Just because JD McPherson's sound faithfully resurrects the earliest era of rock 'n' roll doesn't mean that he isn't interested in the decades of music that came after Little Richard. Throughout a 40-minute conversation, the Oklahoma native speaks of the subtle ways he has been influenced by rap, punk, modern pop and even the Tejano sounds of Selena.
"I'll play a Smiths song every once in a while, depending on who's in the van," he says of the soundtrack to the drives between gigs.
The Smiths were an undeniable influence on the title track of his new album on the Rounder label, "Signs and Signifiers." That restrained atmospheric slow-burning tune is one of the true standouts on the album full of rockabilly flavored rave ups.
"There are bands that I could name that are just completely at like 99 all the time," says McPherson of the frenzied tempo that many of his own songs hit. "But there's only so much of that you can take. And one of my favorite bands of all time is Bad Brains. … They would do extremely intense hardcore performances and then pepper them with reggae, so it was like this ebb and flow, and that's so important."
So when watching McPherson tear it up on a vintage guitar as bassist Jimmy Sutton — who looks like he stepped right out of a Norman Rockwell painting — slaps a huge stand-up bass, just know that if somebody in the crowd requests a Wu Tang Clan song, the band will probably know how it goes. But rockabilly purists need not worry; they won't actually play a Wu Tang song.
"I met a guy in Finland after a show," McPherson recounts with a laugh. "He had the courage to come up onstage right after a show and kind of corner me and he was saying, 'Don't change anything! Keep doing this the exact same!' and our drummer at the time said, 'You know, that's pretty much the ultimate compliment from a rockabilly guy.'"
McPherson says for this tour and the next album there will be a few changes.
"We're not doing anybody any favors if we're not writing what we want to do," he says. "But the next record isn't going to be a techno record or anything."