I descend the Marquis Theater’s narrow stairway into a chilly and sparsely decorated basement room where I find the man responsible for “preaching the gospel of some new kind of depraved music.” Lincoln Durham, the one man Southern-Gothic, Psycho-Blues, Revival-Punk virtuoso is decked out in all black, his hair is neatly combed back, and he’s casually talking with The Ghost Wolves lead singer and guitarist, Carley Wolf. A couple of half-eaten pizzas sit on the table in front of them on this normal Thursday night in Denver; a night when normal will turn into a spectacle of musical precision that only Durham can bring with his “bastardized mid-century guitars, hand-me-down fiddles and banjos, home-made contraptions with just enough tension on a string to be considered an instrument, and any random percussive item he can get his hands or feet on.“
Tonight Durham is closing out the first leg of his tour in support of the new album, “And Into Heaven Came the Night,” a dark, gritty, and blues charged project of which he produced by himself after losing long-time producer and friend, George Reiff.
Wolf quietly exits the room as I take a seat at the end of one of the room’s black couches and turn on my iPhone’s recorder. What was supposed to be a ten minute interview turns into thirty, just enough time to get a sense as to who this man is and what makes him so damn good.
Give me a short history of Lincoln Durham. When did you start playing?
I started playing when I was four years old. I started playing the fiddle. My dad and my grandpa started me on the fiddle at that age but it wasn’t really a fiddle, more like a toy. I played it for a long time, and well, still technically do I guess, but solely until I was about fifteen or so. And then about that time I was in high school and bands like Nirvana started coming out and that really spoke to me because the fiddle was put in my hands and I always had a little bit of weird relationship with it because I didn’t choose it. So that’s when I got into guitar and wanting to sing. You know, playing cover songs and stuff, but I don’t think I found my voice or knew what I was going to do until I was in my mid-20s.
You mentioned Nirvana as an early influence. Who were some of the other influences on you at that time?
Yea, when I first started grunge was a big thing and I was really into that stuff. My dad and grandparents were old-school country so you know, Willie, Waylon, and Johnny Cash were big influences early on. Later on I started to appreciate some of the old blues guys from those early days, people like Fred McDowell, Lightning Hopkins, and Robert Johnson. That’s when I started to get more of a grittier vibe to what I was doing. I also kinda half grew up in Texas and the other half in New Jersey so I had this punk background, too, so there was always this underlying punk influence that gave more aggression to what I did. So yea, inadvertently that southerny, punk-ish, old blues vibe just kind of converged into what I do now.
That’s a lot of vibe to put into a one man show. Was that always the plan?
Back when I started doing this thing and actually trying to make a career out of it, I couldn’t afford a band. At the time I would play a more docile, still gritty, but a more low key acoustic set and I’d tap my foot on this porch board and it would make a kick drum sound. And then as I started to get more comfortable with what I was doing, I really wanted to go back to what inspired me as a teenager, get a harder, thicker, and bigger sound, but at the same time not being able to afford a band, I had to figure out how I could get the most amount of noise and still sound like a band. So it was basically out of necessity and just became a quest to be as big and beefy as possible with a big presence. And as I was doing that, it just became what people started noticing me for.
It couldn’t have been easy starting out as a one man show. How did you feel about it?
It was scary as hell and honestly, it’s still rough because you don’t have a band to kind of back you up emotionally. You’re out there all by yourself and so you have to be the entire show. I stand up in front of the kit so it does limit me a bit with what I can do. I can’t jump around and rage like I’d love to, so you just have to come up with ideas and ways to get the audience into it because you really want that. Early on it was extraordinarily difficult and I didn’t know if I would be able to do it. Even now, it’s still scary and you hope it doesn’t fall flat.
Do you ever think about bringing in a drummer?
Oh, I occasionally get that way. I generally ask my team and ask Alissa who is my tour manager and wife. The thing with her is that I haven’t really met someone with the taste that she has. She just seems to have a good thumb on the pulse of what’s good and what’s bad. She knows when I’m getting tacky or if I’m gonna have a Spinal Tap moment. And then a lot of times I ask fans and they’ll say “do what you do.” What usually deters me the most, though, is a lot of the way I have my style is because I’m writing to my limitations of the one man band. I fear that if I had the ability of a band that it might start sounding a little different and less like me.
If you could describe your music in one word, how would you do that whether it’s the live show or on a record?
Visceral. It’s raw and it’s from deep in the belly. It’s gritty and unapologetic, me bearing the problems that I have in my head. And it’s aggressive for the most part. You’re not in a mosh pit or anything but I mean it’s pissy and aggressive music.
How hard do you feel it is to stand out in such a saturated industry nowadays?
That’s the thing where doing it how I do benefits me. It keeps me in this realm of slightly different even if I don’t want it to be. I can’t help but write this way because it’s the only way I can because this is all I have to work with. For better or worse, and technically I think it might be a detriment but I view it as a positive as an artist, is that people have a hard time figuring out what I am as far as genre. They can’t ever figure out what to call it. But maybe that’s a good thing so I don’t know. I just write how I write.
Tell me a little bit about the new album, “And Into Heaven Came the Night.” How do you feel it’s different from your previous work?
Well, this one I produced myself. My previous producer, George Reiff, he passed away last year very suddenly and shockingly really, and he was going to do this one, too. It left me wondering how I was going to do this, who was going to produce it, and I was hesitant to start a new relationship with this album. So, I decided to try and do it myself and this one is different because it’s a hundred percent me. It’s what was in my head. That can be for better or for worse, though, because there aren’t a lot of people checking what you’re doing like in a normal setting. I didn’t have that and it made me nervous. Just because it’s in my head doesn’t make it good. But from people talking to me, I think it’s going over really well because it’s the old me and new me together.
Is there any one song that stands out among the others for you?
Heaven. That was the first one I wrote. It was kinda the anchor point for this album. And then I would say Feather was a big one for me as well. It made me remember what I was doing but then in this harder environment that I’m in now.
Did you hear George in the back of your head at times when producing this project?
Yea that’s what I did. Ultimately when I went into the studio, I tried to channel his critiques because I think whether you’re a painter or a musician or whatever, when you present your art to someone, I think deep down you already know what’s wrong with it. There are some songs that you say I don’t give a shit what you say, this is fuckin’ great. But there are some when you ask what they think about it, you already know something’s wrong.
What’s next for you?
Well, we’ve got a lot of touring to do this year. I’ve got this national tour that I’m on, some shows with Reverend Horton Heat coming up, and then on into the future, I’m going to keep producing because I’m really enjoying that. I’m going to start flooding the market with a lot more music. I think I found myself for the time being with this new one so I’m going to make its sister and brother albums.