Bulletville is Mark Utley, Renee Frye, Jeff Vanover, John Lang, Ricky Nye, Kenneth Kimbrell and Todd Drake. You may want to glance over that list again if you weren’t impressed. This band is boiling over with incredible talent. The bass player slot is rotated by Kimbrell (who plays on the album), Chris Douglas, Ben Franks and Greg Thomas. So go ahead and add those talents to that roster of amazingness.
Bulletville is both the name of Utley’s new stone-country honky tonk band and the title of the second album. The album was recorded in late 2014 at Ultrasuede Studio with Afghan Whigs' John Curley producing. The album will be released on vinyl LP, compact disc, and digital download by label This is American Music. This album is true country music. Performed by musicians who want to tell you a story about life, love, and loss via lyrics, melodies, and hooks coming straight from their hearts.
The new album is being released Saturday, April 11th at MOTR Pub with special guest Arlo McKinley! If you can’t wait until the 11th, go catch Bulletville this Sunday, April 5th at Northside Tavern.
We sat down with Mark Utley to discuss the new album, his band and honest, true country music.
Tell us what this next album means to you…
It means a lot to me. They all have, and they all still do. It's a record of where I am as a songwriter and singer, it's a moment in time with an amazing band playing in a great studio with a fantastic, sympathetic producer. The longer I do this, the better I get, and these are by far the best songs I've ever written. I hope as many people hear it as possible, and I hope people respond to it positively.
Given the talent in Bulletville, how does the writing process work?
I try to write songs that have good bones. I want them to be solid enough to stand up on their own with nothing but a voice and a guitar delivering them. But I also try to leave enough space in them so that when I do get the opportunity to perform them with a group as talented as Bulletville, there's plenty of room for those other folks to shine and add their own unique approach to things. So, pretty much, I bring in the lyrics, the vocal melody, and the chord changes. The rest of the band, then, takes that solid something and makes it beautiful and takes it somewhere I could never take it on my own.
And this band is ridiculous. Singing with Renee Frye is almost a spiritual thing for me, with the blend and the back-and-forth and just how soulful she is. Jeff Vanover is one of the most tasteful, talented guitar players I've ever heard, and he can play anything. Ricky Nye is fucking Ricky Nye, and I pinch myself on a regular basis to make sure I'm not dreaming that a cat that talented and (again) so deeply soulful digs my songs and wants to play on them. John Lang is an impeccably understated but melodic steel guitar player, such a joy to hear. Todd Drake on drums is simply the rock that I've built everything musically upon since 2011. I broke up Magnolia Mountain because he left and I put it back together when he came back. We've got a bit of musical chairs going on with the bass player slot, but all of the guys we've got, whether it's Ken Kimbrell (who plays on the album), Chris Douglas, Ben Franks, or Greg Thomas, they're all solid, swingin' guys with a great sense of the pocket and the groove. I just try to do my job, which is to bring in quality songs and put my heart and soul into performing them.
What brings your heart back to “old country”?
Part of it is that I grew up with it. My dad played it in his truck and in the garage when I was a kid, and had about a dozen songs that he would sing around the house that were all Hank, Sr., Eddy Arnold, people like that. Part of it is that it's so hard to find these days. Those larger-than-life characters, those amazing, unique songs. It's a style you don't hear a lot of these days unless you're really looking for it, and it's such a wonderful, American, everyman (and woman) kind of music. People find country music easy to mock (and there's a lot of country music that deserves it), but almost everyone, no matter what their background, responds positively to real, honest, true country music.
What is next for Bulletville? Any touring in your plans?
That's a little hard to say. I want to take this band everywhere, and perform these songs for as many people as possible. But Bulletville's a lot like Magnolia Mountain's always been; it's hard to tour with so many disparate lifestyles and job and family situations and all that, you know, reality. The best I can probably do is get out a little bit more regionally, places like Louisville, Lexington, Indy, Columbus, Dayton, etc. I've been looking into the House Concert circuit for some more stripped-down solo, duo, or trio touring, but it's rough. Booking tours is not something I'm particularly good at. I'm much better at the writing and performing end of things, and without somebody who knows what they're doing pushing and prodding and planning for us, I just do the best I can. But that said, if you have to be geographically "stuck" somewhere as a musician, greater Cincinnati is a pretty great place to be.