Posted April 15, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

Moreland and Arbuckle: A concept that’s as good as gold

Just a Dream photo by Michael Wilson
Just a Dream photo by Michael Wilson

A scruffy blues duo out of Kansas, guitarist Aaron Moreland and harpist/vocalist Dustin Arbuckle hooked up with producer Seattle-based record producer Matt Bayles (MastodonMinus The Bear, The Sword, Norma Jean) for their forthcoming album, 7 Cities (coming out May 17 in Europe and July 30 in America). A concept album about Coronado’s infamous quest for gold, the disc features the band’s signature sound. We had the opportunity to interview Moreland and Arbuckle for a press release we wrote for the disc’s release. Here’s what the two guys had to say as they spoke to us via phone while driving through Iowa in a van.

Talk a bit about the theme of the album.
Moreland: There’s a lot to it. When we were writing the song “Quivira,” the words that Dustin came up with were based on Coronado’s journey to find the seven cities and the expedition ended in Kansas not far from where we all live. Once we started picking out the rest of the songs for the record, we realized we had a concept record and we didn’t intend to do it. It was not planned in the beginning but when we looked at the pieces we had, we realized we had a real story from top to bottom. And when you see the artwork, it totally sells the concept. It’s a painting of a Kansas prairie scene we commissioned an artist in New Brunswick [Canada] to paint . It includes a conquistador’s helmet on it . . . really comes together.

Arbuckle: It started with “Quivira.” As we started looking through these tunes we had, we discovered this theme with Coronado and trying to find the seven cities of gold and riches and power. We wanted it to be this concept of this ascent to power and as so often happens when people seek great wealth or power, it all crumbles and they come down. There’s that rise and fall. And that ended up being the theme. If you listen to it in order, you’ll sort of hear that with a brief instrumental intermission in the middle. A lot of the record ties back to Kansas. “Quivira” was what Coronado calls the area of Kansas where he spent time with the local Native American tribes. He thought a lot of the land. He thought you could grow any kind of crop but there was no gold. It was not what they hoped it would be. If you listen to “Tall Boogie,” you hear things about driving around on country roads in Kansas.

It seems like such a Western thing. To what extent does the Coronado story infiltrate the Midwest?
Arbuckle: There’s a big very high hill in the middle of what’s now a bunch of open farmland and which would have been open prairie when Coronado was there. It’s called Coronado Heights. It’s local legend that he planted his colors there and used it as a place to overlook the whole region. This story is known to a point.

I love “The Devil and Me.” From whose perspective is that song written?
Moreland: A friend of ours wrote that song. Curt Mitchell back in Wichita wrote that tune.

Arbuckle: It’s all about a guy talking about the inner demons and being willing to be evil.

Moreland: It ties back to the theme and concept. It’s part of that conquistador mentality of wanting to rule the world.

How was recording with Seattle-based record producer Matt Bayles?
Moreland: Well, it was a unique and great experience for us to work with an outside producer because we had never done that. We had always produced our own records. The caliber of Matt and his ability to produce records and engineer records was a total game changer. He had a perspective and ability to bring out the best in all the songs and that changed everything. I don’t know how he could have done a better job than he did.

Arbuckle: He took things to a new level for us, both sonically in terms of the sound of the record to the quality of control and the performances. Even with the arrangements, he did things we had never thought about.

Moreland: It was interesting to work with him because we were the most rootsy band he had worked with. He had spent most of his career working with really heavy bands or with pop rock bands. To work with a guy like him was a new experience for him and us. His perspective is just so different.

Arbuckle: We did most of the tracking at Studio Litho, which is owned by Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard, and finished up at Matt’s studio, Red Room. They’re both just amazing studios, to a level we had never experienced before. That was a great part of the experience, too, to work into those world-class studios.

You guys first met over ten years ago at an open mic night in Wichita. Talk about your first impressions of each other.
Moreland: We were both pretty young at the time playing country blues which not a lot of people were doing. I hate to admit this, but honestly I was such a heavy drinker at the time, I formed very little of an impression. I was doing my best to make it through the night.

Arbuckle: It was funny at the time because we got thrown together at that jam by chance. My initial impression was, “Alright, well that was fun.” It was nice to do the more traditional stuff that I wanted to do at the time. Later, we got to know each other by working on an album that Aaron was working on at the time. That’s when the chemistry became apparent.

Part of what has made us unique is doing what we’re doing in the alignment we’re doing it. You don’t see other rock bands doing the guitar, harmonica and drums thing.

How has your music evolved over the last decade?
Moreland: It’s so coincidental that we’re on this tour. We’re doing exactly what got us down this path, which is pre-war Delta blues. That strong sensibility is still there. That has never gone away but, as we’ve progressed as musicians, we’ve brought in our other influences, which are quite wide-ranging really, and formed a pretty unique sound. You don’t see other bands out there with the instrumentation we have. It’s very rare.

Arbuckle: We’ve become a roots rock band at this point, but I think part of what makes it so unique is our instrumentation. There were The Jelly Roll Kings and you can go back to early Louisiana recordings where there was guitar, drums and harp stuff, but it’s traditional blues sort of stuff. Part of what has made us unique is doing what we’re doing in the alignment we’re doing it. You don’t see other rock bands doing the guitar, harmonica and drums thing.

I think fans will like 7 Cities even if they don’t comprehend the theme. Do you think that’s the case?
Moreland: That’s 100 percent accurate. It’s definitely our strongest work. If you hear one of the tunes, it won’t really matter. Any of the tunes are strong enough to stand on their own.

Arbuckle: I think that even with a concept album . . . the songs should still all be really good songs regardless of how they fit into the themes. You shouldn’t compromise the quality of the tunes just to wedge them in. The whole point is writing good tunes. The fact that we had a theme going on came later. It all really worked out in a good way for us.

Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates

Fri., April 19

Sat., April 20

Wed., April 24

Thurs., April 25

Fri., April 26

Sat., April 27

Sat., May 18

Sun., May 19

Tues., May 21

Wed., May 22

Thurs., May 23

Fri., May 24

Sat., May 25

Sun., May 26

Mon., May 27

Tues., May 28

Wed., May 29

Fri., May 31

Sat., June 1

Sun., June 2

Sun., June 16

Sat., June 22

Sat., Aug. 10

Thurs., Sept. 5

Fri., Sept. 6

Thurs., Sept. 12

Fri., Sept. 13

Sat, Sept 14

Abode Venue – Wichita, KS

Knucklehead’s Saloon – Kansas City, MO

Toad Tavern – Littleton, CO

Boulder Outlook Hotel – Boulder, CO

Boulder Outlook Hotel – Boulder, CO

Crystola Roadhouse – Woodland Park, CO

Internationales Blues Festival – Eutin, Germany

Grolsch Blues Festival – Schöppingen, Germany

White Trash Fast Food – Berlin, Germany

De Bosuil Muziekcentrum – Weert, Holland

Big Buttinsky – Osnabruck, Germany

The Blues Garage – Isernhagen, Germany

Highlands Festival – Amersfoort, Holland

Goor Blues – Wuustwezel, Belgium

The Blues Club – Gdynia, Poland

Mjazzga – Elblag, Poland

Centralny Dom Qultury – Warsaw, Poland

Western Maryland Blues Festival  – Hagerstown, Md

Clementine – Harrisonburg, VA

The State Theatre – Falls Church, VA

Bartlett Arboretum – Belle Plaine, KS

The Backyard Live – Topeka, KS

Waukesha Blues Fest – Delafield, WI

Blues Kitchen – London, UK

Saltburn Blues Club – North Yorkshire,  UK

Real Music Live – Kent, UK

Going Up The Country Blues & Roots Club – Worthenbury, Wrexham

Farnsfield Village Centre – Farnsfield, Nottinghamshire,  UK


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].