The Sheriffs of Nottingham are a four-piece band out of Memphis, Tennessee featuring Justin Jamerson (Vocals, Rhythm Guitar), Kevin Lipe (Lead Guitar), Kyle Fagala (Drums), and Curry Smith (Bass). The band cites The Black Keys, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Free as some of their influences and play an exciting brand of blues rock. They released their latest album, Have Mercy, in November and we were able to get the bands thoughts on the new album and more.
How did you decide on the name “The Sheriffs of Nottingham?”
Kevin: It was funny. The first time we ever got together, we were going to be playing a bunch of covers at an outdoors event in West Memphis called The Esperanza Bonanza, and even though the show never happened, Justin and I sat around with a legal pad and wrote down twenty-five or so band names. Out of all of them, The Sheriffs of Nottingham was the one that was the funniest. A lot of the time, we get referred to as The Sheriffs, but I’ve always resisted changing the name.
Kyle: I actually played The Sheriff of Nottingham in a high school musical of Robin Hood, but that’s just a coincidence. In reality The Sheriffs of Nottingham was the first name we all liked, and it’s the only band name we’ve ever used. We knew the name was a bit long, but never expected to have so many problems with the spelling in music listings and on flyers. Sheriffs has been misspelled as Sherrifs, Sherifs, Sherriffs, Sheriffs’, Sheriff’s, and just about anything else you can imagine. My favorite misspelling, though, was “The Sherriffs’ of Nothingham.”
What was the process like for recording Have Mercy?
Kevin: Long. Everyone’s schedules were so busy that it was hard to get anything done. Mike Wilson and Jason Gillespie (at Audio Garden Studios) were really great at working with everyone to make the most of the time we had. We started in February and mixed and mastered it in August. We played the songs live for a long time before we ever got into the studio to start working on the album. I feel like that enabled the material to mature more than it would have otherwise – which is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a really tight, really cohesive album, and we worked really hard to polish it just enough so that it didn’t sound overdone. That’s always a hard struggle. I’m really proud of the record, though. I think it’s great.
Curry: The process of recording in and of itself is just a blast. The best thing about it is that you get to hear your songs come alive in a step-by-step process that cannot be explained to anyone who is unfamiliar with the process. Recording with Mike Wilson and at Ardent Studios was one of the greatest experiences one could ask for. Mike was great in helping our vision for this album become a reality. He knew what we wanted to accomplish and guided us in that direction. There is so much history behind Ardent Studios that it was really special being inside those walls, making music where so many incredible bands have.
You recently released a video for “Gonzo” off Have Mercy. How did you come up with the idea for the video?
Kyle: Justin wrote the song “Gonzo” one night after watching the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with the song title referring to the style of journalism popularized by author Hunter S. Thompson. There’s a line in “Gonzo” about “The tops down on my dusty Cadillac” so the idea of driving a Cadillac was an obvious one. Fortunately, a friend put us in contact with someone who owns a pristine 1956 Cadillac Eldorado. It’s a good thing, because I think the Cadillac makes the video. For the video concept, Justin and I met with Memphis film director Waheed AlQawasmi for a couple of nights to brainstorm ideas. There’s a short-lived comedy about party caterers called Party Down that I really like, so we thought that stealing engagement party gifts and a car from the stuck-up rich people whose party we were catering sounded like a funny idea. As we were wrapping up on the video, Justin had the idea that the events of the day had all been a dream. I think it’s an appropriate ending, especially since it’s unlikely we could have traded champagne glasses and a serving tray for two guitars and a drum kit.
What sort of plans does the band have in terms of touring and promoting Have Mercy?
Curry: Promotion is a very difficult thing and can be very time consuming. We make our own flyers, book and promote the majority of our shows, and handle all the music business ourselves. We haven’t played a lot of live shows outside of Memphis. We played two shows in Nashville, TN and Searcy, AR right as our CD was released, but haven’t done anything else. It’s very difficult to tour with full time jobs and families. We have submitted our music to radio stations, labels, blogs, and other publications. Right now it’s just about getting our name out there and once it is, being ready to seize opportunities that come our way.
As a band that plays a blues rock style how would you describe the current blues and rock scene in Memphis?
Kevin: It’s good, but it could be better. There are some great bands around – The Dirty Streets and Heavy Eyes are two bands we love playing with, and they’re great guys – but I wish there were more. I think this music we play is real Memphis music, true to the city, to the soul of the place, and I think that if more people had heard us (us being all of these bands) we’d probably be famous. Memphis has so many musicians, who have all been playing in different bands for twenty years, that it’s hard to break in if you’re a bunch of “new kids.” We have a great time, though. The crowds we play for are great. There’s always a good vibe. People are pretty accepting when you want to push the boundaries a little, try something weird on ’em.
Curry: I think that the music scene in general is not in the best of shape. For local musicians, it is a constant struggle to get people to come out to shows. People just don’t go see live music as much as they used to. But as a musician you can’t let those things get to you. You go out and play your songs because it’s what you love to do. That is one thing that we excel at. We go out and play a live show and have the best time of our lives whether there’s five people or 500. We do it because we love it. But I also want to see Memphis fall in love with new music, in the same way Nashville and Austin have.
Where do you see the direction of the band going in the next couple of years?
Kevin: The plan is just to keep writing good music. That’s our only goal at this point: making great records and writing great songs. Whatever path that takes, it takes.
Interview by Pete Francis