Interview: The Cadillac Three 

Tenacious three

The Cadillac Three —  (left to right) lap steel player Kelby Ray, singer-guitarist Jaren Johnston, and drummer Neil Mason — resonates with country and rock 'n' roll in equal parts. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • The Cadillac Three — (left to right) lap steel player Kelby Ray, singer-guitarist Jaren Johnston, and drummer Neil Mason — resonates with country and rock 'n' roll in equal parts.

They call it country fuzz. It’s an ominous boogie coming out of Nashville’s The Cadillac Three, a trio that resonates with country and rock ‘n’ roll in equal parts. What separates them from the rest of the heard herd, while welding genres together, is the trio’s application of the sweet grind, whine, and growl of Kelby Ray’s lap steel.

The tenacious three-piece  —  Ray, along with singer-guitarist Jaren Johnston and drummer Neil Mason  —  is straight-up menacing at one point, sorrowful and lonesome the next. You can hear it, you can feel it. Full of southern parlance and charm from its muddy roots to its muddy boots, The Cadillac Three’s instrumentation keeps the torch lit and the party going. Just dig the trio’s new LP “Legacy,” an album title that telegraphs where the band has been and ultimately where it’s going. You’re invited. Bring a dish to pass.

We spoke with Ray on the phone. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

CITY: How and why did The Cadillac Three come to be?

Kelby Ray: You know what, we just wanted a good time. We’re just old high school friends who wanted to start a cool band, hit the road, and play our music in front of people just like so many young musicians want to do. And we’ve found our way into that top one percent and hopefully we can keep it going for the next 15 years or so.

Do you think you’re bringing new attention, for a new generation, to the lap steel?

Yeah, you know, I do. And the way I’m playing it is very unique: I’m covering the bass lines. We don’t actually have a bass player. So doing a kind of split-guitar-and-bass on a lap steel is pretty revolutionary. I’m pulling double duty. It’s definitely an old-school country instrument that’s making a mark on up-and-coming musicians.

What do you get when you mix old-school, lap steel-driven country and rock ‘n’ roll?

You get the Cadillac Three.

What do you call what you do?

We like to call it country fuzz. It’s kind of a hybrid of country, rock ‘n’ roll, with a little heavy metal thrown in there. We’re all fans of old-school country, old-school writing. But I grew up in the 90’s with grunge and Metallica, too. Throw it in a blender and you’ve got the three of us. It’s fun because we get to walk that line between country and rock ‘n’ roll. We like to get up on stage and have a good time, which I really think translates to a lot of people.

What are some of your influences?

It’s all over the place: ZZ Top to Skynyrd, Hank Jr., and all that stuff from Metallica and Rage Against the Machine and everything in between.

How do you keep it fresh without compromising your tradition?

I think the diversity of our influences. We don’t use setlists. We mix it up live. We get up there and play a different show every night.

What’s your take on new country?

I like new country. There are a bunch of up-and-coming guys  —  Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton — hitting the airwaves. We’re good friends with Florida Georgia Line. Country is a super-wide genre. There’s pop and a little hip-hop influence in there. That’s why we can fit in, being on the Eric Church side of things. I think it’s good for the genre, that diversity.

What was it like playing the Ryman Auditorium?

A pinnacle moment. We were all born and raised in Nashville. It was a career highlight to play in the mother church of country music. We sold it out and had all our friends and family there.

And you’ve been spreading your music in Europe as well?

It’s been great. We’ve been going over there a coupla times a year for the last five or six years. It’s grown really fast. There are country boys everywhere, there are rednecks everywhere, and they come out of the woodwork and the woods in the UK. I think our music translates everywhere all over the world.

What’s a typical show for The Cadillac Three?

It’s loud, in your face, and a good time. It’s a beer-drinking kind of night. If you and your friends want to have fun and hear some country fuzz, it’s the show to be at.

What’s the oddest thing a fan has come up and said to you at a show?

Hey, will you sign this pizza box?

The Cadillac Three plays with guest Austin Jenckes on Friday March 29, 8 p.m. at Anthology, 336 East Avenue. 8 p.m. $18-$22. 484-1964.;
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