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Legendary Shack Shakers: The Art Of Darkness

The prodigiously talented JD Wilkes takes a musical road trip across the deep south as Legendary Shack Shakers return from the dead...

"I have musical ADD is what it is,” says JD Wilkes. A man with an abundance of talents – singer, multi-instrumentalist, author, artist – Wilkes seems positively possessed by the need for self-expression. “I like to stay busy and I like dabbling in a lot of different things. I guess it is like Attention Deficit Disorder because one thing will start to bore me and I’ll just go to the next thing, but I don’t go to the next thing until I’ve completed the last thing. That’s the trick, that’s the hard part.”

Five years since the release of their last album AgriDustrial, Wilkes is back with Legendary Shack Shakers to unleash a fresh blast of blues, country, punk, rockabilly and whatever else tickles their fancy, all shot through with a pitch black streak of Southern Gothic on their new album The Southern Surreal. Life and death permeate the lyrics, perhaps a reflection of the events that caused the long break between releases. “Even three years ago we were still touring on AgriDustrial,” says Wilkes. “We took two years off, one for burn-out reasons but mostly because the drummer, Brett Whitacre, had a cardiac episode. His heart stopped beating, he was pronounced dead a few times and they brought him back to life and put a pacemaker in him.”

While the Lazarus-like drummer was recuperating, Wilkes stayed busy with The Dirt Daubers, the band he formed with his wife Jessica Lee Wilkes. They released their most recent album, Wild Moon, in 2013. “It was hard to get that off the ground because nowadays there is such a glut of new bands, new musicians and everyone vying for attention,” says Wilkes. “But I thought Wild Moon was every bit as good as anything else, in fact that album is the best thing I’ve ever put out.” Now JD has returned to Legendary Shack Shakers, Jessica is touring with her own blues band. “I look at it like it’s the family business and we’re just franchising out,” he says. “It’s just what we do. It’s like if we were both bakers or cobblers. It’s a trade, it’s a weird line of work, there’s a lot of travel, we’re away from one another a lot now but that makes getting back together all the sweeter.” Wilkes compares life on the road to that of a travelling salesman, saying: “It’s lonely but it’s oddly fulfilling at the same time. Me and Jessica were talking just the other day about how weird it is. You live for that hour in the spotlight. It’s nothing but driving and waiting and packing gear, you sleep in hotels, but why do you do it? It’s for that hour on stage in the spotlight when you get to disconnect from the world. It’s like a Zen ritual or something that makes it worthwhile and keeps it all balanced. Everything frustrates you until you get to that cathartic release, but once you got it, it’s addictive. The bug bit her and I guess I created a monster, but she’s loving it.”

The trials and tribulations of a touring musician notwithstanding, the road is where Wilkes finds the inspiration to write. “It’s the travel part that should be inspiring to you – look out the window, look at the Americana as it rolls by, instead of stopping in McDonald’s go to a mom and pop place, take the road less travelled,” he says. “You might see an old road sign or some mural on a wall fading from time and that’ll inspire something. You just have to look in the right places. It shouldn’t be soul-sucking. It can be. It’s the downtime. It’s not the soundcheck and it’s not the gig and it’s not the exhaustion at the end of the night, it’s the time spent travelling to get there. There’s sort of a waking coma state.” The antidote is to sit with a notebook and a cup of coffee in the back of the van and take in the landscape as it passes outside. “I’m staring out the window like I’m watching TV, just transfixed on the countryside as it rolls by,” says Wilkes. “It’s all interesting to me. I think it’s important to stay fascinated with the world. I never have writer’s block because I’m just constantly fascinated with everything.”

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