'Sun' shines

Punk legend Tim Kerr's got something entirely different to offer with new release "Up Around the Sun": a slice of old-time Americana

Tim Kerr may be better known for founding seminal punk band Big Boys, but his latest album -- a collaboration with friend Jerry Hagins -- circles back to the Texas native's longtime love of old-time music. "Up Around the Sun" is a reinterpretation of and homage to some classic acoustic tunes, retold with guitar, banjo, fiddle and harmonica. It's a sprawling back-porch, sunny take on acoustic music that transports you mentally to an idyllic vision of old-time America: green fields, humid summer nights, quaint homes at the feet of towering mountains.

Still, with Kerr using some unorthodox techniques and playing with an Irish-traditional influence, the record is he and Hagins' personal take on the genre -- an honest retelling of classic songs that studiously avoids the Thomas Kinkade treatment. The album debuts today on Monofonus Press. Watch the video above for an exclusive look at Kerr and Hagis in the studio.

XGames.com: What sparked you wanting to make an old-time-influenced album?
Tim Kerr: I had really gotten into "acoustic" music when I started high school. While everyone else was listening to Cream, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath in the early '70s, I was mostly listening to Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Nick Drake and Bruce Cockburn. The only Led Zeppelin record I owned was the third one because it had lots of acoustic stuff on it. I would listen to FM radio back then and at the time it was looser than college radio. You would hear everything mixed together: blues, rock and traditional. I gravitated more and more to acoustic.

This new record, "Up Around the Sun," [is] something I would have bought back then. As for how this record came about, I started playing Irish traditional music about eight years ago. I was learning the tunes on a button accordion and backing up others on guitar when a tune came up I was not playing on the accordion yet. Michael MuCullough, who is playing fiddle on some of these tunes [on this new record], was also playing old-time with friends, and I started playing guitar with them. The big difference was that I was playing open-D tuning and playing more of an Irish-style backup guitar to the old-time tunes.

This is absolutely not the tradition of that music, although I was having a blast and the people I was playing with liked it. It would confuse the other guitarist, so I decided to try and learn clawhammer banjo for playing with the old-time crew and put the guitar down.

Fast-forward to now. Jerry Hagins, who I had been playing old-time with, came by and wanted a tape for himself of me playing guitar in open D and him playing some tunes because he had always liked that sound. I taped it on a handheld recorder and made a CD for him to have. The next day, Morgan [Coy] came by from Monofonus [Press] to bring me books for an art show and asked what I was up to. I gave him a copy of the CD and that afternoon he called to ask if we wanted to put it out.

It pretty much happened just like that. Jason Morales wanted a painting, so I traded him one for studio time and we recorded the record [at the BBQ Shack] over a couple of nights. That's when I added harmonica to some of the tunes and we asked Michael to come play fiddle on some.

Courtesy Monofonus Press

Kerr hand-painted a series of custom album covers for "Up Around the Sun," choosing one for the main pressing.

Whose idea was it to make such a limited run of custom covers for the album?
That was Morgan's idea and I was glad to do it for them since they were spending the money to make the records. I came up with the name and made sure it was OK with Jerry, got the blank covers from Morgan and started to paint. I could only get six covers up on the wall at a time, so I would line them up and just go across -- blue, blue, blue, blue, red, red, red, red, etc. I would switch up the colors and layout on the next round. I did this 'til they were all painted. I then picked my favorite for them to print for the regular pressing.

The photo on the back was reworked for each of the painted ones, and then I picked my favorite of those for the back printing. It was cool painting like that and I may do that again at some point.

How did you come to meet Jerry and what was it like collaborating with him?
Jerry is really amazing. When I first started to teach myself clawhammer, I asked if he would come over and maybe teach me. We didn't know each other yet and I knew that he gave lessons. Jerry is about my age, but in high school he started playing old-time and never looked back. He never was part of the alternative music scene and I could have easily gone the same route if I had not walked into [Austin, Texas, punk club] Raul's back in '78 and got sent on another path!

We became good friends and I have always admired how welcoming he was to others about the music, and trying to get them to participate. Coming from the scene I had come through, that attitude really resonated with me. This record would not have happened if not for him wanting a recording of me and him. He is really excited about it and that makes me really happy, plus I'm really proud of it. If I heard it, I would buy it.

How is this album different than other records you've released, and what's also familiar about it or connected to your other music?
This sort of sound is what I have played since early high school. When I started playing electric I was already so steeped in that "open" sound that even playing in standard tunings, I would dissect the chords to sound more open. I don't "bar" chords, but wrap my thumb, Ritchie Havens style, because of playing acoustic.

It confuses the hell out of the band members I have played with. It is all very much connected. I know music wise the style is different than what I have done, but it all comes from the same place and approach.

What speaks to you about this interpretation of old-time music, and why was it important to make this record?
The record came out of friendship, and that's what is important. Acoustic music has always been a big part of my life soundtrack. I am glad that there is now some sort of official document.

Which artists or bands should fans of this record also check out?
That's a hard one, because as corny as this sounds, there really is not anything like this. I would say if you like this, you would probably like Bert Jansch and John Martyn -- folks I mentioned above. As for someone now, I really love Sam Barrett, a young skater from Leeds.

What do you like about working outside of a standard band format and making music as a duo?

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