In 1976, newly born and yet unnamed, a hospital nurse duly filled out paperwork for a ‘Young Mr. Hines.’ Already parents of six others (and quite possibly suffering from acute exhaustion) the Mister and Missus felt ‘Young’ was rather apt and quickly signed off to make it official.
Stories like this one – from his first day in the world no less – make me suspect that in addition to being an excellent musician and a completely likable interviewee, Young Hines would also make one hell of an amusing drinking buddy.
Raised in the woods of Griffin, Georgia and perhaps driven by fantasy more than ambition, a 12-year-old Young set upon the boyhood goal of learning guitar and sold his first demos at the local record shop. Thanks to his similarly gifted brother, Matt Jordan, and a penchant for covering Oldies, Young, now 17 – with their band The Roaches – supported 60′s era icons like Little Richard whenever they happened through his hometown.
After religious study of The Beatles and his stint in Bailey Jester (again with Matt), Young moved to Chicago to take a day job but wrote music in his home studio by night. Soon after, through completely random events, Young’s music fell on the ears of Brendan Benson, acclaimed songwriter and member of The Raconteurs. To his utter glee – having already been a longtime fan – Young became the first-ever signing to his hero Benson’s new Readymade label.
Give Me My Change, Young’s long-anticipated debut, finally saw its release April 10, 2012 and since, Young has been warming up the Raconteurs, hitting the international road with Benson, showcasing at SXSW, and surely, amassing a a gaggle of more incredible stories to tell.
If I asked you to recall your very first musical memory – what would it be?
My first memory and my first musical memory are the same: I remember crawling – I couldn’t even walk yet – past a room where my eldest brother Matthew was playing acoustic guitar and singing. For some reason, I was crying, and he stopped playing and asked me what was wrong.
Was your whole family musical or was it just your brother who liked to play?
It was just him; he was the musical one. We all grew up in the woods and didn’t have a lot of toys so our imaginations kind of took off. We’re all into very different things; things that are all a little of the beaten path, if there is such a thing.
Was it was your older brother who taught you to play?
Actually, no. I didn’t take guitar lessons until I was 11 or 12 from a guy in my hometown.
And what made you decide to take it up?
The first moment where I knew, ‘Okay, I want to do this,’ was in Fifth or Sixth Grade and I went to see a Chris Issak show. I just remember a guy walking out onto the stage and it was all dark except for one light shining on him. He had a voice kind of like Roy Orbison and I liked Roy Orbison. It was pretty cool.
God, even during my Goth years in high school, Chris Isaak was a guilty pleasure for me. I watched his TV. show – and I just totally fell in love with Wicked Game. There was something captivating about him.
Oh I know, I know. I couldn’t agree more – but the cool thing that came out of liking Chris Isaak for me was that through him, I found out who David Lynch was. I think it was in Wild at Heart. From there, I discovered Twin Peaks and I was hooked. When I saw that series, right away I knew I liked his approach; it was modern, relevant and avant-garde, and the music he would use was something else. He was very inspirational for me.
So you’re attracted to someone who tells stories in an avant-garde way – and through music. Would you say you try to do the same?
I really try. Writing gives me something to chase after, I suppose.
Tell me, when you were recording your music and selling your cassettes on consignment at your local record store, were you doing it thinking you had a real shot at getting discovered and turning pro?
When you’re 12 years old and going into a recording studio – well, I remember the looks on people’s faces. It wasn’t like I was going in with tracks I thought would make me famous, really. It was me wanting to play in a recording studio because that was just the coolest thing I could imagine. Yeah, there was a sense of ‘This is great, people will love this’ because I was 12, but there was also just a sense of excitement and fun, too. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was discovering my passion. When I’d sell those tapes – my friends would buy them and people at school – that passion just grew and grew.
Where did you get the money to go into the studio in the first place?
The first one was from money from my parents. I think it was $200 for three days. It was really cheap back then. That was the only one they funded (laughs). The first and last (laughs). You know how that goes.
What was the experience like of playing with The Roaches?
That was when I was 17 or 18. We learned a lot then…I remember Nirvana had hit big at that point and everyone’s singing at that time was very much like Kurt or Eddie Vedder. I didn’t really like it. I loved Nirvana, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t terribly crazy about all that music that came after that; it was imitative and not as sincere. I started looking back to the 60′s because I was interested in harmonies and people with vocal range. I learned about 12-bar blues and chord changes and discovered that I could play thousands of songs by learning those chord changes, you know?
That new technical knowledge must have opened up plenty of new avenues.
Man, I went from that straight into The Beatles – and pretty much learned their whole catalog. I played it all with all kinds of set ups…and by doing all that old music we got to play with a lot of great musicians: The Monkees, Little Richard, Jerry Lee [Lewis]. You know, you hear the stories and you hear the songs that are 40 years old, but to see them out there night after night is something else.
It must have been just surreal for you to be in the midst of so many greats when you were still so young.
In Georgia, even in the 90s, there wasn’t much 60′s music going on. It was such a revelation getting popular so quick. We were playing little bars and stuff and then before we knew it, we were opening for Little Richard and Jerry Lee [Lewis]. It was pretty weird to us because they were icons but it was such a great experience and there were a lot of funny stories.
Oh yeah? Such as?
The first time I met Little Richard I was real nervous. We had just played and he was making his way to the stage. He had them roll out a red carpet to the stage 30 minutes before his show and demanded a golf cart with all the wheels wrapped in Saran Wrap. He didn’t want anyone else on his red carpet. So when he finally made his way down toward the stage, I stepped out in front of him – onto the carpet – and extended my hand and said, ‘Me and the other guys in the band are real big fans of your music.’ He took his shades off and he said, ‘Woo! You’re the four prettiest white boys I ever did see but get out of my damn way!’ (laughs) And that was it. He was all business but he sang from the heart. To go from that and then to fast-forward twenty years and to be opening for somebody who you could say is the modern day Little Richard – Jack White – that’s cool, you know? It’s like a rock and roll time machine.
I bet! So tell me about your biggest coup of late: being the first signing to Brendan Benson’s new Readymade label. Sounds like a case of fate coming to knock.
I wish I could express to every single person that cared, the incredible amount of luck or fate or whatever it was that actually pointed to this. I remember the first notes I ever heard from Brendan in 2003 were from Lapalco: Tiny Spark is such a rockin’ song and Jet Lag… I just love it. If there’s a musician out there that that feels lost or doesn’t know what to do, listen to Jet Lag. It’s like a three-minute ‘how-to’ of the music business. Anyway, I heard that, and years later I kept playing his songs for people and I began buying machines like he had for his home recording, It really opened up doors for me. I got doing tha,t and I felt really happy, and I was writing the songs that I wanted to hear – but I wasn’t trying to make it in the music business and hadn’t been trying for a long time. Next thing you know, I got this email from Brendan that said, ‘Hello. Is this Young? I’ve done a cover of one of your songs. Let me know if this is okay.’ For like, 24 hours (laughs) I just sat there like, ‘How the hell did this happen?’ (laughs) Turns out, some of my friends were painting his house and were playing my song on his jam box. At some point, I guess Brendan came in and heard it, took the CD and worked up a cover.
Yeah! I felt very touched that someone I admired on as a songwriter and on an artistic level had not only reached out to me but… Now, here I am talking to you about being on his label. It’s awesome. If you believe in something and it’s a passion, you’ve just got to keep doing it; you can’t be impatient – you have to fall in love with it. Once I fell completely in love with music and writing, it seems to be that’s when it showed up.
It’s a terrific story.
You know, [Brendan's] just a wonderful guy on top of everything. Years ago, the White Stripes covered one of his songs and White Stripes were a big band. He’s just a premiere songwriter in our time. I’m flattered and blown away to be working with him. Every day, I pinch myself.
And obviously the experience of recording your album with him would’ve been spectacular.
Awesome. absolutely. Brad Pemberton of the Cardinals was on drums and Sam Farrar of Phantom Planet was on bass…and Brendan’s work ethic was great. He was pushing through three or four songs a day and we went like that for about 10 days. We recorded quit a few songs and out of that, we chose the best 12 or so songs. I really felt like I saw him mix this record. I saw Brendan Benson do everything, you know? He was in his headphones and he looked like a kid who was happy and it sounded to me like he really put his heart into the mixing. I love it. I’m happy.
How did he impact how you performed on the record?
He really let me do my thing. I went to him with a lot of the demos that I had and I played my guitar and I sang, and he didn’t change anything; he just helped me to get a good recording of them. He didn’t change a word, a line; the tempos…It was just, ‘Let’s get this recorded.’
Totally. I was blown away.
All the songs on your record are quite succinct and lean; there’s no filler. Is it a conscious effort to keep things simple?
I think the best writing comes in thrift, there’s no doubt. Songs just make sense at three and a half minutes in a pop format – and it’s all about your first line: if the first line is no good, everything else is lost. But I don’t have a formula; I only do it if I feel like I have to…I don’t know exactly how to describe it. If I can’t get that first line out of my head then I know I got to get it done. It’s like starting a conversation: if you don’t know how to say hello then (laughs) it’s impossible to start and you’re not going to get anywhere (laughs).
It’s interesting you said that because in your case, absolutely, the first lines are what pulled me into your songs. Some of them were almost startling off the top, do you know what I mean?
Uh huh. That’s great; I’m glad to hear it.
So you mentioned The Beatles earlier and that makes me feel better about bring this up: I heard some very Beatles-esque harmonies in your songs and your voice in places even reminded me of John Lennon.
I don’t take insult to comparisons. I think that’s just a product of ego which I’ve worked hard to abandon. If I’m compared to John Lennon – the highest paid musician of all time – then I think it’s great. I mean, we both have brown hair and we’re both about the same height (laughs). But how many DNA strands are we all apart from one another, you know? The voice makes a lot of sounds but when you’re singing rock and roll…there’s just so many ways of singing it. I don’t do it on purpose but is there a Beatles influence? Definitely man; I love The Beatles. I love The Stones and I love Elvis and I love all of it. Do I over do it here and there? To me I don’t, because it’s what I wanted to hear that day and how I felt that day…You know, some kids may have read about The Beatles but maybe don’t know their stuff that well, so if they hear that my music sounds something like them and then they think, ‘Oh hey, maybe I’ll go check out The Beatles’, then that’s cool, man. That music is all about love and it’s totally groovy, you know?
I spoke with an artist called The Legendary Tigerman who’s from Lisbon but plays blues-inspired garage rock. I asked him how in the world someone from Lisbon got so heavily into Delta Blues and he said that when he was 15, he started listening to The Cramps. They covered a lot of songs from the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s that inspired him to go back and listen to the originals. It just snowballed from there and it completely changed him. So I think you have a very valid point that there is no disservice in openly sharing influences.
Yeah – and you know what? I’ve kind of felt this thing in the air from everyone around me, like, ‘Are you okay with these comparisons?’ Artists typically want to be secretive about what they’re pulling from but you know, we live on planet earth and we’re all from here somewhere. It’s okay to say what you’re into and what you like. I don’t want to try to trick anybody into thinking I’m mysterious. I’m not into that.
So what emotions are you experiencing around the release of this record?
(laughs) Let’s see…I’m still feeling it and I don’t really know yet (laughs). It’s all good though, I know that. It’s very exciting. I feel like there’s really something to look forward to. When things are around the corner, everything is all good. It’s awesome. It’s groovy. Brendan’s really gone out on a limb and I just want to make him and every body that has worked so hard so far proud. No expectations…but I do want to have fun and make everyone happy.
Well, again, yours is a terrific story. It’s obvious your heart is in it.
More than anything, more so than any of the success that comes from this, I hope Brendan gets everything that he deserves. We consider each other friends now but I am definitely his fan. Really. He’s such a great artist and I hope this album takes off for his sake. He deserves for that to happen.
YOUNG HINES TOUR DATES w/BRENDAN BENSON
28 – Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge* (Additional support by The Howling Brothers)
03 – Philadelphia, PA – World Café Live*
05 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom*
10 – San Diego, CA – Casbah*
12 – Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour*
16 – Paris, France – Noveau Casino*
17 – Barcelona, Spain – Apollo 2*
18 – Madrid, Spain – Moby Dick*
21 – Portsmouth, UK – Wedgewood Rooms*
22 – London, UK – Scala*
23 – Manchester, UK – Ruby Luonge*
24 – Dublin, Ireland – The Button Factory*
25 – Glasgow, Scotland – Oran Mor*