Hillbilly Highway – Lower Companions drop new disc

by Sheldon Birnie

Since the 2009 release of their debut LP, Jason Maas & The Lower Companions have been grinding it out in Winnipeg’s roots scene. Now, on the eve of the release of their latest record, the six song Lock & Step, at the Times Change(d) this Saturday, singer, songwriter, and band leader Jason Maas got on the phone here to Stylus to talk about the band, the record, and what comes next for the Lower Companions.Stylus: You guys have been active on the Winnipeg scene now for a while. Could you tell us briefly how the band has gotten to where it is today, with this new record?

Jason Maas: I’ve been playing around town now since about 2004 with my old band. We were just a down and dirty rock n roll band. A couple of the guys who I’m currently playing with played with me in that other band. We disbanded because a couple of the guys were moving away. Basically, my first instinct was to do a solo project, kind of tone it down and do some folk/roots kind of stuff. That’s where it started. We released a really folky album back in 2009. That was fun, but I definitely started missing that rock n roll vibe, so we’ve been aiming to get back towards that the last year or two. We’ve been playing around town pretty often, just trying to get out there.

Stylus: Yeah, the EP definitely sounds like it’s made by one band, but it really has an eclectic feel to it. The songs all sound like they’re coming from different influences, or different spaces. What are some of your big influences as a songwriter?

JM: I’d say my largest songwriting influences would be Bob Dylan, Neil Young. Those guys are amazing. That show was amazing the other night. Did you make it down?

Stylus: Oh yeah. It was great!

JM: Yeah, right on man. Lou Reed is a big influence on me too, as far as vocal stylings go. Like his performance on “Sweet Jane” I think that’s the one vocal performance that I always try to take something from, like that creativity in there. The band Wilco. A lot of bands that meld that roots and rock idea, that’s kind of what we’re going for.

Stylus: The release is at the Times Change(d) this weekend. You guys have played there quite a bit, hey?

JM: Yeah, the last year or so we’ve been playing there a lot more. It’s just such a great space. A lot of Winnipeg musicians have launched their careers out of that place over the years. So yeah. It’s great to be in there and play as often as we have been lately.

Stylus: Have you been playing any of this new EP live yet?

JM: A couple of the songs are really old songs, that date back to my previous band. The majority of them are relatively new, though. So if people haven’t seen us for a while, there’ll be a bunch of songs they might not recognize.

Stylus: Do you guys have anything else that your working on now that this EP is finally coming out?

JM: Well, we’ll be basically working on promoting this album for the foreseeable future. We’re working on a tour for next summer. We’re going to head out west, or at least that’s the plan. A couple of the guys in the band are teachers, so that limits the times we’re able to go out on tour. But yeah, I mean, the album is really inspired a lot by Winnipeg history. The old buildings, some of the characters from the past. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of this city. That’s part of what we’d like to do when we go out on the road, is be ambassadors for this great city.

Stylus: Have you folks done much touring before? What’s the extent you guys have hit the Highway outside of Winnipeg?

JM: The vast majority of our shows have been in Winnipeg. We’ve done a number of one-nighters out in small towns. Our last one was in Ashern, Manitoba, last summer. It was a blast. Those small town shows are always fun. As far as touring goes, we’re definitely focusing on next summer and try to get as many shows in as we can.

Make sure to check out Jason Maas & The Lower Companions on Saturday at the Times Change(d) with the Honeysliders, and pick up their nice little EP Lock & Step!

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