Next up in the ongoing One-Man Band Series is Blake Burris, an independent singer/songwriter from Asheville, North Carolina, who calls his project Shake It Like A Caveman. Employing a cross-genre amalgamation of musical styles, Burris mostly tends to favor a combination of electric neo-blues, amped-up disco porn grooves, and slightly distorted rock to round out his sound. Overall it’s an infectious sound he has created, favoring clever six-string noteplay with cohesive vocal deliveries which go along simultaneously as a secondary instrument of sorts, and yet he manages to convey the flow of lyrics clearly and with unmistakable attitude. His sweat-soaked, high-energy songs are also marked by simple chord progressions, bluesy slide work and ear-bleeding fingerpickin', repetitions of notes played on the guitar to mimic funky or jazzy basslines with one or two considerably more pronounced than the rest for effect, foot-drumming which doesn’t just keep time but holds the bodies of music tightly together, and of course vocals that are distinctly Burris’s and not very common in the one-man band scene (save for his occasional use of voice distortion).
As with all one-man bands, there is an undeniable novelty aspect to Burris’s music and presentation. But unlike many one-man bands that would rather be viewed as accomplished singer/songwriters to be taken seriously, unshackled by gimmicks, he doesn’t mind pushing the obvious novelty of Shake It Like A Caveman as a crowd-drawing angle for his performances. And while some of his lyrics may be on the serious side, Burris’s project possesses the duality of the music being more often than not on the catchy and fun side. And one can definitely tell that he does Shake It Like A Caveman as much for fun as he does for a living--the writing and performing and traveling, the whole experience, which is something to be admired.
To date, Burris has written a good many songs, many of which he has independently recorded and released DIY, with titles like “When You Smile I See Your Fangs” and his latest “Digital Football.” While I prefer the material on the former recording, with its distorted vocals and looser playing and more lo-fi quality, there are a handful of worthwhile tracks on both, such as Jackpot Robots, a somewhat bluesy song with a Modest Mouse alt-rock sound, Fife N Dime, a guitar-pickin’ and whistlin’ instrumental, Why Do You Lie, a short blues rock composition, Southbound, a drawn-out dirty blues piece with punctuating note arrangements that dissolve into punk-esque chords progressions, Love in the Workplace, a straight-up rock’n’roll song with a fast vocals, and Didn’t the Lord Deliver Daniel, a wild funkified track with super-distorted vocals. I could go on, but you probably get the idea.
Recently I had both the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Blake Burris about himself and his Shake It Like A Caveman project. What follows is that interview in its entirety.
To begin, how about a little background on yourself and your one-man band project Shake It Like A Caveman?
Shake it like a caveman was born in summer/fall of 2005. I had been traveling a lot, staying in Europe for months at a time, and somehow landed at my brother’s house in Tennessee, where I was hangin’ with some old-time pickers. I started playing upright bass and had a few shows where I got paid. Dang, that was nice. This went on for three or four months. The other guys weren't into touring or traveling, but I was just getting into it…and loving it…so I had to figure something out. I bought a big sketchy work van, and by that time I had moved to Asheville, NC, where I lived in a crazy old warehouse next to the river. I could play music at all hours of the day, and I was building gadgets and experimenting with how to be entertaining as a one-man band, watching videos at the library and doing my homework. Thousands of hours later, Shake It Like A Caveman came into existence. And I guess it’s still evolving.
What instrumentation does Shake It Like A Caveman consist of?
Kick drum, hi-hat, guitar, harmonica, 97 white Dodge van, Brooks Cascade Trail shoes.
Your sound is mainly a blend of latter-day blues and rock’n’roll, with a few other genre touches here and there. How would you describe your sound?
Robotic exercise work music.
How did the name Shake It Like A Cavemen come about?
My first public one-man show ever there were like twenty-five super-drunk raft guides in the mountains of Tennessee, who came to the bar, and I was opening for my friend’s band just kinda as a joke. The drunk river rats danced out of control, like cavemen around a fire. I thought to myself, “Wow, everybody is shaking like a caveman.” Shake It Like A Caveman was born.
What have been some of your more memorable tour/gig moments to date?
Had a rowdy Cinco de Mayo show a few years back, where the hi-hat got kicked over and perfectly sliced the power cord. With a flash of light, the show ended…or maybe was saved. Playing in Europe the level of weirdness is always high. I played a party in a town called St. Brieuc, in France, where a lady in a cloud of dust fell over and smashed her face into the hi-hat, got back up and kept on ragin’. Luckily I caught that one on tape. I’ve had to hide in backrooms to avoid going to some strange European jails on various occasions due to venue law infractions. Saw a glider crash in southern France and ran out to the field where it happened, and the guy, who was freaking ok, got out and walked away. That was a weird one. I sometimes do this thing where I jump my guitar cable like a jump rope, and that always turns out pretty interesting. Had some people propose to their wives on the mic. Dodged some barf. Had dogs run up and pee on stage. And one time, I played at a Jello Wrestling event, which was quite memorable. I think I remember a girl getting her eyeball smashed pretty good. And of course the van has blown-up a lot, and that’s why I always keep AAA and travel with my bicycle.
In the present one-man band scene there are a lot of pretty incredible artists. Many of those artists tend to tour or perform together at the same events. Do you prefer to be the only omb on the bill, or do you like doing the omb festival thing?
I’m stoked to play as solo one-man band or with a gaggle of one-man bands (that’s always fun).
Speaking of the one-man band movement, what are your thoughts and feelings regarding its current status in the music world? Certainly, though there’s a long tradition of one-man bands, it is becoming more widely recognized than it was before. There are a handful of independent record labels whose catalogs of artists include one-man bands. And more and more artists seem to be embracing it as their own method of writing and performing music.
I just want to play music and be able to survive doing so. I think folks who want to keep it rolling just gotta figure something out. And the one-man band thing kinda works, so we’re bound to have more great artists heading in that direction.
Do you strictly release your own albums in a DIY manner, or would you rather join up with a record label?
I’m not afraid of a phone call from a good label.
Is there anything of note happening on the Shake It Like A Caveman front right now, such as upcoming releases, tours, special events, split recordings, or other endeavors?
Been touring on the latest release, "Digital Football," for the past nine months. I’m not tired of performing the songs yet, so I’ll probably keep it up till holiday time and then see what I can purge out for the next one. Lately, when I get a chance, I’m working on great crock pot recipes, and I do some video and photo art from time to time. Keeping my van on the road also keeps me active. I’m currently in the Teton County Library in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Lastly, if there’s anything I failed to cover, or if there’s anything you would like to express or discuss, please feel free to do so now. The floor is all yours, Blake.
Thanks, James…for including Shake It Like A Caveman one-man band in your project!