An Interview with The Cactus Blossoms

Originally published in The Declaration October 2016

Photo Courtesy of Red House Records

The Cactus Blossoms are stopping in Charlottesville for a show at the Jefferson Theater this Saturday the 29th—part of their world tour opening for Lucius and supporting their own debut record, “You’re Dreaming.” The album puts a fresh face on a familiar style, tapping into the spirit of ’60s country. If you were disappointed in Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones’ Everly Brothers tribute album, if you’re looking for a little background music on your next Fallout 4 run, or if you’re just burnt out on bro-country, this album may be for you.

In anticipation of the show, singer/guitarists Page Burkum and Jack Torrey sat down for a brief phone interview with Taylor Ruckle.

I hear you just got back from overseas. How was Australia?

Burkum: Let’s see, where to begin? We didn’t see any kangaroos.

That’s kind of a let-down.

Burkum: But there were a lot of nice people who came out to our shows. It was cool. It was very familiar actually to America–more so than other places we’ve been, like other European countries. It was cool to go that far away across the world and to find a pretty familiar, great scene there.

You’ve got this ’60s country and rockabilly thing going on. What drew you to that style of music?

Burkum: It’s hard to say how we got into it, other than a long chain of discovering different artists along the way. I guess the music we were listening to when we started picking up guitars and singing. We started learning certain kinds of songs that I think are connected to country and blues and things like that–that’s how we got our start. I’m sure it’ll always be something our music is related to.

One of your early gigs was a residency at a club in St. Paul. What was that venue like? How does a weekly gig like that compare to what you’re doing now, touring the world?

Burkum: The Turf Club is a place that we really like to play, and in one way it’s just a regular club; there’s nothing really that special about it. What was special about it to us was that they allowed us to play every week, and we really loved the idea of doing that at the time. It was what we needed to do as a band to just get a lot of hours under our belt. Now it’s a lot more traveling, seeing new things every week.

So what sparked the jump for you from playing covers in that environment to writing your own material?

Torrey: Well, we were always writing stuff–I mean, we were playing our own stuff back then, but, when you’re playing for two and a half, three hours and each song is like, three and a half minutes, you need a lot of tunes. I guess the biggest thing, the reason for the jump, is just getting the opportunity and the invitation to go out and play with people. We’ve gone to Europe with JD McPherson and done tours with him in the States too, so we were getting around a little bit, but it’s been quite a jump this year putting out our album and hitting the road.

Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled for a gig so far? Where’s would you like to go?

Burkum: Oof. You know, picking favorites will get us in trouble [laughs] It would be fun to go to Japan sometime, wouldn’t it?

Torrey: It’d be interesting, I think. Any place we haven’t been would be great. When it comes to venues and stuff like that, it’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all cool in their own way. This summer we got to open for someone at the Greek Theater in L.A., and that was really cool in its own ways. Places like that are really cool, but little tiny clubs with a great crowd are just as fun.

Your music draws on this very old-fashioned throwback kind of sound, but who are your favorite more contemporary artists?

Burkum: Hard to say. I mean, we’re about to go on tour with a band called Lucius, and they’re really cool. We mostly go see our friends play at this point–like, when we come home, it’s fun to go see our friends’ bands play, whatever they’re doing.

Anybody we should be on the lookout for?

Burkum: There’s a few Minneapolis people we could spread the word about. There’s our friend Jack Klatt, and he just put out a record this year. There’s another buddy named Frankie Lee, and he’s been touring a lot this year too. We’ve got another gal named Haley Bonar who’s doing a lot of good stuff right now too. She’s been overseas right now. Her new album is great too.

You did mostly original stuff on this record, but you cover “No More Crying the Blues” by Alton and Jimmy. What’s your relationship with that song, and how did it come up as the one cover for the album?

Burkum: JD McPherson, who helped us produce it, was just really into the idea of having us take a whack at that song, so he turned us on to it, and we like it, so we just kept playing it. Those guys are still around playing shows every once in a while, so that’s kind of cool.

What’s the best and worst thing about touring?

Torrey: The best part is meeting great people, the worst part is not sleeping. No, actually, the worst part is finding awesome food can be a tricky thing sometimes. You can’t wake up in the morning and make the coffee you’re used to, either. You have to drink whatever’s around.

So what’s your go-to when you’re in a new place looking for food? What’s the thing you know is going to be good, or do you try something new?

Burkum: We usually hit small, independent places. We look online and find the best-reviewed places. You got any Charlottesville recommendations?

For me, I’m a big burger person, if that appeals to you. There’s a place right off the University called Boylan Heights that has really great ones, and there’s a place on the downtown mall called Citizen Burger that’s very good.

Burkum: We might have eaten there! We visited the mall once. We had a flight in town, or we were driving through, and we hung around there a little bit.


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