Flemons: I would say I compare myself to the sheep-herding dog. I am a loyal person by nature and I keep things in line and moving forward with a strong sense of where I want to go next.
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
Flemons: I’ve always enjoyed music. Until I finished college, I had no ambitions to do music as a profession. I’m glad that’s changed (laughs)! I started out as a fan of music – a record collector, a studier of musical styles and songwriting. I spent a lot of my free time enjoying music. When the opportunity came for me to present historical American music and to help create awareness about black string bands, I was more than happy to present that. I am proud to be an ambassador of music.
B&L: What’s the making of a great show? What do you look or hope for as the folks setting foot on that stage?
Flemons: A great show requires great players and great songs. On top of that if you have a solid set of material that has room for a little extra showmanship it really helps the overall show. I always hope the audience has a good time. When you have the material, the players, and then the show – you’re unstoppable.
B&L: You do a lot of traveling. In part to perform music, in part to learn from fellow musicians (research), and, in summation to educate and/or to keep traditional roots music alive and well. What’s the importance of travel – of being in motion? What do you enjoy about moving from place to place?
Flemons: This music is powerful. It stands the test of time and it is the foundation of our nation’s heritage. Who wouldn’t want to share that? I feel passionate about playing the songs and then I share stories. Not always long stories. Sometimes they are observations or they are ideas that made sense to me as a modern person in the 21st century.
Travel is interesting because it’s a constant. You get used to it after a while. It’s just a part of the job. Yet, the power of traveling comes from the multitude of experiences that become a part of your being over time. You see different towns. You go to different countries. It’s all very exciting! It just becomes a game of pacing yourself so that you can enjoy it all as it goes by.
B&L: You’re known as “The American Songster.” I love that name. Was it a self-proclamation, or did some one bestow you with that nickname?
Flemons: The name American Songster was actually the name of my second solo record. I came up with the name looking for a way to describe my music. The term “songster” was an old term used to describe a musician who sang and played a variety of music for an audience. They were the jukebox before jukeboxes existed. I liked the name and decided to use it. The “American” comes from the fact that the bulk of my repertoire is songs that come from the United States. There are other American Songsters around this country so I added the “The” so that folks would know that I am me and I’m here to stay.
B&L: Tell us a little bit about your latest recorded work, What Got Over. What’s it all about?
Flemons: When I recorded my record Prospect Hill in January 2014, I wanted to record more material than necessary so that I could make two separate records. I cut about 30 tracks all together and whittled them down into the album Prospect Hill. Several months after the release I went back into the studio and finished up the tracks that were my “outtakes.” I found that there were so many great alternate versions of songs and material that was left off the first record that I felt compelled to create a second record. Of course, I had to figure out how to get the word out about the release so I decided to make it a Record Store Day release and put it out there that way.
What Got Over features songs that almost made the cut. In particular, the song “Clock On The Wall” was a piece that was just too long to fit on the record but I love the way it turned out.
I created What Got Over to be a companion to Prospect Hill so much so that I sequenced the two records to work in conjunction with each other. If you make a playlist with Prospect Hill followed by What Got Over you will have the Prospect Hill omnibus, which is an hour-long album and a full song cycle.
B&L: Since you’re all about the celebration of song(s), what’s one tune (or, heck, a couple) that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written yourself?
Flemons: I feel like a song like “My Money Never Runs Out” is a song I wish I could’ve written. The thing to know is that I am not caught up in the mental hang-up feeling like I have to write everything I do wholesale. When I select a song, it has moved me in some way or another so that I want to learn it. None of my songs are accidental.
B&L: You’ve won a Grammy Award. That’s something. What was that experience like?
Flemons: It was a great experience. It’s a great honor to be recognized for my music when I was so young (I was 28 when I received it, I’m 33 now). Many musicians spent a lot of years wanting to receive that distinction. I got to meet Herbie Hancock when I was there along with the Black Eyed Peas and Esperanza Spaulding. It’s a unique experience being in contact with all of these high-class musicians to learn that you are on the same level with them. It was a humbling experience to say the least.
B&L: In regard to that Grammy, it happened to occur with a band helped found, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. – a band you left in 2013. How has the solo ride been so far? Do you think you’ll ever collaborate with the Chocolate Drops at some point down the road?
Flemons: The solo ride has been great. I am happy to be presenting music that means something to me. We had a lot of great years as a group and we accomplished several wonderful feats to create awareness about the old-time music. As for a future collaboration, who knows? I am good to play music anytime, anywhere. If something happens with the group, fine but I don’t feel a need to force it. If I wanted to get back with them I wouldn’t have left in the first place.
B&L: You like hats. What do hats add to the mystique that is the American Songster?
Flemons: I don’t know about a mystique. I feel that hats can give a sense of style to a person. I’ve performed with quite a few hats over the years and I have been currently impression by the most recent, which is an Akubra hat. Akubra is the equivalent to the Stetson hat in Australia. The make is called the Pastoral. It’s a cowboy hat but it has the look of a porkpie hat with a larger brim.
B&L: What can folks expect when they come out to see you perform Birdseye Lounge on November 11th?
Flemons: The first thing people should expect is a good show with excellent songs. I do a combination of interpretations and original songs that span the scope of American music. I try to find songs that I relate to personally, and ones that I hope will leave an impression on an audience as well.
I will feature a variety of instruments in addition to my singing. I will be playing the guitar, banjo, harmonica, bones and quills. I will also have the talented musician Brian Farrow joining me on bass and fiddle.
B&L: Question number 12. If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that dozen of something be?
Flemons: That would be records. Good records though. I think a dozen records of great music can help out in a variety of situations.
Don’t miss Dom Flemons when he hits the Birdseye Lounge on Wednesday, November 11th. For tickets and information click here.