Dillon Hodges - aka firekid, aka master guitar champion of all things flatpicking and bluegrass (seriously, he has some serious credentials to back it up.) - recently sat down with our crew after impressing the hell out of us with this session.
Hodges hails from Muscle Shoals Alabama; an almost mythical corner of the country that has historically drawn musical luminaries like Aretha Franklin and the Stones to its' beacon and currently boasts an impressive crop of modern musicians who call it home (Jason Isbell, Alabama Shakes, The Civil Wars). Hodges himself didn't think much of such a cultural, embarrassment of riches while he was growing up. "I didn't know that the city I grew up in had any musical history at all," Dillon admitted. "When I was a senior in high school I started to make the connection. 'Wow, there are a lot of local bands from here', and when I traveled every little town didn't have 30 or 40 bands. There's not an active music scene", later adding, "there's something special about the Shoals because there is undeniably a lot of bands that come out of there."
Dillon recently released his self-titled, solo debut via Atlantic Records. It's a wonderfully inventive affair, pairing Dillon's love of traditional acoustics with all the fun technology that's available to modern musicians this day. The album ends on a bit of a "punchy" note though; a song called "American Dream", in which Dillon points lyrics like "They used to be a metal band until 2010/When they traded in their axes for a bass and mandolin." It's an brow-rising trackg, and well...we just had to ask about it.
"To be honest I love that American music is cool," Dillon told us. "But when I was growing up playing it wasn't cool. A lot of the kids that are making the music now were making heavy metal music and giving me a hard time about it. So now I see them playing in overalls and I'm like what are you doing?" What are they doing? Nothing nearly as cool as what this scruffy Alabaman has been doing for many, many years.
- My name's Dillon Hodges, and I'm in the band Firekid. I'm originally from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which is sort of in the corner of Alabama in between Tennesse, Mississippi, and Alabama. So it draws from the music of all three very unique places. There was a guy in Muscle Shoals named Rick Hall who had this dream in the 70s of opening up a studio and bringing in artists to record or recording local artists. And he sort of built this empire in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the beginning, it was national acts coming to the Shoals as a destination to record. Jerry Wexler, we're here at Atlantic today, Jerry Wexler who is ANR at Atlantic started bringing Atlantic recording artists down to the Shoals to record. So that was Aretha Franklin, and The Rolling Stones, and Cher. And then in the 80s and 90s, it was the songwriting community where everyone was writing country songs. And more recently, you've got artists like The Alabama Shakes from there, The Civil Wars are from there, The Secret Sisters, Anderson East. I didn't know that the city I grew up in had any musical history at all until I was maybe a senior in high school. And then I started making the connection. Wow, there's a lot of local bands from here, and when I travel, every little town doesn't have 30 or 40 local bands. There's not active music scenes like this everywhere I go. I made the connection, but I think there's something special about the Shoals because there's undeniably a lot of bands that come out of there. Well, I had wanted to learn guitar when I was 11. Actually, when I was 10, and for my 11th birthday, my uncle gave me a guitar. And my neighbor agreed to teach me guitar lessons. He agreed to do it as a favor to my parents. So I was obligated to learn whatever he was willing to teach me, which happened to be bluegrass. I wanted to learn Nickleback or Creed or something at the time. And he refused. He said, "I play bluegrass and you have no choice. So this is what you have to learn. " And so I would go over to his house. I'd ride my bike over to his house every day, and I would stay over there for four or five hours. He would cook me dinner. I would do my homework over there. And I would go every day of the week just about. So it was like college or something. I was doing these guitar contests, these bluegrass guitar contests on the weekends. So you go, you stand up on stage, and you play two or three songs. Sort of like "Toddlers and Tiaras" meets "Deliverance" or something. But you go up on stage and you play these songs. You're competing against people of all ages, but there's the National Guitar Championship, I ended up winning it when I was 17, which was unheard of. And I did not expect that. That had been my life goal. But when I won it, I realized, "Well, what do I do now?" So I went back and told my friends at school, "I won the national guitar championship. I won the national flatpicking championship. " And they were like, "What's that? I've never heard of flatpicking before. " And I saw a need. I wanted to expose more people to bluegrass music. And I started writing pop songs after that. To be honest, I love that Americana music. is cool, has become a vogue thing to play. But when I was growing up playing, it wasn't cool. And a lot of the kids that are making the music now were making heavy metal music and giving me a hard time about it. And so now I see them playing in overalls. And I'm like, "What are you doing?" You know? It's almost like an Americana uniform, I think, that I see a lot. I see it a lot in Nashville. I see it a lot in Alabama. I think people take to Americana because it's awesome. They change their story a little bit, and I just thought it was kind of funny because I think it happens so overnight. It was like all at once, everyone was like, "Oh, it's okay to like this. We always liked it, but now it's okay to like it. " I think my goal for the Firekid project has been to expose more people to traditional bluegrass guitar, which is flat-picking. But also, push the limits of what traditionalists are okay with flatpicking being involved in.