It all began with a belt.
A good friend of mine turned me on to Curtis Patton, the proprietor of Piney River Goods, when I was in the market for a handmade belt last year. Turns out that Curtis plays pedal steel and we ended up talking about music as much as leather. We eventually got around to chatting about a singer/songwriter, Saw Black, that Curtis plays with.
Funny how the internet works out sometimes, as I now have a couple of Curtis’s belts and I am a big, big fan of Saw Black.
Saw Black – given name, Justin – is a rising force in the Richmond, Virginia, folk and Americana scene. With hints of Neil Young and Jay Farrar in his voice and songwriting, he is poised to stand alongside such contemporaries as John Moreland and Tyler Childers, two young Americana stars with whom he has shared stages.
Saw Black recently released Water Tower, on the Richmond based Crystal Pistol label. Trail Mix features the title track this month, a true story involving a suitor of Justin’s aunt who did climb to the top of the school’s water tower to announce his intentions by spraying her name upon it.
“That’s a pretty badasss way of telling someone you love them,” says Black, “and it’s a hell of a lot cooler than just making it Facebook official. I wanted to tell the story from the boyfriend’s perspective. I hope to find that feeling someday, to be so in love that you have to write it on the highest possible place for everyone to see.”
I recently caught up with Justin to chat about his hometown and to get the scoop on his nickname.
BRO – Favorite place to catch a show?
SB – That has to be Strange Matter. It’s got a really cool vibe, the sound is worn in and the history of the space is just cool. It’s considered more a part of the punk bar scene, but they host all sorts of underrated and up-and-coming bands, and I always get turned on to new music through their great calendar. Most recently, I saw Songs Molina, a tribute to the great Jason Molina, with members of Songs Ohia. I cried a few times.
BRO – Best place to grab a post-show beer?
SB – Check out Bamboo Cafe. It’s where all the musicians go if they have time after a gig. Usually, they are kicking out members from twenty or thirty bands after last call. Then we just move on to someone’s front porch or backyard.
BRO – Best place to browse for vinyl?
SB – Steady Sounds is my favorite record shop/vintage store combo. If you’re looking for cool clothes or some deals on great records, that’s the spot. Marty, the owner, also hosts in store performances with great bands on a regular basis. I saw Steve Gunn there a couple years ago and it was incredible.
BRO – Favorite local band we might not know about?
SB – There are so many great bands in Richmond right now. I have been living and playing here for about fifteen years and the place has exploded with talent the last couple of years. Here are three bands that everyone should know about, and this was hard, because I could have listed thirty. Ben Shepherd is an insanely good songwriter who has a new record coming out soon. Blush Face is killing it if you are into the alternative indie/Americana sound and their lyricist, Allie Smith, is just great. And one of my favorite bands in the world is Dogwood Tales, out of Harrisonburg. We’ve toured a bunch together and you’ll see them on big stages in the near future.
BRO – One must-see spot for an out-of-towner if they come to town?
SB – Get to the James River. Its absolutely beautiful. It’s the life blood of the city and it’s been said that the energy from the water is the true source of Richmond’s art/music scene. There’s rarely a day off that I don’t spend some time walking my dog at the river while thinking and decompressing. Some great river spots are Brown’s Island, Pipeline, or Texas Beach. But be careful, as the rapids are no joke.
I asked Justin to give the story behind his nickname, Saw. He demured. We’ll save that for another chat on another day. In the meantime, you can catch Saw Black on Friday at The Golden Pony in Harrisonburg, VA, before he returns home on Saturday to celebrate the release of Water Tower at Hardywood in Richmond.
In the meantime, take a listen to “Water Tower,” along with new tracks from Parker Milsap, Coco O’Connor, Fantastic Negrito, and many more on this month’s Trail Mix.