Last week, El (Music Director) and Maya (Asst. GM) sat down with Casey Litz and Matthew Marks from The Company Stores before their show at the Barrell House South to talk about the band’s origins and future.
Here’s a fun question just to break the ice. What’s your favorite bear? -E
Matt: Our mascot is actually a gummy bear.
Casey: Yeah, it’s a red gummy bear with one of his ears bitten off.
Matt: His name’s Moe. Moe Lasses.
Casey: He’s kind of our ear-candy.
Matt: We actually have, if you look at our van, we’ve got a light-up gummy bear that’s on our dash. That’s Moe. He’s always in front of us whenever we travel. He actually melted a little bit over the past week–it’s gotten pretty hot.
There are always a lot of inspirations that bands take from to form their sound. What would you say are the top inspirations you draw from? -E
Matt: We’re really a hodge-podge of a bunch of different sounds. I think it’s because we collaborate a lot more. We have the main songwriter who has the structure of the song… On our way down here, we were talking about albums that influenced us and we picked a year–1998–and our drummer picked Offspring “Americana”. I would’ve picked Korn “Follow the Leader”. Our trumpet player would’ve picked a jazz album that came out in ’98. So, we’re kind of just a cluster of all kinds of different styles thrown in together. We try and make it mold as best as we can. For me, personally, if I were to pick one band…
Casey: Spice Girls.
Matt: Spice Girls, yeah, for sure.
Casey: We actually listened to Spice Girls as a band, today. It was awesome.
Matt: But, yeah, I would say a mix between folk, straight-up rock-n’-roll, and a little bit of soul with [Casey]. If you ask each member of the band what their inspirations were, they would all be something different and that’s why we sound so all over the place sometimes, but [Casey] ties everything together—her voice ties everything together.
Casey: I like a lot of older Motown music and soul singers so that’s where I focus my energy.
Matt: So, I’ll say Korn and she’ll say Motown and then we’re somewhere in-between there. Our name, the Company Stores, referring to a coal town in Appalachia where they would have a Company Store which was a General Store with a little bit of everything. So that’s kind of a throwback to that name so it makes sense. Ties it all together.
What do you think is going to come next for you? -E
Casey: We have a big tour planned out in June. We’re going out West for a few weeks.
Matt: We’re driving across the US, pretty much. We’ve got a couple stops in the Midwest and then we’re going down to San Diego and working our way up the California Coast all the way to Seattle [Washington]. We’re finishing with a show at The Crocodile in Seattle, which is a great venue, with a couple of Seattle local bands. [The rest of the band is] flying back and I’m driving the van back, because they all gotta get back to work and I work from my computer. I’m actually going to drive north, back through Canada, for a week. Definitely gonna stop at some National Parks, like Jasper and Banff.
Casey: I like how you just name-dropped parks.
Matt: I’m a park kinda guy. But as far as the unforeseeable future… We’ll probably be doing this and have a better ride.
Casey: It’s just gonna get better. We’re gonna do more shows and meet the right people.
Matt: Write some more songs… We’re working on our next album right now. We’ve got about 4-5 songs written for the third album but we’re not trying to rush anything.
What goes into writing an album for you? -E
Matt: People present songs to the band.
Casey: A lot of people in the band write songs. It’s about not only coming up with songs but tying them together to go into an album the works as its own piece. Sometimes you go through songs and you realize that’s an alright song but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna fit on album.
Matt: Just because we play something live doesn’t mean that it’ll fit on an album. We’ve got songs we’ll play tonight that will never go on an album because it doesn’t fit with what we’re trying to do, sonically. And everybody’s got different writing styles. Sometimes they’ll present something that’s really great and that we’ll play, but it just doesn’t fit. Normally. The writer will present it to the band and we’ll workshop it and see if it works and if we can get it to flow together. Everybody will add something or take away something. Normally you can present it I slight form, like a rock that has a decent shape, and then everybody else chisels away at it.
Is songwriting something that happens from everyone in the band? -M
Matt: Not everyone. Casey writes. I write. Jackford, Matt Jackford our keyboard player, doesn’t write songs but he adds on to everyone else’s songs.
Casey: He’s actually a composer. That’s what he went to school for. It comes in handy.
Matt: If I have some ideas on a song, I’ll go to him and say “hey, I’ve got this, but I want to do something different,” and he’ll throw me some new ideas and we’ll work on it together. Grant, our bass player, has written a few songs for us. So, 4 out of 6 of us are writers.
It must be useful to have a composer in the band. -E
Matt: He’s the latest person to join the band—he joined last year. We’ve actually gotten some really cool opportunities because of that. We’re playing next weekend with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. There are 3 West Virginia bands that were chosen, we were 1 of them. He’s arranging all of the parts for the symphony. Every band gets 3 songs. We’re also doing something really similar in Seattle for The Crocodile show for those 3 bands. They’re sending him some songs and they have a string ensemble. One of the bands’ front-lady works with the Seattle symphony. We’re doing a rock orchestra thing there. So, yeah, it definitely comes in handy having a composer in the band.
Casey: We’re gonna keep him.
I know that you guys have some charitable work. You guys do the Noteworthy Kids Program. Would you mind telling us a little bit about that and if that’s influenced you personally or with the band? -M
Matt: I have instruments just sitting around the house that I don’t play anymore and the idea is that we take donations of instruments that are just collecting dust. Maybe someone inherited an instrument that they don’t play. Then, putting those in the hands of underprivileged kids. It’s in Charleston, West Virginia, where we live. We do drives around Christmas-time and work with the Boys and Girls Club. Our Fiddle player, Joe, teaches violin for a program but they don’t have a guitar program so I’ve been talking to him about linking up and donating guitars for them because they’re losing funding because their administration is cutting back on programs. But, yeah, most of the time, in Charleston, I just go by and pick up the instrument. Any donation helps and it doesn’t have to be guitars. Any instrument that people aren’t using, they can hit us up online and we’ll point them in the direction of where to donate. You can contact us at email@example.com and all of our contact information is online on our website thecompanystores.com We welcome any donations, doesn’t matter how big or how small. It’s a really cool thing.
Do you have one moment when you went from “Oh this is fun” to “This is what I wanna do, for real”? -E
Casey: Once we formed the band, It was a 3-piece to begin with, and once we started playing shows, I got over the stage-freight and was just able to sing and feel so alive and so happy. I forgot all the stage-freight and the nerves. I think that’s when I realized that this brings me a lot of joy.
Matt: My hands used to shake, which is terrible for a guitar player, but after a handful of shows, that all went away. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 14-15 years old and never tried to play live. It wasn’t until St. Patrick’s Day of 2014, I think, at The Empty Glass… There a video of Korn at Woodstock ’96, playing live and you see this wave of people jumping. They cease to be people, they’re just a huge wave of energy and I thought “man, that is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.” The house was packed that night [at The Empty Glass] and it was like 200 people there for our show, but that happened. The whole crowd was joined together and they were jumping and I saw that wave of energy and I almost quit playing because my jaw just dropped. That was the moment, the “oh, wow” moment.
You mentioned that you started playing guitar around 14-15. How did you get into that? -E
Matt: Man, I keep talking about Korn… This is crazy… We sound nothing like Korn whatsoever… But, I didn’t start listening to contemporary music up until I was 12. I was a Pastor’s kid so we listened to a lot of contemporary Christian but I wasn’t listening to secular music. I started listening to Country and Hip Hop. When I was 14, I was playing football and we have 2-a-day practices. I had packed a lunch and between practices I was just hanging out. One of my schoolmates left me his Walkman and it was Korn “Follow the Leader” and I had never heard anything like it. After that, I started listening to rock-n’-roll and listening to heavy music and then going back into classic rock—checking out Hendrix and Floyd and all the great. It just kind of spiraled down on from there and that’s when I started playing guitar. I wanted to play stuff like this. Eventually I quit athletics and started playing guitar every day, in my room, after school. I never planned on playing live up until I joined this band and that was 13 years later. Casey started singing about a year before the band.
Casey: When I was younger I always knew that I could sing pretty well and my mom made me take a couple of voice lessons. I, of course, was like “I’m not gonna do it. You can’t tell me what to do.” Later on, I graduated high school and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I didn’t go to college or anything. I found a guitar in my Grandma’s basement and slowly started to learn how to play it and started writing songs. I started going to a bunch of open-mics around town. I did that for about half a year, regular, every week. I met Matt. I really wanted to find a guitar player and I ran into Matt and it expanded from there. I was 21.
Matt: We worked together at a restaurant and it was a slow day. She said “I sing and I play a little guitar,” and I said “I play guitar.” She came over to my house for the first time and she played a song. I showed her a song that I had written and her voice was perfect for it. We decided we were gonna play together from then.
How’d you meet everyone else over the years? -E
Casey: We did open mics together for a while, around town. We met our drummer and he would do open mics and sit in with people. We started a trio.
Matt: It was a trio for… Well, I had to go to Nashville for an internship for school so we stayed [a trio] until I got back. Then, we picked up our fiddle player and bassist. That bassist left about a year into the project and we got Grant. Then we met Matt Jackford, our keyboard player and trombone player. Everyone, except me, grew up in the same circles and all went to the same schools. Our fiddle player, drummer, bass player, and keyboard player all played music together in high school.
Casey: I was a couple years younger than them so I knew who they were but I didn’t hang out with them.
Do you see yourself picking up any odd instruments or more musicians in the future? -E
Casey: I wanna learn how to play the harmonica.
Matt: We don’t have enough room in the van for any more people but instruments, yeah. I’m sure Joe will learn how to play some Asian flute. He’s our fiddle player and trumpet player, also plays penny whistle and harmonica.
Casey: He’s a Renaissance man.
Matt: I’m sure he’ll learn some random, weird instrument within the next year and we’ll throw something crazy on our album. But, no more people.
Even if you got a bigger bus? -E
Matt: Maybe some back-up singers.
Casey: That’d be cool.
Matt: There’s already so many hands in the cookie jar. And the way we do things, everybody has input, so the more people, the harder it is to come to a conclusion.
Casey: Maybe a new guitar player.
Matt: Yeah, so I can focus on my true talent: Radio Interviews.
You can find more information about The Company Stores on their website thecompanystores.com
Catch them on tour this summer! Their June tour dates are online at thecompanystores.com/calendar