We recently caught up with The Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress to throw back a few beers and make some noise in the garage of Matt Sayles, the lead singer, as part of the latest installment of The MW Sessions. The Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress, which formed back in 2015, is a 6 piece band with a huge sound that is made up of everything from an accordion to a pedal steel guitar.
The Detroit Sportsmen's Congress was founded on "the principle that existing genres of folk-rock, country, and Americana are meant to be crafted and sculpted into new forms of auditory ambulation--and that complacency carries consequences."
We can attest to the fact these guys are not only instrumental geniuses and know how to make good music, but also a fun crew to hang around!
How did the band meet and when did you first know you wanted to create music together?
My buddy Ralph Lowi and I were both in “The Mutineers” for a few months--and he encouraged me to start an all original alt. country project around then in 2015.
[The Mutineers are great friends and talented musical/design artists that were based in Santa Barbara and have since relocated to Portland, OR.]
Ralph leads a straight-ahead traditional country band named “the Holdfast Rifle Company” that formed the core of the Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress early on, and after a few changes in 2016, we settled on our current line-up in mid 2016.
Everyone in the DSC has known each other in different projects, and our rhythm section (Terry Luna on bass and Blair Harper on drums) have been playing together since they were kids. Bill Flores (pedal steel) and I have been friends for almost ten-years now, and he plays with my string band (Ventucky String Band) on a pretty frequent basis. Ben Saunders (keyboards and accordion) is a really sought after player in Santa Barbara that I met at a few holiday gigs over the years, and our lead guitar player, Jay Carlander, is an impressively versatile player—everything from new wave to b-bender Telecaster licks. I feel incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many talented musicians—it never ceases to bring a smile to my face when we’re playing.
How did you guys come up with the name and what’s the meaning behind it?
I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, and my first job was as a “trapper” or “puller” at a gun range in Shelby Township, Michigan. My Dad set me up with the job when I was about thirteen years old, and I worked on the weekends launching clay-pigeons from trap-machines down in the swamps of Warsaw Park. The whole club was built around a garbage dump in a flood plain off the Clinton River, so it was a muddy mess most of the year. Sporting Clays is kind of like golf with a shotgun—you travel from station to station shooting at various simulated hunting experiences (quail, ducks, teal, rabbits, etc.) Back then, the club couldn’t afford automated machines so they hired kids like me to slog around with the shooters and launch the clay pigeons when the shooter hollered “Pull!” (Hence the name “pullers.”)
It was truly a wild place to work as a kid—and the cast of characters there would have made for one hell of a TV show nowadays. Makes those “Duck Dynasty” guys look pretty tame…
So to make a long story slightly longer—I was tipping pints with another musician friend of mine named Matt Cadenelli one night while regaling him with tales of my youthful shotgun pellet dodging, and he decided that “the Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress” would be a perfect band name. The idea stuck, and now the DSC exists as both a gun-range and a band.
Can you describe your song writing process?
Most of the songwriters I know would agree that the process is a mixture of grabbing something out of the aether and wrestling an idea into a song. Sometimes a tune comes first—sometimes it’s the lyrics—and sometimes it feels like the song is writing you. The songs on our debut album “Manifest Refugees” that just came out in February of this year all sort of came together within a few months—there’s definitely a conscious connection to the tunes on the album. That particular writing process felt like I was panning around for a few melodies and ended up hitting a big vein of songs, and then I just kept mining them till we ended up with an LP.
Where does the inspiration for your music come from?
The inspiration for my music tends to come from observations, experiences, stories, and reflections on my past life and current events. It’s not easy to tell a story that rhymes in 3-5 minutes—but when it works, it can be really powerful. My favorite artists make that skill seem effortless.
If you could collaborate with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
I could probably fill several pages with artists I would like to collaborate with, but I’ll do my best to be succinct.
I think Darrell Scott (who is very much alive and still writing amazing songs) would be at the top of my list. His approach to melody and storytelling is so unique and fascinating to me—and man can he sing. He is such a soulful vocalist. To work with him on a project would be intimidating as all hell, but it would be an immense honor.
Next on my list would be Merle Travis or Doc Watson (both sadly have passed on), even though they could pick circles around me. To be able to sit around and play a few tunes with those legends would be the thrill of my life. They’re on my Mt. Rushmore of guitar players—they’ve influenced everyone that plays a six string guitar even though many guitar players don’t even realize it.
The other group that comes to mind would be the Memphis Jug Band. My buddy Christian Gallo (from Ventura’s “Big Tweed”) really turned me on to them. They jump into my mind just from the fun they seem to be having in the old 78 rpm recordings from the 30’s. To be able to sit in with that band on a street-corner in Memphis back in the 30’s would be a damn riot.
Just to throw out a few more names I’d have to mention Bob Dylan (of course), David Grisman, Commander Cody, Tony Rice, Jimmy Bryant, Speedy West, JD Crowe, Bill Monroe, Bob Wills, Hot Club of Cowtown, Johnny Horton, Marty Robbins and Jimmy Martin—and Hank Williams sr. Who wouldn’t want to be in a band/project with Hank Williams?
What is one thing that many people would be surprised to find out about you guys?
I think folks that don’t know us that well would be surprised to learn that we’d all likely drop-everything to be able to play 60’s R&B at Stax Records or Motown/Tamla.
If you’re not playing music what are you doing?
We’ve got a few full-time musicians in the band, but we also have a guitar player with a PHD in Civil War era history, a highly skilled jeweler, a heavy equipment operator, and a conservationist who works to protect public lands.
Favorite MadeWest beer?
My personal favorite thus far has been “Suits” but several of our bandmates love the coffee stout and the pale ale. I’m the die-hard IPA fanatic in the band, so I love how many rotating hazy IPA’s Madewest is always brewing. It’s a glorious time to be alive if you’re a fan of beer—unbelievable how many great brewers and brews are out there.
Anything big lined up for 2018?
Our brand new debut 150 gram vinyl LP “Manifest Refugees” just came out on Philville Records, and we’re still very excited about that. It’s available locally at Grady’s Record Refuge in midtown on Main Street in Ventura, as well as at Salzer’s Records over on Victoria in Ventura. You can also pick it up online at CD baby, Itunes, etc. Links are available at: http://www.philvillerecords.com/
We’re playing at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival next month (April) and at the Santa Paula Theater in June—both of which we’re very excited about, and we’ve got a few short regional tours and some split-bills we’re working on with a few great L.A. bands and local groups as well. Looks like we’ll be back at Madewest too later this summer, which is always a blast for a hometown gig.
Any last words?
We definitely want to thank Madewest Brewing Company for supporting live local music and for all the delicious beers. The staff and team at Madewest have been great to work with, and it’s really great to see the music scene develop around the brewery.