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General Store

Southern Rock is back now with the Allman Brothers Band return and the ‘new’ members groups such as Gov’t Mule, Derek Trucks Bands and Oteil Brubridge productions.
In the West of France, we do have great Southern bands too. Close to Texaroma in Britain,
famous with their new album and a great gig in Charmont, lives the ‘General Store Band’ that comes from Bordeaux. Their new and excellent album is out now, and their have a new keyboards player, so we could get the opportunity to ask some questions to Will Lester, guitar player and leader of the band, who explained us how is the band and how will be the group’s future.

RTJ : Hi Will, thank you to answer to our questions

Will : Hello Yves, and thank you to Road To Jacksonville for this interview.

RTJ : General Store is famous in the French Southern Rock area, but it seems you have worldwide influences. Is it important for you such a melting pot ?

Will : First main General Store influences come from Soul Music, Rhythm n’ Blues, end of the sixties Rock n’ Roll and psychedelic seventies Rock n’ Roll.
When, in 1992, we had to find the name of the band, as we enjoyed so many different kind of music, I proposed General Store, you know these kinds of big shops where you could find everything in the far-west. I found it was a correct name for a powerful band with so many different influences. In our first songs, we played many different things, Ray Charles, Hendrix, Beatles, Stones, Led Zep, Deep Purple, Free, Doors, Bob Marley, Santana, Ten Years After, John Mayall, Cream, Clapton, SRV, Stevie Wonder, Blues classics… Nothing really Southern but then we discovered Lynyrd, The Outlaws and especially The Allman Brothers and all their spiritual sons.
My God, how rich was their music, what a freedom, all these different musical and cultural mix are entertaining. Allman Brothers Musical heritage is great and I must admit it’s my favourite Southern band because of their ability to create. I think I enjoy everything they did, even in the eighties !
If we do look well, I think all the bands that were influenced by the Allman are at the top in the USA today. They all come from a same musical melting pot with the same origin : the Blues.

RTJ : When we talk about this, you must admit that on your last album there are songs that look more like the Cult ‘Sonic Temple’ or a kind of heavy Pink Floyd, than to Southern Rock. Even we can say that ‘Big Natural Woman’ looks like AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’. Do you admit those influences ?

Will : The bands you have named are a part of our influences, but we didn’t think it was so obvious when we wrote the songs. At the end of 1990, my favourite band was Led Zeppelin, then I discovered other British bands such as Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and even Iron Maiden and AC/DC. I only change some years later when I discovered the Allman and all those bands. However I always loved the Blues, roots or modern. I listen to more and more Jazz music and many different things. Urban Chad, General Store drummer since 1992, comes from Progressive and seventies Rock. He’s a big American songwriters fan, like Neil Young, Tom Petty, Springsteen, John Hiatt.Phil Sun, our bass player since 2005, comes from Jazz music and he’s fond of Bill Evans, Kenny Burrel, Jon Scofield and Uzeb ! And Bob Franks, our keyboards player,
is in love of Ray Charles, James Brown, Maceo Parker, Diana Krall and Supertramp !

RTJ : Your songs are famous because of their melodic lines, with great lyrics. Do you especially work about that or do the songs are created in just one moment ?

Will : The melodic line is the hardest part with the lyrics writing. Urban found most of our melodies. For the song creation, we try to bring everything we wrote before the rehearsals and we try to work about them. It’s hard to stay focused on one riff. I write the lyrics at the end and we fix it all. Everyone can tell what he thinks about the songs to keep united, but sometimes we have to choose.

RTJ : You wanted a keyboards player for a long time now. How did you decide at the end and why does he only play organ on the record, even if it’s great for the songs ?

Will : Right, I always wanted to play with someone who could join us with keyboards, but I think that in our area, around Bordeaux, it’s quite impossible to find such a musician ! We search for that musician for about ten years. General Store was a kind of laboratory, with different musicians and different musical formations. But I think today we have found the right composition.
I always dig the Hammond organ sound ; I think I could play that instrument if I didn’t play the guitar. Hammond sounds on the record come from the Leslie with three mikes and no overdubs !

RTJ : How did you choose your new musician ?

Will : We were playing at the Cussac Fort Medoc Jazz Festival, the 14th of July 2006, and a friend of us came. He introduced us to one of his friends he used to play with at the end of the 90s, in a band playing a little bit like Whitesnake. We did think we could ask Bobby to play with us, because he used to be more in the pop rock music. But just after a gig with him, he was the new Keyboards player in General Store. He had four months to learn the new songs before we go and record our album in March and April this year. He was free to play the way he wanted, but we smiled when we enjoyed and booed when we didn’t dig ! He worked hard and we appreciated what he did to get into the band. He’s now there for some months and he’s a real General Store member !

RTJ : On stage, will you play those new songs with more improvisation, especially of Bob Franks keyboards ?

Will : Live ? Sure ! We can do many more things live. But many of our songs are already eight minutes long. We do improvise a lot when we are on stage, and Bobby is free to answer to my guitar during the solos.

RTJ : Will Bob Franks have more importance on the next compositions, because on this record he only plays rhythmic parts ?

Will : When he arrived in the band quite 85% of the new songs were ready. Hammond sound was great and we needed it, but we didn’t have time enough to work again on all the new songs, even if we did produce that album.
But for the next General Store album, Bob Franks will sure have more work and creation to do, with his organ, piano, Wurlitzer and Rhodes. And if he can write new songs he will sure be well welcomed !

RTJ : In 1999 only you began to sing. You have a nice and bluesy voice, why did you wait so long to sing ? Didn’t you trust in your qualities ?

Will : In the 90s, General Store already had a lead singer, very impressive and very good on stage. At this moment I only had a mike to introduce the band and the musicians ! [laughs]
When we stopped General Store for a moment, for many reasons, we wanted to play with other musicians in different bands, and I realised I was able to sing. So I worked for that and I became a guitarist-singer.

RTJ : On this album, we get the feeling that there’s a king of ‘ghost-singer’ when you change your voice and sing like two different persons. Urban Chad and Bob sing the choruses. Do you become crazy or do you need another singer in the band.

Will : [laughs]no, no, no, we wanted to get such an effect, with two different voices. We wanted a voice like Billy Gibbons or James Hetfield. On those songs, we put the voice two or three times at the same moment. I don’t think we need another singer, I am just becoming crazy ! [laughs)

RTJ : Now you can sing and there are two other musicians that can sing too ; will you work the choruses more and more ?

Will : Our three voices are very different and it’s not easy to sing together in the same time. It’s hard to find the right moment to sing together. Songs are less heavy and more pop with different voices, but we can have questions and answers in the songs. But I think the lead vocals have to be at the top when it needs. I think we could be a band with different singers. All the songs are not fit for too much choruses, I don’t love that too much however, it must be done at the right moments.

RTJ : On the record, the guitar sound is very beautiful, with a Les Paul particular sound. On your website you explain you play Gibson guitars with Soldano amps. Can you explain us that ?

Will : I’ve always enjoyed Gibson guitars, and I have a little collection of these guitars, but I want to buy again many more ! I have to sell many records to be able to buy all these guitars ! [laughs]
I was lucky to be able to work for a long time in a guitar shop, so I could try every guitar in the shop. And I realised that I absolutely needed a great guitar on a great amp to get a powerful and rich guitar sound.
I recorded the album with my two ‘Les Paul Reissue’ and a Marshall JCM800 on my Soldano with two Marshall speakers. I used some delays on some solos. For the fans, I can tell the sound you listen on the record just come directly from the studio, with no overdubs. The sound was heavy enough that’s why we can hear the guitar so well. I put three mikes before each speaker. Fred Foulquier, our engineer at the Studio Le Phare at Merignac, mixed it all.

RTJ : How do you consider the future of the band ? Did you change since the album issue ?

Will : I hope we get better and better, and that every musician in the band knows the others more and more, because some are in the band for not so long, and there’s nothing like playing together for a long time. I think that our best moments are ahead of us, we must show how we love the band, go on compose and play on stage the more we can.
We hope to do another album, but for the moment we just have some guitar riffs, not any finished song.

RTJ : I find you have a nice CD cover. Did you create it yourselves or did someone created it for you ?

Will : We talked together a long time about it. We wanted that the cover was close to the title of the CD ‘Vision Of Diversity’. The music diversity is in our roots and we wanted that it appears in the album. And all the musicians come from different musical horizons. We talked about the animals when we took the photographs at the old Bordeaux Natural History Museum. David Janssen, photograph, who created the cover, had understood what we wanted and he realised our… vision !

RTJ : Do you know a Bluegrass Country band from Britain, that made an album (‘De La Country Dans La Contrée’ in 2002), and that is also named General Store ?

Will : Yes, I’ve already seen this band on the Internet, and I thought ‘What a good name for a band !’.. So, I don’t know exactly what to do… do we have to change our name ? [laughs]

RTJ : I think we just have to take care because you are the ‘General Store Band’ and they just are ‘General Store’ and they are a real Country-Music band.
I thank you Will for all your clear answers that allow us to know the Band better.

Will : Thank you Yves for all your very good questions.

Yves Philippot