November 3rd, 2005 | Interviews

Greg Cartwright tip-toed from the crazed Memphis cuss-rock of the Oblivians to the royal rock ‘n’ roll of the Reigning Sound, who so loved the noble little 45 that their (classic) full-length LP Time Bomb High School kept all the fast songs on the A-side and all the slow sad ones on the B-side in touching tribute. Follow-up Too Much Guitar was a lot faster and fuzzier than another set of the same Reigning sweetness but Cartwright was just having fun; he can still do it all, including driving his band to breakfast in Asheville, North Carolina, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the telephone.

How does it feel to be in America’s best-loved rock ‘n’ roll band?
America’s best-loved rock ‘n’ roll band? I thought that was Slade! As long as we’re a third of America’s–if just one little percentage of America can connect, that makes my day. I don’t know–monetarily, I haven’t figured out what to do for retirement. My publishing will never be anywhere near Willie Dixon’s.
Led Zeppelin owes you.
I know–if somebody would just cover one of these damn songs! It’s funny because the people that handle my publishing send me these monthly statements–‘YOU MADE A QUARTER OF A PENNY,’ naw, you know, you make a little dough–and then they send a list of songs that performers are looking for. Like ‘SHANIA TWAIN IS LOOKING FOR A COUNTRY BALLAD IN THE VEIN OF PATSY CLINE,’ and if you have something. . . I always look and think, ‘Wow, I’m just gonna sit and write myself a song–see if she likes it!’ Like Reba McIntyre doing ‘Bad Man!’
Could you tell how upset people were when you were breaking up?
Yeah, and that made me think of changing my mind. Our fans are so good and loyal to us, it gives me faith to keep doing this.
Ever get in any real-life trouble because of one of your songs?
I’ve had a lot of friends ask if a song is about them–nervously. And I just say, ‘That’s a load of nonsense! That’s not about anybody!’ And then they’ll be even more paranoid! But none of that stuff–well, maybe some of it–is about somebody. There’s so many combinations of personalities–it’d be hard to narrow it down.
What personalities are in Reigning Sound right now?
Dave–our regular bass player–couldn’t make the tour, so our friend Carol Schumacher is playing bass and singing backup. It’s really fun.
Dave can’t hit those high notes?
Yeah, it’s one thing to have a girl singing behind you.
You should put together the Reigning Sound Revue.
That’s what the kids want–entertainment!
Do you have any sense of how the different line-ups change the way Reigning Sound sounds?
Well, I do a lot of four-track recordings so I know what it sounds like when it’s just me–it’s not that different. Other people add more touches and things. And I react to other people–find their strengths and play my best parts to that. It’s hard to say what I would do without other people. I think if I’d never met Jack Yarber, my idea of music wouldn’t be what it is today. I think it’d be drastically different. That was kind of like an epiphany.
What kind of kids were you and Jack?
I was just over at Jack’s last night, listening to demos from 1989–the first things we ever recorded. Some of his songs and some of mine and some covers, like ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog.’ It’s super-crude–so great!
What’s the best thing that happened to your songwriting since you started playing guitar?
The best thing that happened with my songwriting skills is that they’ve deteriorated–I get cruder and cruder every year.
And is there a lesson in that?
That’s a natural progression, and if you don’t admit, you’re lying to yourself. Not to say there aren’t artists that get better with age, but when you’re young and naive, you can look at life through those eyes and see everything really dramatically. That makes writing songs really easy–all the shit is right there! And when you’re older, it’s harder and harder to be naive–you’ve seen it all so much, so you’ve gotta come at it from a different direction. You can only say the same things so many times without sounding redundant–what else is there to say besides ‘I love you’ or ‘fuck you’? Well, there’s a gamut of emotions, but it always comes down to the same two or three–I notice as time goes on, my songs get less elaborate, less bogged down–simpler and simpler. That could be good or bad–we’ll see how it goes.
What’s the last best 45 you found for under a dollar?
Under a dollar?
Ok, five dollars.
No, no, let’s keep it cheap. I got it at a flea market in Asheville–a rockabilly 45 in a bucket, literally in a bucket with a bunch of other records. It’s called the Three Ramblers, really really great–not just absurdly rare and work like three grand, but also awesome. Great guitar break, great vocal melody–one of those things where I won on both levels!