. But the above list comprises the most fun-spirited, creative souls I’ve encountered so far!
Special nod to: Kevin “Duck” Stover, from West Virginia, who nudged me to play guitar, along his side, while in college, as others doubted me and denied my humanity because I wasn’t a “technical player.” I was at my lowest point in life, and you gave me encouragement. Your kindness will never be forgotten! Thank you, my friend!
In recent years you have been very involved in the one-man band genre, setting up shows, lending a hand to other artists, providing Dave Harris with information for his book, and just generally promoting the weird and wonderful world of one-man bands. What specifically have you had a hand in? And with which artists have you worked?
I’ve done three one-man band “showdowns” in Memphis so far: the first in 2010 at Buccaneer Lounge, Midtown, with Dad Horse Experience, J Marinelli, Johnny Lowebow, and myself. In 2011, again at Buccaneer Lounge, with Sleepy Eyes Nelson,The Fly & His One Man Garbage, Evan Ray Mitchell (as Lone Rooster), Mosquito Bandito, Chris Owen, Johnny Lowebow, and myself. In 2012 at New Daisy Theater, Beale Street, Memphis, with Dad Horse Experience, Sleepy Eyes Nelson, Johnny Lowebow, and myself. Already plotting out the 2013 show…with surprise guests!
OMBs I’ve played with that I can recall (as there’ve been many, and my memory fails me…guess I’m getting old…hahaha!): J Marinelli, Captain Catfeesh, Joseph Christ, The Limbs, Evan Ray Mitchell, Mosquito Bandito, J Glenn, Chris Owen, Molly Gene, Crankshaft, Johnny Lowebow, Esmerelda Strange, Bloody Ol’ Mule, John Stoll, Dad Horse Experience, Uncle Butcher, O Lendario Chucrobillyman, The Fly and His One Man Garbage…Who am I leaving out? Shit!
So far you’ve done two split albums with Scottish country blues one-man band Sleepy Eyes Nelson. How did that come about?
Discovered him on ye olde Myspace. Around 2007 or 2008 maybe.
I was entranced with his Delta country blues style. We became friends fast. I found out he was a fan of my work just as much as I was a fan of his, and we vowed to play together one day in America, or on his distant shore. And four or five years later, it was a reality!
Strange fact: Sleepy and I share a birthday with Vincent Price, Wild Bill Hickok, &Siouxie Sioux! May the 27th.
On the latest “Covered in Blues” split featuring you and Sleepy Eyes Nelson, you each selected a handful of the other’s songs and played them your own way, in your own style. How do you feel about his versions of your songs, the way he re-made them for the recording? And has he ever mentioned his thoughts on your versions of his songs, the way you re-made them?
Honestly, I was blown completely out of the water by how Sleepy rendered The Ballad of Pop Bottle Pete and Beer Can Bud. He made it a soft and sweet type thing, exactly what I had in mind when I wrote it but was unable to execute it as well as he could. And his version of The Tragic Tale of Kazimir Kiskis took the song to a completely different level, just as immediate and urgent, but even more thoughtful and poignant.
Sleepy says that he has thoroughly enjoyed my versions of his tunes, but I assure you, readers, he could not possibly enjoy mine as much as I’ve enjoyed his. Cheers to Sleepy!
And as a small footnote: J.Marinelli made The Ballad of Pop Bottle Pete and Beer Can Bub a complete raucous banger.
Nods to Mussy Cluves, Sam Taylor, and Captain Catfeesh for covering my ditties as well.
Clearly one of your talents, in addition to writing and playing original songs, is coming up with clever song titles. The Ballad of Pop Bottle Pete and Beer Can Bud, The Tragic Tale KazimirKiskis, (I Threw My Heart Into) the River of Death, Inciting a Riot, and Requiem for a Canary are just a few of them. From what sources do you mine your lyrical content? And…do you prefer fictional content over that which is true and based on your own observations and experiences?
As for titles, I’m not much for giving a song a title that has nothing to do with the lyrics. I will try to encapsulate the feeling or overall plot into a small digestible bite for their monikers.99% of my material comes from stories about people I know personally, or regional folk tales, or issues of social injustice, or parables about the struggles of the working poor from the position of a mixed-up Appalachian child from the southern coalfields. 1% of the time I’ll go off on a whim of fantasy, like in River of Death or Love Bug. But from the jump, I’ve tried to base my songs in a grounded reality, trying to suss out the experiences of myself and the people around me.
Fact has always been, historically speaking, stranger than fiction!
Any breaking Slate Dump news? Any upcoming shows or releases? Any OMB fests or splits or collaborations? Any other projects? Etc.
No big breaking news. But a couple of small tidbits: a bunch of shows, and upcoming releases, including my fifth solo album, “Memphis Women Don’t Wear No Shoes,” will be released on Christmas. It’s all original songs. I play every instrument and do all the production (if you call one-takes “production”) all by my damned self. DIY till I die!
Cheap Wine Records out of Glasgow, Scotland will be releasing a “Live from Austin, Texas” album with Sleepy Eyes Nelson and yours truly in the coming months. Keep your eyes peeled at the label’s website.
Plus, I have a Spanish album in the works, and ideas for a few compilations/split albums, and such. Stay tuned to my Facebook page here for details as they arise.
As I stated earlier, I’m working on a big surprise headliner for the 2013 Memphis one-man band showdown.
Keep your ears to the rails, kiddies!
Lastly, if there’s anything I failed to cover, or if there’s anything you would like to express or discuss, please feel free to do so now. The floor is all yours, Neff.
I’d like to thank you, Mr. Carlson, for this opportunity to spill my guts.
Just one last word for my fellow one-being, multi-tasking, musical peers…
If you’d like to play in Memphis, lemme know at least four to eight weeks in advance and I will try my best to go to bat for a venue. But, as always, I can’t make guarantees on any money. It’s slim pickins out there, especially in a musical town where so many bands will play for next to nothing. But if you really love what you do, and you want to experience Memphis, and money is of no matter to you, then I’ll always be in your corner.
Big Cheers from the top of the Delta…your Nephew from Up and Under th’ Slate Dumps, Jason Mathew McQuillen.