In addition to touring with Jim James, Dylan LeBlanc and Michael Nau, and recording with Angel Olsen, Ray LaMontagne and Tyler Ramsey, Black Mountain-based musician Seth Kauffman has been writing, producing, engineering, mixing and playing practically every instrument on Floating Action’s albums for well over a decade. On April 1, he surprised music fans with his latest homemade rock collection, Outsider Art, the timing of which also came as somewhat of a surprise to its creator, who’d had a potential May vinyl pressing in mind until COVID-19 restrictions halted production.
“After, like, week two of quarantine, I thought, ‘Man, I’m just sitting on these fresh tunes. It could in theory lift people’s spirits during this dark time if I released it at least digitally.’ So, I did,” Kauffman says. “It brings me great joy knowing these songs are out there for people to hear now, as opposed to a year from now or whatever.”
Taking a break from “riding bikes, playing in creeks and hiking on trails” with his wife and 4-year-old daughter, Kauffman spoke with Xpress about the allure of simplicity, lyrical priorities and how he and his family are adjusting to state and county “stay home, stay safe” mandates.
On challenging himself with minimal instrumentation and equipment:
“I try to keep everything relatively simple. Self-imposed resourcefulness — trying to make the most with very little. I forced myself to use just one 5-watt, Amazon.com house-brand guitar amp, one tape delay pedal and one $250 Stratocaster copy, plus a drum kit, a bass and one conga, and try to make it all happen with just those things — self-imposed limitations. A couple other instruments made appearances [on Outsider Art], but not all that much.”
On collaborating with Asheville-based saxophonist Jacob Rodriguez on Outsider Art’s standout track:
“The song he plays on, ‘Oil & Water,’ the call-and-response riff that the horns do was the initial/core idea of the song. When I made it up, I voice memoed it, noting, ‘Get Jacob to do those horn parts.’ It’s such a happy, hopeful song. It just has to have horns — and that beat, such a celebratory high-life beat that I wish could just go on forever. And it kind of does. The song ends, and the beat just keeps going for another minute or so.”
On his approach to songwriting:
“Well, by doing everything myself for 15 years, I’ve arrived at a unique way to be able to make songs where it’s very spontaneous, unfiltered, in the moment, and you’re actually writing it as you’re recording it. It seems to be the most ‘direct to source’ way, with very little cerebral interference. It’s all about trust, and each melody, hook [and] rhythm exists solely to support and hold up the other thing, to where everything is self-sacrificing itself. True love, symbolized musically, but maybe that’s something people can sense on some other level through music?
“The giving up of self is something I’ve come to realize may be the most important thing a human can do. It’s all laid out in the laws of Mother Nature, but humans have been able to build up technology that can sort of fool us into thinking we’re immune to those laws — until now, perhaps?”
On adjusting to COVID-related restrictions:
“I got home from [a] monthlong Dylan LeBlanc tour right before quarantining started. So, we had more tours that were supposed to be happening, well, now. Plus I had a few recording sessions booked with other artists. It all just got instantly canceled. So, your only income is suddenly gone, and there’s really no end in sight. I could feasibly never get to play another show again or make any more money playing music again.
“We’re staying optimistic maybe 85% of the time? Then, of course, you’re gonna have waves where the uncertainty hits you, and you start to brace yourself to basically become Robert Duvall in The Road, vomiting up canned peaches around a campfire.” floatingactionlive.bandcamp.com