In a geographic sense, “The Americans” may refer to any two or more people residing from Águila Islet to Cape Columbia. Musically, that name specifically applies to the Los Angeles roots-rock quartet composed of Patrick Ferris (vocals, guitar), Zac Sokolow (guitar, banjo), Jake Faulkner (bass) and Tim Carr (drums).
Before the band’s free show at The Grey Eagle Tuesday, Jan. 19, Xpress caught up with Ferris via email to explore The Americans’ many connections in the music and film industries, their forthcoming album, I’ll Be Yours, and the seduction of living in the South.
Mountain Xpress: Are you or any of your bandmates a fan of the F/X TV show with which you share a name?
Patrick Ferris: Not that I know of, but I hear it’s great.
What’s your history with Asheville?
We played a show at The Orange Peel [in June 2011]. We had a great time in Asheville. We were traveling with Ryan Bingham at the time, who was generous enough to invite us along on two of his tours. In fact, Ryan is one of the most generous people I think I’ve ever met.
Are you all four LA natives?
Two of us grew up in LA The other two in San Francisco.
How would you describe the LA roots-rock music scene? How does it compare to other cities where that style thrives, and why is LA a good fit for the band?
Anything you’re interested in you can probably find in Los Angeles. We met one another through a shared devotion to pre-war American music: country blues, string band music, etc. The greatest old-time musicians of this generation came out of LA — Jerron Paxton, The California Feetwarmers, Frank Fairfield — and we get to play with all of them. After a long period of, as I say, devotion to old blues and country music, I started to dream about what it might be like to play original, modern music with these people who felt the same way I did about old music, who knew how to play it authentically.
When you play shows in Appalachia and the South in general, do you feel a special kinship with the audiences or the area? And have these experiences tempted you to relocate to, say, Austin or Nashville — or is it good for the band to operate outside of these hotspots?
We’ve been tempted. These are not easy places to leave. Coming home from tour is typically accompanied by a numbness and longing for the places we’ve left behind.
What songwriting topics especially appealed to you in creating I’ll Be Yours?
After all the incremental progress, the album probably sounds a whole lot different to us than to someone with fresh ears. Looking back on it, there seem to be a number of songs about devotion in the face of hopelessness — sort of a sinking ship’s captain’s mentality. That’s where the album — and the [lead single] — gets its title. I’ll Be Yours will be out in the spring.
Please tell me about “American Epic” (a four hour prime-time PBS/BBC special produced by Jack White, Robert Redford and T Bone Burnett, featuring Nas, Elton John, Alabama Shakes and Willie Nelson that debuts in the spring) and your role in the program.
A friend of ours — a record collector and an expert on old-time music — recommended us to a filmmaker who was looking for a modern band who could play the old stuff.
How did playing at Reese Witherspoon’s wedding come about? Did you play other songs there as well, or did you get to mingle as a guest once your cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” was over?
We played a couple sets. We had played a party for her once before. Still, we didn’t know whose wedding it was until we showed up.
You four have backed up Nick Cave, Tim Robbins and Lucinda Williams. Again, what are the stories behind how those opportunities arose?
We played a concert for charity in downtown LA. We played a new song of ours and then backed up some of the other artists that night. It was a privilege.
To what do you attribute The Americans’ success in making these notable connections?
We’ve been lucky.
Considering your pedigree and history, I was surprised to see that The Grey Eagle show is a free one.
It’s been a while since we played in Asheville. A free show is a good way to find out if anyone remembers who we are.
Other than the nationwide tour and releasing I’ll Be Yours — two significant undertakings, no doubt — what else do The Americans have in store for 2016?
Aside from the anticipated release of our line of cologne and action figurines, more touring!
WHO The Americans
WHERE The Grey Eagle, thegreyeagle.com
WHEN Tuesday, Jan. 19, 8 p.m. Free