Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.
Although Boots & The Hoots frontman Boots Graham is no stranger to the sadder side of life, he also writes about life with lighthearted-humor. I talked to him about how Boots & The Hoots came to be, how he writes songs and what he does to recharge himself creatively.
Interview With Boots Graham
Karl Magi: How did Boots & The Hoots get started?
Boots Graham: The original two members of the band were in a bluegrass band called Waskasoo and I was their opening act as a solo performer. It was the same kind of music as I do now, just without a backing band. I had done three or four tours as their opening act and they started to pick up on my songs and asked if they could hop up on stage with me. Their band kind of dissolved after that and Boots & The Hoots kept going.
KM: Who are your influences as a songwriter?
BG: I have a pretty broad spectrum of influences, but when I heard Roger Miller do funny country and heard Hank Williams’ more upbeat, humorous songs, I felt that I could make country music that was honest to me because my personality’s got a little bit more of a sunny disposition.
KM: What’s the approach that you take to writing songs?
BG: I usually stay up super late at night by myself, have a couple of beer and I’ll generally have a line in my head that I think is clever and then I’ll write a song around that and then adds chords to it after. It’s kind of a formula that works for me.
After that, I just play the song for the band and by the end of the song, they’re playing along. As we continue to play it and perform it, they tighten up their parts. I rarely, if ever, tell anyone in the band what to do. As long as they keep it classic country, it all seems to fit together.
KM: Tell me about your latest album and how you approached recording it.
BG: This is the first time I’ve really had full creative control over the record. The first record was a demo that we didn’t realize we were going to release as an actual album. On the second one, we had a producer, he did good work and I love the album. It was my approach to how I wanted to record an album. There are a few more serious songs on it, but it’s still humorous throughout.
We went into the studio for a short period of time and treated it like a blue collar job, so we got it done and got it done right. I work with very talented musicians so I don’t really have to wrangle them too much.
KM: What is your view of the classic country music scene in Alberta?
BG: In the last few years, it’s been pretty inspiring to see some of the people we’ve played with all along like Shaela Miller get recognized and get the radio play. There’s new bands popping up, not just in Alberta, but all across the prairie provinces. Saskatchewan is turning out incredible country music, Winnipeg’s been consistently putting out good country music for twenty years. When I started playing country music, only older people wanted to hear it and now the younger, cool audience is picking up on it and that’s happening everywhere, even in Nashville. People genuinely want to hear the older style of country music.
KM: How do you feel about the current direction of mainstream country music?
BG: I think it’s a labeling thing. Mainstream country is what the modern kid who grew up on a farm wants to listen to when he parties on a Saturday night, but the sad thing is that genuine country got taken right off the charts. I think they can both exist, just under different names and on different radio stations. I’ve got nothing against the mainstream guys, but I don’t listen to their records and I don’t really care what they do.
KM: What does the future hold for Boots & The Hoots?
BG: We’ve been touring pretty steadily for five years and don’t have any plans to slow that down. It’s our bread and butter. Our live shows are where we’re at our best. It would be nice to move from honky tonk bars to theatres and other soft seated venues, but even if we continue at this level of playing at bars in small towns, we’re all pretty satisfied with what we’ve got going on. Stompin’ Tom Connors never really got out of the bar scene until he was an old man so there’s a certain longevity to it.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
BG: I find that with the lifestyle of being a touring musician, I’m pretty constantly inspired. Lately I’ve been writing more about cowboy heritage and things like that. I think it has a lot to do with the audiences we’ve been playing to, the people we’ve been meeting and the message that I’m trying to get across. This last album was full of drinking songs, so I got that out of the way and I can write about the other important things in my life.