Members: Michael Piatt, aka Rotten Belly Michael, guitar and vocals; Matt Gochenauer, bass and percussion; Kyle Morgan, piano, guitar and vocals; Will Markley, piano and vocals
Studio musicians include: Alex Smith, percussion; Jason Roach, saxophone; Ben Fraizer, trumpet; Dave Crane, guitar and harp; Jon Mertz, bass; Dave Groninger, guitar; Dominick Billett, percussion
Who we talked to: Rotten Belly Michael
Where are you from originally? Actually, my address is Stewart County, Tenn. The truth is that my brother moved up here from Memphis, and he needed someone to drive his furniture up here. When I came up here, I met some of these players, and right way, we just hit it off and started playing together. From that point . . . I came back for three more trips. These fellows here have pretty much stuck with me. The reason . . . I believe is that they're really starting to find themselves in the music.
How long have you been performing together? The core of the band formed around the end of last November. But I wound up going out West and doing a California tour. I worked up a lot of the rockin' songs. When I came back, I knew that I had to be able to work with Kyle and Will and Matt. Those guys were such fabulous performers that I knew they had to be part of the band. When we went to the studio (in March) and realized the possibilities . . . we've worked together from then on and they did the Tennessee and Kentucky tours with me.
Describe your sound/style. I think that it's organic. Everybody is allowed to be themselves. We cut (the album) in several different sessions. But in each session for the most part, everybody learned the song right there at the session. There were no pre-rehearsals. There were five of us on the first session. The next session . . . all of a sudden the band (had) eight players. By the time we got to the last sessions . . . we had the horn players (and percussion and piano) from York. Everybody knew that we (were) doing some big work, and they wanted to come and be part of it. Will actually hustled back from Austin and the South by Southwest shows . . . because he was actually one of the main players from the . . . Rotten Belly Blues in the Northeast.
So there are different pockets of Rotten Bellys scattered across the country? (The Pennsylvania Rotten Bellys have) gone to Columbus (Ohio) and met up with the Columbus Rotten Bellys. As we went down to Tennessee . . . we got together with the Tennessee Rotten Bellys. We're planing on - some of us, at least - all going together to the West Coast swing this winter (and meeting the Rotten Bellys out there).
What connects the Rotten Bellys? What really happens is that you get the sense inside of you. You know instinctively, intuitively what we're about to play. Nobody has time (to rehearse). Everybody lives so far away from each other. But people know the basis of the songs. They know the first two albums. If I call out a song . . . they just know it. These guys are so good. They just play what they have in their hearts and that is what makes the music sound so honest.
Where does the name come from? I'll give you the short story of it. We (were) in Colorado and it was bestowed on me by an (Native American) princess. At that point . . . I was proud to take it on. And now, as we turn to Rotten Belly Blues and these fellows come on board . . . they just sort of earn it. The music itself is organic and keeps it growing. Really, the band just keeps growing. If another horn player comes along, we'd be happy to have another horn player.
Are you happy with the album? It's something that I think all the players on can take real pride in. There's nobody showing off. It is a band. Everybody is playing to each other's strengths. Everybody in the band is capable of being the star of their own band . . . and they all play their own gigs. But what's cool is that they know these Rotten Belly songs and they go out . . . and play some of them themselves.
What are your influences? I would say that I listened to the blues and that's pretty much how I learned how to play. But I also grew up listening to Hank Williams and, of course, I listened to The Beatles, and I listened to the Rolling Stones. Our record label Dead Sea is a West Coast label. It's a very punk label. When they first took to being interested in Rotten Belly Blues, I was wondering what they were thinking. They feel like we are to the blues what punk was to rock 'n' roll music. It's called the outsider blues. We don't imitate any kind of music. In this core group . . . each one of them has their own style that they might follow. A little bit of that style gets mixed with the blues. These guys bring this energy and this rockin' vibe to everything. That has taken our blues roots and really energized it.
- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF
If you go
Rotten Belly Blues performs at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Second Annual Save Thanksgiving Food Pantry Benefit at the Central Juniata Emergency Medical Services building in Mifflintown. Other performers include Appalachian Translator, the Heggs, the Click Clack Boom and Erica Shellenberger.
Cost is $5. Donations of food, household cleaning supplies or personal care items will be collected.
On the Web
For details about the band, visit www.myspace.com/rottenbellyblues.
Listen to the interview at www.flipsidepa.com.
Read more meet-the-artist interviews at www.flipsidepa.com/musicdirectory.