I caught up with Schilling recently for a quick chat about the album, joining the band, and what’s next for this tight, talented group of pickers.
Kim Ruehl: How did this record come to be? How did the decision come to make a live record?
Josh Schilling: Well I think that the idea of creating a live record has been tossed around for years with these guys and the crowds that come to their shows generally ask for live material because the band's so energetic and ... I think it's something their fans have really wanted for a long time. And I think a live record is something you can create quicker than a studio record. Me being the new singer and having some new material that I'd written and brought into the picture, [a live record is] a great way to knock out several birds with one stone. We could put up the first live project, satisfy the fans, and showcase me as the new singer, and all this new material ... I really think we captured the band's energy on stage that night.
I don't know if you know anything about where it's recorded or any of that. We actually recorded it back in May in a place called the Ark in Ann Arbor, Mich. It was a super energetic crowd and we were really on our game. It was a sold out show. Peope were just completely excited from the time we came out, so during the show they were feeding off the energy that we were giving off, and vice versa.
But I think the idea of doing a live record was to fill that gap with the fans because they'd been asking for it for years, and to showcase me with the band.
Do you know why they chose the Ark? I know the Ark is always a favorite venue of a lot of artists. Were you recording a bunch of different shows? Or did you just decide that the Ark was the best place to do it?
I think they really wanted to do it at the Ark. I played the Ark once with them and they play there several times throughout the year. I think they wanted to do it at the Ark because people there are so supportive of live music. They're ... there to support all genres of music. It's just a great music town, period, and a very supportive crowd there, and the band is well-received in that area too. It’s a perfect room ... I'm not sure how many seats, I think like 500 seats or so, so it's not very big. But, still, to get a large rowdy crowd in there and ... people are just completely as great as can be coming to the show.
I think initially, they were going to record that show in hopes of getting enough to do a live album and then maybe record other shows and put all the best takes from different shows together for an album. That night ended up being special in a lot of ways. There's a very diverse group of songs on here. It just went from piano-and-vocals Allman Brothers covers to bluegrass songs to down and dirty New Orleans kind of blues things. There's a little bit of everything on the album. All of that was captured that night. We had a great audio engineer and everybody performed well, it was just an awesome crowd, so we ended up getting everything we needed for the project that night.
So did you go into the set thinking these are the songs we definitely want to capture, and hopefully it’ll work out?
If I'm not mistaken I think there's 16 tracks on the CD, and I think there's a few of those tracks that are intros, a welcome, there’s some downtime while we're tuning and talking, so that's [why there are] 16 tracks. [But,] there are 12 music tracks and songs. I think we probably went in there and recorded about 20 or 22 songs, but we ended up keeping 12 of the best songs.
We definitely did go in there and discuss what the band does, what we were performing at the time the best and what we wanted to showcase, [which was] all the different genres of music that this band could dip into. There’s an a cappella gospel song on there, there's a jazz and blues fiddle instrumental, there's a piano song, bluegrass songs and all kinds of songs on there. So, basically, we went in there with the mindset that [we wanted to] let the listeners hear a lot of new material and variety, as well as all the crowd favorites that the band's had every year. We did these songs to try to grab all listeners, to put something on there that works for everybody.
But to answer your question, I don't think that we definitely had a set number of songs or even group of songs, we just went in there with the strongest material we could gather, and performed it pretty much live. We did some of the songs a couple of times and took the best take, but there was no set song list, or anything like that. We just went in there and got as much of the good stuff as we could.
How did you come to Mountain Heart? Did they find you, or did you seek them out?
Our mutual friend Scotty Bolen was their front house sound guy, the guy that stands out in front of the band and makes the sound. He worked for them as an audio engineer, but also at a studio in Roanoke, southwest Virginia where I live. And I got called by that studio three or four years ago to do live piano demos and vocal demos, and he ended up recording a lot of these demos. In their travels when they stlil had their old singer, he let the guys hear me sing and they liked what I was doing. Several years back, when they were all up in that area working, they all contacted me and I came to a show and watched them play and we all met and kept in touch and all that. But, that was a while back ...
This past December, they ended up needing a new singer, basically, they parted ways with their old singer. They called me. I was in a band in North Carolina and kind of needed to get out of that situation, and we all agreed on what we wanted to accomplish, so I started with the band the first of January [this year].