Grateful Web Interview with Eric Mardis of Split Lip Rayfield

Article Contributed by Shanneil White | Published on Sunday, December 29, 2013

If you’re anywhere near Lawrence, KS and have no plans for New Year’s Eve, be sure to check out what will surely be the finest show you’ve seen all year!  Wichita’s own, Split Lip Rayfield, will be playing The Bottleneck on December 31.  It’s a sold out show so get online or get there early and scour the streets for extra tickets!  Get ready to ring in the new year with THE leading thrash-grass group.  The inimitable Split Lip Rayfield is ready to roll and I’m here to testify that your ears will be thanking you well into 2014.

There’s not a specific genre into which Split Lip Rayfield can be classified.  They’ve been called bluegrass, punk-try, thrash…everything under the sun.  But to those who hear them, Split Lip seems to define a genre all of their own.  Their mixture of musicianship and their storytelling lyrics paints a picture of unparalleled talent.  These guys know what they’re doing and they do it right.  

Below is a quick email interview with Eric Mardis, of Split Lip, with a little insight into the band and what they’ve been up to in 2013.

GW:  We’ve traveled to a bunch of shows and festivals this year…and we haven’t seen you guys all year.  Where the hell have you been?  That said, what made you decide to do a New Years’ Eve show after a year of (seeming) hiatus?  Have you guys been working on other projects aside from Split Lip?  What have the three of you been up to?

EM:  We've had a nice rest after several years of solid touring for the last record.  We took the year off to focus on other aspects of life and to recharge.  Looks like some fun things are going to happen in 2014 and New Year's Eve at the Bottleneck is an awesome way to get the ball rolling. We've all had a good year... it went by very quickly!  Time for a new album.

GW:  Have you guys been rehearsing for this New Years’ show or is this more of an impromptu thing?  If you’ve been preparing, how has that been? 

EM:  We've been rehearsing and it’s been great.  Some in Wichita, a few in Lawrence....  wood stove, drink a few beers and touch on all the tunes.  It's pretty casual.

GW:  Should we, as fans, be expecting anything new from Split Lip Rayfield anytime soon?  If no albums are in the works, can we expect to see more of you in 2014? 

EM:  Shows yes.  Album yes.

GW:  I recently purchased the documentary “Never Make It Home”—when you guys were doing 150+ shows a year, how did you balance that with your life outside of Split Lip?  

EM:  It can be hard I suppose... that balance.  It just felt pretty natural back then and we rolled with it. We were actually doing quite a few dates in just recent years and that gets even harder/better. Hard to be away from home, but nice to not have a day job when back home for weeks at a time.  Balance is hard.  All those bands wrote songs about "the road's a bitch."   Haha…yeah sometimes.  Sometimes no. We just do it and then whatever happens, happens.  

GW:  What festival is your favorite to play?  Venue?  If tomorrow was your last show, what song is a must?

EM:  We like Harvest Festival. We had a bear in our camp and that was fun. We almost always play "Flat Black Rag".   We joke that it is our "Whiskey River" and we should probably start and end the shows with it.

GW:  How long have you played banjo and who or what made you decide to pick it up the first time?  Why? 

EM:  I started playing banjo in the mid-nineties -  my Deadhead roommates and I listened to a New Year’s Eve radio show of some kind while on acid. The show had Bela Fleck and the Flecktones live and it melted my mind. I always liked old AM classic country and metal and all kinds of stuff, but that freaked out, jazzy, virtuosic, banjo playing CALLED to me. Although I play nothing like him, Bela Fleck definitely turned me on to the banjo.  He is rad.

GW:  There aren’t really any other bands that play your genre.  I heard Deadman Flats cover “Outlaw” in Eureka Springs recently….you getting any royalties from that?  (haha)  How do you guys come up with the tunes you do?  Who are the band’s biggest musical influences?  Who are your biggest influences?  Favorite artists/bands? 

EM: Deadman Flats does pay us royalties yes. We just write what we write.  The band likes all sorts of stuff and I suppose all of it is influential.  In no particular order:  Pink Floyd, Hee-Haw, Iron Maiden, Kenny Rogers, Steely Dan, British Classic Rock, Conway Twitty, Dead Kennedys, DIO, NWOBHM bands, Zappa, 70's Yacht Rock, Eminem, Prince, Reverend Horton Heat.  (**GW:  NWOBHM = New Wave of British Heavy Metal)    

GW:  I’ve always been curious when listening to your albums.  Is there any truth to the lyrics?  “Dime Store Cowboy” mentions that you may’ve wrecked a car once? (Yes? No?)  Please explain.  I’m more interested in songs such as “Day the Train Jumped the Tracks” or “Outlaw” or “Hounds”...any truth to the lyrics (especially “Hounds”…) or have any of you ever considered a career in fiction writing?  (haha) 

EM:  Some truth to my car wrecking and bad luck with vehicles.   Many of the songs are character-driven like "Hounds"...    Thankfully I've never been involved in any sort of murder ever...  but it makes for a good ol' country murder ballad.   Sort of comic bookish too... an Alan Moore sort of thing.

GW:  You guys did some songs for Squidbillies.  Were they commissioned or chosen (already done)?  Did you get to do any work with Unknown Hinson?  How badass was it to be able to be on the soundtrack for such a great show?  

EM:  They were commissioned.  We had a friend at TNT from way back and those animator people all flock together so our names came up.   Adult Swim staffers were liking the SLR and they asked us to contribute.   My banjo playing summons the corpse of Roy Clark from the depths of hell!  (Roy Clark is not dead)  In fact, I saw Roy Clark and was very close backstage to him a year or two ago and I wanted to tell him about the whole resurrection Squidbillies thing but I chickened out.  Star Struck

GW:  If you could do it all over again, what changes would you make?  Would you have still gone into the music business?

EM:  No remorse. No regrets

GW:  You guys have been around for quite a while and you have quite the following.  I’ve never been to a SLR show that wasn’t a blast.  Do you have any words of wisdom for your fans?  Favorite quotes?  Tidbits of info anyone might need to hear? 

EM:  Wisdom for fans: drink water.  Good lord! At festivals you gotta drink some water people!   Mix in some water.  It’s going to be great to see Lawrence ring in the new year at the Bottleneck.

GW:  My last question:  one everyone wants to know:  where’s the after party?

EM:  You never know.... the banjo guy always finds out last anyway…J