Tonight The Sons & Heirs will grace the stage at Public Assembly in Williamsburg, NY with Green Shirt. The NY-based group were working with a new bassist when we spoke last, and made the crowd go mad in the sweltering August heat when they played local venue The North Star. As one of this regions most well-known Smiths and Morrissey tribute acts, The Sons & Heirs are filling in the black hole left in the hearts of thousands by a still-legendary group.
And now this Friday, as gloomy and rainy as it feels, it looks to be the perfect date to discuss a group that pays homage to such a well-known and loved band, and singer: The Smiths and Morrissey. It even makes sense that we will get to see two legends paid tribute to in one night spent in Williamsburg, NY at Public Assembly tonight when we see: Elvis Costello (Green Shirt) with The Smiths and Morrissey (The Sons & Heirs), with guest DJs to follow. Should we be on the lookout for an Andy Rourke sighting? Doors open at 10 p.m. and the cost is only $10.
Girl About Town: Are there any songs in The Smiths or Morrissey's catalogue that The Sons & Heirs would get asked to play; but that you would never perform live?
Ravi Marr: There would be two.
Ronnissey: Now I want to hear yours to see if they're the same as mine. Can I answer this one too?
Ravi: Okay, at least that stand out in my memory. One that we've never played, would be "Lucky Lisp", and....
Ronnissey: I'm going to say "Tony the Pony", people cry this title out, an awful lot.
Ravi: That we've never played, and one that we won't play again is "Well I Wonder".
Ronnissey: I was also going to say "Reel Around the Fountain". Quite a few people ask for that as well.
Ravi: Well, with "Reel Around the Fountain" and "Well I Wonder", we've played them like once or twice....
Ronnissey: ....and we've gotten no reaction from the crowd.
Ravi: Well, because they're really slow, plaintive songs and in the middle of a high energy set. Even if someone really wants to hear it, 80% of the crowd are going to end up catching up with their friends or going to the bar to get a drink. We've just found that unless there's a really compelling outcry, the setlist just works much better when it keeps people really excited and engaged.
What is the longest set that you've ever played for an audience?
Ronnissey: We played a BB King's set for 2 1/2 hours.
Ravi: Yes, and didn't we end that set with, "I Know It's Over"? That was one of our encores....
Ronnissey: Yes! I do believe you're right about that.
Are you ready to pack it in after a point?
Ronnissey: No, never! The audience was calling for more. They had just put on the house lights, otherwise we probably would have come out and done a few more....
Ravi: One of the things that I love about playing in this band is that for years I toiled in original bands that were only given 40 minute sets and, I feel like I'm not really warmed up until, like, the 8th song, and then in this band--we still have 3 or 4 more. It's easier for me because I'm not using my voice...but, to be able to play for an hour and a half, or even two hours, is a real privilege. You just get wrapped up in the audience and they give you all of the energy that you need, and the longer you play (the longer I play); the more energy you have.
So, where does the audience end and your persona begin? Is this project an extension of your personalities, or is it real for you?
Ronnissey: This whole thing, is like an experience--for everyone. You can't BE yourself, because people are demanding you to be The Smiths, or Morrissey. The Smiths tribute acts are, I'm going to say, CONSUMED with everything being perfect, or as close to perfection as possible. Like, people will come up to us after the show and say, 'That show was perfect, buuut....on this one song--the live version...did you ever hear this...or that...'. And, you can't take liberties. You have to stick within a certain framework in order to do this kind of thing right.
Ravi: It's kind of like a shared fantasy. Like, everybody in the room has to believe that you're at a Smiths' show, otherwise it doesn't work. So when you get a crowd, and you VERY RARELY get a crowd that hasn't been completely crazy and packed with huge Smiths fans...and when you don't have that, the illusion sort of...wears off.
Ronnissey: The thing is, too--almost everyone here has seen Morrissey live, and people go home and wish they would have seen The Smiths. The people who come to our shows really want that experience, and feel like they missed out on it.
Ravi: It really does depend on the audience. We're trying to re-create the experience of seeing them, when they were touring and in their prime, to be able to give that to people is amazing.
Ronnissey: There are so many live shows for people to compare us to....you have to get it right.
Ravi: It's amazing. You can get wrapped up in how big the stage is, the sound system, and how much rehearsal you've had, and what the setlist is going to be like. You can get wrapped up in all of that, but in the end it doesn't matter. If the crowd wants to have a good time, and has had a few drinks, and they believe that you're going to entertain them, it becomes a great night.
Are you perfectionists, and do you rehearse a lot?
Ronnissey: I think that we are, sure. We have so much reference material, that we'll be in rehearsal, and playing a song and one of us will stop things to say, 'Wait a minute, that's not right.' and then we'll refer ourselves back to a live track, and then an album track, or even an obscure bootleg track....we want to make sure that we get exactly what was trying to be captured at the time that it was being played.
Ravi: We rehearse once a week, but they're long rehearsals and you don't spend an hour working on one song--you spend three or four hours working on 30 songs. I mean, it's really easy and really hard at the same time. It's easy because there's none of that tension similar to people playing in an original band: no one is trying to get their own agenda or their own ideas across. We all know what it should sound like, and we all know what the sound is about.
Ronnissey: We've heard of tribute bands disbanding because of 'creative differences'....
Ravi: But we know, that's just the easiest part: we know what it should sound like. If I point out something in a bass line that I think isn't right, we can go back to these things (the bootlegs, the recordings) and I can verify what I'm hearing, and it's not a 'personal issue'.
What inspired each of you to become part of such an involved tribute act? Were you all The Smiths or Morrissey fans at a young age--how long have you been playing these songs?
Ronnissey: I was not a The Smiths fan growing up, honestly. I started an original band, and played guitar, and we couldn't find a singer, so I started singing. And whenever we played shows, people would actually scream out The Smiths' songs, and 'play this one, or play Big Mouth...or' and I was like, 'What is this stuff?'. So I eventually went home and started listening, and I started liking their music, a lot after being compared to that. I started out a little bit late....
Kevin Joyce: Well, I was a The Smiths fan since high school--definitely. I mean, to me: Morrissey and The Smiths were always number one. And, you know. I like a lot of different stuff, but, there's Morrissey--and then there's everyone else. It's always been that way for me. But, as a musician, the drums of The Smiths or Morrissey's solo stuff. I would just practice along to the different songs. And it never even crossed my mind to play in a tribute band until I was searching for Smiths stuff on Craigslist to see if I could find other musicians who were into it, and saw an ad, and....well, we got together.
Ravi: I grew up listening to The Smiths. I never took guitar lessons--I'm self-taught, and I learned guitar playing along to records and when I really broke out (I think) as a guitar player was when I was playing along to Smiths records. When it really clicked for me, was when I listened to the first few bootlegs that I could get my hands on. And then I heard Johnny Marr play all of the parts on the record, and that was it for me; that was how I wanted to play guitar....for the rest of my life. And I did that in an original band for a long time, and we were having trouble getting together for practice and I really just needed a new outlet to play. The way that we met was by finding a posting from another singer, who was looking to form a tribute band. Kevin, Johnny (our original bass player), and myself, got together with him (we all saw the ad) and responded. It wasn't going to work, with the singer, but the three of us left that first audition and we thought: 'this is really gonna work, if we can find the right person to sing'. And that's when we posted and found Ronnie.
So tonight was the first time playing with your new bassist (Gregg Levinthal a.k.a. Gregg 'Rourke')?
Ravi: Splitting with Johnny was definitely amicable and Gregg has become a great fit.
Kevin: Gregg was a friend of mine from high school, and we both loved The Smiths. He wasn't as dedicated to the music as we are at first, but I just told him, I said: 'Wait and see, you're going to find these bass lines really fun and challenging.' and he did.
Ravi: We definitely miss Johnny because the four of us were a stable unit, for three years?
Kevin: Three years.
Ravi: All the way from the beginning....but, it's going to be great.
How many shows have The Sons & Heirs played?
Ronnissey: Would anyone say thirty?
Ravi: Yeah, I would say about thirty since our inception, because it's not quite once a month, but it's close.
So winding down, what is your favorite thing about Philadelphia?
Ravi: The people, definitely...
Ronnissey: The people. Yes.
Kevin: People definitely come out and enjoy themselves here.
Ravi: It's always a really honest and energy-driven crowd....
Kevin: As long as they keep asking us back, we'll keep playing!