Natchez Tracers Release New Pandemic Inspired EP, Hug You All On The Other Side
Based in Franklin, Tennessee, Natchez Tracers like to stretch out and jam when they play live and they’re not afraid to include long jams on their records either. The over seven and a half minute track “New Freedom Summer” sails by on this ep with its unfettered flowing feel and summer festival vibes, even though it’s rather heavy lyrically. Josh Womack and Lewis Stubbs are the songwriters, singers and guitarists in Natchez Tracers and I recently caught up with them about their new ep, how they fared during the pandemic (Lewis also works in healthcare) and what’s to come for the band this year.
AnaLee: I was really happy to hear you guys released an ep this year, last time I chatted with Josh – probably a year and a half ago – I think the band was taking a bit of a break; probably not planning on a year-long forced break due to a pandemic though! With a title like, Hug You All On The Other Side and the accompanying artwork, I’m guessing this was a pandemic inspired release… but tell us a little about coming up with these songs and what you wanted to convey with this ep.
Lewis: Being a public health nurse in this red state during a highly politicized pandemic has been a brutalizing and demoralizing experience. Our break came at the perfect time because the world stopped, and with the work I do, I became quickly overwhelmed. There was no time for me to do anything other than work. Josh and I have always been dialed in to social justice movements. Ferguson Blues on our 2016 EP was written right in the middle of the riots in Ferguson, MO after the police shooting death of Michael Brown. 2020 delivered more of the same. We were both at the protests in Nashville. We helped raise money and got to know some of the leaders of the capitol protestors. I also went through a divorce during this time. Writing and recording these songs was a much-needed catharses during a global trauma. We aimed to convey solidarity and allyship with justice and equity efforts, hope for a way out of the pandemic and anger for the new lows in which our society has plunged.
Josh: Yeah. It was crazy work-wise for me as well during the pandemic. Day job speaking, I wear multiple hats. As we remember, the East Nashville tornado hit right before the pandemic came to town. I was immediately thrust into a pretty big fundraising project for tornado recovery, then right after that into a busy garden season because people were at home with nothing to do other than home things like gardening. Then it was all PPE assistance and business survival with my other day gig. I actually struggled last year with something akin to “survivor’s guilt.” I had so many friends who were out of work and I was slammed. It was surreal and disconcerting. The song Hug You All On The Other Side actually came pretty early in the pandemic and while it has many universal themes, it really was constructed from the perspective of how this pandemic and the tornado affected Nashvillians specifically. Also, a couple of weeks after we began recording the EP, the crazy Nashville Christmas bombing happened. Naming the EP after that tune and creating some artwork that fit kind of became the natural and logical choice.
AnaLee: Tell us about navigating the recording process for this one. I know you both have day jobs and it’s tricky even without a pandemic raging.
Lewis: The recording process for us was similar to previous ones in the way we scheduled the sessions. We both have day gigs so we continued to work around our schedules.
Josh: Yeah. It was nuts. On our first day of tracking, I had my day job laptop on a stool next to me to monitor a project. Not ideal at all, and it certainly tested my meditative and stress-management skills as we were already wondering how the players were going to work. See, Chris Long and Brad Clark had been our rhythm section since 2014, but decided to step back a bit a few months before the pandemic. Lewis and I had these new tunes spring up during the Great Pause and really felt compelled to get them recorded. We sort of needed to prove to ourselves that we could move forward with the uncertainty of who would play drums and bass with us. We recruited Nick Buda and Ted Pecchio to come in on this session and man, they absolutely crushed it. Nick and Ted both played with Col. Bruce Hampton during the Codetalkers era and I knew their playing and instincts would be on-point for this batch of songs. Also, our buddy Kaitlyn Conner from Maggie Rose, Them Vibes etc. added some extra sparkle with some stellar keys and vocals. We are very pleased with how it turned out.
AnaLee: “New Freedom Summer” while lyrically heavy, the sound and feels is like you’re at a summertime festival and everyone’s swaying and singing and groovin’ to this jam. Tell us about this song.
Lewis: In this one, I was channeling some late 60’s/early 70’s groove to mirror the very similar messages that were being conveyed during those times, but of course with a focus on our current situations. I was angry, so it’s pretty direct. I’m still angry and music and songwriting is my only real outlet to express that emotion. In this case, I wanted to make it crystal clear where I stand. We may alienate some of people that way, but I think for us it’s non-negotiable.
Josh: I love everything about this tune. When Lewis brought the sketch to me, I knew this song was gonna be special. While the subject matter is pretty heavy, I think there’s an essence of hope and jubilation with this one. The juxtaposition of the light and dark. Musically, it definitely channels that psychedelic soul and message music thing from the late 60’s and early 70’s. The group chant vocal and letting the outro extend out instrumentally just felt right. We wanted to drop the listener down into a march or at the center of a protest. We also wanted to pay tribute to all those folks who stood up in the Summer of 2020 and demanded to be heard and who demanded change. It’s a way to say “we’re with you.”
AnaLee: What’s the rest of 2021 looking like for Natchez Tracers?
Lewis: We are back to booking and playing local and regional shows. We’re using a couple of different rotating players for drums and bass, including Chris and Brad and also having some guest musicians sit in for fun and spontaneity. As an entirely self-funded band, we are working a little harder these days to reach the people who may like our brand of original music. We’re doing a bit of modest radio promotion for this EP. Getting love from friends like you AnaLee and stations like WMOT is humbling and we are beyond thankful. We don’t take for granted that we get to write songs, perform them and hopefully hook up with other folks that dig what we do. We’re just trying to grow the Natchez Tracers family. People seem to dig the new EP and we say, c’mon, jump on the bus… there’s plenty of room.
Natchez Tracers, “New Freedom Summer”