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Black Lillies grow from the Purple Fiddle

WANT TO GO?

"Mountain Stage"

With The Black Lillies, Over the Rhine, Vienna Teng, Susan Werner and Brendan James

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: Advance $15, at the door $25

INFO: 800-594-TIXX or www.mountainstage.org

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- People in bands are like anyone else. They have places they like to go. Sometimes, it's some little hole in the wall in their hometown where everybody knows them. It could be a famous bar like the 40-Watt Club in Athens, Ga., or even that place where they got their first real break.

The Black Lillies, who perform on "Mountain Stage" Sunday, like The Purple Fiddle in Thomas.

Well, "like" isn't the right word.

"We love that place," singer Cruz Contreras gushed. "We absolutely love it. The Purple Fiddle is a special place for us. We've got a lot of friends there."

Contreras said Thomas is just a cool place.

"I'm a fan of small towns and rural places," he said. "I was born in a small town in Michigan, and I've always been comfortable with that [rural life].

"And I love the outdoor stuff: the skiing, the hiking. They've got a microbrewery."

Plus, the crowds at The Purple Fiddle are hard to beat.

"They get up and dance," he said. "You get two songs into the show, and the crowd doesn't quit. They do not quit, and then I look at the clock and we've been playing for four hours and they're screaming.

"These are people I can relate to."

Contreras said The Black Lillies have played the Purple Fiddle around 10 times, and it was in Thomas, at the end of the band's last tour where he put some of the finishing touches on the group's third record, "Runaway Freeway Blues."

"Runaway Freeway Blues," he explained, is a sort of culmination of where the band has come from, who it is and where it is now.

"Each record has its own unique story," Contreras said. "The first record you make, you don't have any fans. Nobody knows who you are, and nobody cares. You make that record for your own personal motivation."

For The Black Lillies, that first record was "Whiskey Angel," which kind of put them on the map in the indie music/Americana world.

Recorded in Contreras living room with the help of Sparkhorse's Scott Minor, it was a very simple production, Contreras said.

"I think we just did it live with everybody in a circle around the mics."

The record got some notice, and so the band went out on the road. Touring and living out on the road, Contreras said, is where a band finds out who's serious about embracing the gypsy lifestyle of near constant travel and living on a bus.

"That kind of helps solidify the lineup," he said.

When the Lillies got to their second record, "100 Miles of Wreckage," they had been through some changes. The Knoxville-based band added bassist Robert Richards and vocalist Trisha Gene Bailey.

After briefly stopping to record that album, the band again went back out on the road, which really set in motion the content for "Runaway Freeway Blues."

"I didn't set out to make a road record," Contreras said. "It was, here's this group of songs, and once you record the record, you ask yourself, what is the overall theme?

"It was a record made from the road. It was conceived on the road." 

It was also mixed on the road, which Contreras said was something he never wanted to do again.

"It worked out, but I'm tired of pushing our luck. It seems like we're always pushing our luck."

Still, where it happened wasn't so bad. Contreras said toward the end of making the record, he found himself in Thomas pouring over rough mixes sent to him over his phone from Minor.

"We had conversations by texting and email."

It wasn't ideal, but they got it done, and Contreras said they were happy with the results.

The singer said he dreamed of one day having a budget and just going into the studio when they were ready to make a record, but he thinks they might be a long way from that. Having cash in hand for something like that often involves dealing with corporations and making compromises, which the Black Lillies aren't ready to make.

They like being independent.

"We're very small scale," he said. "There are five people in the band. We have a manager and a booking agent. Now we have a publicist, and that's a big step for us.

"I think you just have to make the best record you can, put on the best show you can, connect directly with your audience and try not to stress out about the music business too much." Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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