Interview: Jefferson Berry On His New Album With The UAC

Philadelphia’s Jefferson Berry and the Urban Acoustic Coalition put out their new album, Double Deadbolt Logic, in May. The UAC have been together for six years and their latest release contains a wealth of stories bolstered by fluid arrangements. Berry, a folksinger and teacher, discussed the joys of watching his pupils come of age and how the UAC’s latest record came to fruition. 

 

Double Deadbolt Logic has a free-flowing style in its music. Was that the original intent of the record or did you create different songs over time that happened to tap into that same vibe?

The “free-flowing” and “intention” of the Urban Acoustic Coalition has always been one of genre defiance. It’s in all three of our albums, and it’s something of a curse. My songs and arrangements have been described by folk bookers as little too Steely Dan-ish for their audiences; and the instrumentation is too acoustic for the rock arena. When we’re stretching out for jam-band audiences, traditionalists stray. But I’m telling stories and with Banjos, Mandolins, Harmonicas–we’ve got strong traditionalist roots.

Double Deadbolt Logic is both a collection of stories that came about with observations living in the city, as well as a few arrangements of old songs that I thought would show off the talents of the band.

 

How did Double Deadbolt Logic come together in the studio?

Our engineer Matt Muir is a joy to work with. Always positive, but constructive in getting us to meet standards. His engineering is informed by his career as a singing drummer which amazing pitch and tempo sense.

My creative process can be taxing on the bass players, because that’s where I begin. This album has three of them. Billy Hyatt, Dean McNulty and our current guy, Mike Damora. Particularly with Uncle Mike, the basslines inform so much of what comes next.

On a few songs, Matt did a session-player part on drums, but David Rapoport did most of the drumming live in the studio with me and the bass players. 

Then we added the soloists and singers. The female vocalists on this record came into the studio prepared. My daughter Briana, Irene Lambrou and Emily Drinker had all been on our previous albums. Michelle Armour and Deborah Stern’s parts were written on-the-spot, but came out great.

The songs take on a new form in the studio when we get to the parts where Bud Burroughs, Dave Brown and especially Marky B! get to stretch out. This record has more great harmonica playing than I would have imagined.

Here again the folk purists may say, that’s no-way to make a record because you can’t do it live. We’ve been killin’ it live for six years and when we’re allowed back out there, these songs will work live as well as they do on the record.

Jefferson Berry and the UAC
Jefferson Berry and the UAC (Photo Credit: Lisa Schaffer)

In addition to being a musician, you are also a teacher. In “At The Festival” you sing “Babies that are grown singing songs of their own.” Is that lyric tied into watching your students come of age? 

It’s really the best part of teaching; living and teaching in inner-city Philadelphia, seeing them grow up. I get stopped on the street a couple times a month by former students who will say things like, “Yo! Mr. Berry that stuff you taught us about mortgages and banking? I’m closing on my third house next week!” Or, “Hey Mr. Berry this is my daughter. I’m reading to her every night.”  Trust me, these were not the misbehaved 17 year-olds I had in class.

But “At the Festival” is talking about a different child. I hope she won’t mind me mentioning her here, but one of my festival friends, Sondro Grignetti has a daughter, Genevieve. I met Genevieve at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival when she was maybe six years old. Ten+ years later, she’s got this amazing voice, writing very cool songs and leading the campfire with her guitar playing. Like on the streets of Philly, at fest you get to watch them grow up.

 

I detected a slight Anthony Kiedis vibe to “Ghosts of California.” Was there any intent to adding his vocal influence to the song or was that pure accident? 

Ha, I guess it does.  As much as I love the Peppers, they are probably not among my top 100 influences.

One regular rite of the Philadelphia area is going to the Jersey Shore every summer. Dating back to Al Alberts and Bobby Rydell, songs about the Jersey Shore have been an integral part of the beach experience. In Double Deadbolt Logic, you add “Get To The Shore” to that tradition. Did you draw on any of those classic shore songs when you began to create the song or did the track fall into place on from your own shore experiences?  

I learned about all that Jersey Shore tradition when I moved here from California in the 80s. So my real beach roots are with the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and the Ventures. A real different sociological experience; I watched the hodads become hippies.

I married a Jersey Girl. She was raised on Southside Johnny, a solid summer shore tradition. I dig writing love songs to her. But man, I can only hope that Get to the Shore becomes a summer tradition in the Alberts/Rydell tradition!

 

You have performed a few live streams during this social distancing period. Can you discuss what these shows feel like as an artist compared to the conventional live music experience? 

It’s kinda like asking what it’s like to wear clothes. Naked or dressed, it’s still you. But the fashion projects something, right? Creating live stream shows is a naked thing, and like being naked, some live streams are a lot prettier than others.

First, Jefferson Berry & the UAC give you a lot to take in. On a concert stage or a house concert, Bud Burroughs’ mandolin playing is beyond belief. People gasp at his solos.  On my songs, Marky B! is as good as any blues harmonica player you’ve ever seen.  And when he flips over to the chromatic, you’re simply blown away.  Dave Brown, Banjo.  Dave Brown, Lap Steel. Dave Brown, bottle neck slide on the electric guitar on banjo. Come on now, what he gonna play next?  And the women who sing with us, smokin’!

Social Distance streaming? It’s me, hummin and a strummin. I’ve learned how to work with lights, iPhone interfaces and different internet platforms so as not to be….  So naked.

 

Lead Photo Credit: Lisa Schaffer

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