A Great Time with 'The Great Divide'
The Alt-Neo-Grunge Outlaw Country Red-Dirt Band
It was Friday, 9 AM. I had an appointment with The Great Divide, who had been out to the wee hours of Thursday night, performing around Nashville and taking in the Country Radio Seminar scene. The Great Divide includes Mike McClure, songwriter, lead vocals, lead guitar, acoustic guitar and harmonica; Scott Lester, electric, rhythm, acoustic and baritone guitar, backup vocals; J.J. Lester, drums and percussion; and, Kelly Green, electric, acoustic and bass guitar. When they trudged into the pressroom at the Nashville Conference Center to meet me, sunglasses were on along with yesterday's 5 O'clock shadows. But... they made it to our appointment, troopers that they were. I have to admit, I wasn't sure how a 9 AM interview would fare, but as it turned out, we laughed our way through it! The members were in fine (if a bit faded) form, and we had a great time.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: This is Anne Freeman from MusicDish, here in Nashville attending the Country Radio Seminar and visiting with The Great Divide. This is our first visit with you and we're excited to have a chance to visit with you today. Welcome!
The Great Divide Thank you, thanks for having us.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: How about if you introduce yourselves, tell us where you're from and how you joined The Great Divide?
Mike McClure Hi, I'm Mike McClure. I'm from a small town called Tecumseh, Oklahoma. I went to Oklahoma State University to finish up my degree, which is not far from my hometown. I met the rest of these guys there and we soon had a band going. I was starting to write songs and they liked what I was writing. I joined the band ten years ago and we're still alive and kickin'.
Kelly Green I'm Kelly Green. I'm originally from Bentonville, Arkansas. Like Mike, I went to Stillwater, Oklahoma to attend Oklahoma State to finish up college. I was playing in a band, and I met J.J. Lester through rodeos and at the same dives around town. (Laughter!) Same with Scott. We started playing together.
Scott Lester Hi, I'm Scott Lester. I was born in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I ended up being there pretty much all of my life. Mike happened to move next door to a mutual friend and that's how we met Mike.
J.J. Lester Hi, I'm J.J. Ditto – same story as Scott.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Is it true, J.J., that you, Scott and Kelly used to work at rodeos?
J.J. Lester Yeah, we used to sell hotdogs at a stand.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: (Laughter!) But, didn't you used to ride, too?
J.J. Lester Yeah, on a bicycle. (Laughter!) Myself, Scott and Kelly used to participate in the bull riding events at the rodeo.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Yikes! Did it hurt?
Scott Lester Sometimes. Kelly's probably got the best injury story. He got his face broke. He rode the world famous “Bodacious Bull.” Kelly had the some thing happen to him that happened to a lot of other guys! (Laughter!) He broke his jaw. It knocked him out.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Do all of those bulls have names like that?
Scott Lester Yeah, they're also like racing horses. They'll have breeding names. But the bulls are considered athletes and they're treated like athletes. It's pretty cool.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: I'm glad to know that none of you broke your body parts to the point that you can no longer play music. So Mike, is that why you didn't join the rest of your band mates to ride the bulls?
Mike McClure No, I'm just smarter than the rest of them. (Laughter!) That's when I realized that these guys weren't playing with a full deck.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: (Laughter!) Ok guys, with that introduction, let's talk about your new CD called Remain that is in the works. How is that coming along, Mike?
Mike McClure Well, this is the first time that we've recorded a CD in Nashville. We've always cut down in Texas and Oklahoma, where we're from. We came here with a session guitarist named Chris Leuzinger, who is starting to produce now. Chris played on all of the Garth records and on all of the big records in the late eighties and early nineties. He played on a ton of things. It's really nice to be working with somebody like that. He's helped us to expand our musical horizons, I guess you would say. We've got eight songs almost finished. We left our record label and we're going to go back to being independent. We've been through a couple of different record labels, so we may put the CD out on our own. We have a really good, loyal, strong fan base. They love our stuff and take care of us, so things are good.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: That's exciting. Hasn't the band has had quite a ride with the music business?
Scott Lester Oh, yeah. Every year, we make a new record whether anybody's interested or not. (Laughter!) We started out making our own records and selling them ourselves. That's what convinced the labels to pick us up. We had a good work ethic as far as getting everybody together and putting the CDs in the stores. We thought that once we signed with a label that all that hard work would be over, that the label would take over that. It's a great concept... Wrong. (Laughter!)
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Kelly, your music has been described as “red dirt, neo-outlaw” music.
Kelly Green Is that what it is this week? (Laughter!)
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: How would you describe The Great Divide's music?
Kelly Green It's pretty interesting. I'm not really sure what “neo-outlaw” is, but heck, it sounds good. Sure, we'll take that one. We've been called a lot of things. The labels and radio didn't know exactly how to classify us, so for a while we were “Alt-country.” Then, it was “Grunge-country.” Some people still use the Southern Rock label, or Americana. Our music has been labeled a lot of things. I would say our music is “neo-grunge outlaw country dirt.” (Laughter!) Put “Alt” in front of all of that, too! A few years back, we started telling everybody that we even had a hard time classifying our music. We like to tell everybody that it is American Music, because we all grew up listening to so many different styles of music from so many different artists.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Mike, you have a line in one of your songs that says “The wind beneath your broken wing.” In the story of The Great Divide's ups and downs, is there something in that line about your band?
Mike McClure Yeah, totally. About eight years ago, we all made the decision to do this for a living. We quit our jobs – everybody had good jobs – and I was going to school. Everybody said, “Hey, let's make a run at this.” It takes a lot of faith to make that leap. We realized that if we did make that leap, the net would appear... or at least we would try. It's taken a lot of faith to keep us together this long. We have outs just like family members do. Everybody gets sick of this or that, but if you have faith, it kind of winds back together again and comes full circle, hopefully.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: I like reading your song lyrics. There is a lot of thoughtfulness in your music that is captured by your lyrics.
Mike McClure It's sensitivity... you know, cowboys are scared of that. (Laughter!)
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: That's why you're doing that, right? (Laughter!)
Mike McClure Yeah.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Kelly, if an aspiring songwriter had the chance to pitch one song to The Great Divide, what would have to be in it for you to say, “We should record this song”?
Kelly Green Cowrite it with Mike! (Laughter!) I don't know – that's a tough one because in the five or six albums that we've done, there's only been three songs that Mike didn't write.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: What led you to record those three songs?
Kelly Green They were great songs. There were people we knew – songwriter friends of Mike's, singer/songwriters from bands that we've been associated with for a while. I think a lot of it is Mike. I'm sure we're biased, but we think he's the best songwriter in the world. We're fortunate enough to be in a band with him. If he comes in with a song and goes, “Hey, I want you to hear this,” then obviously if Mike puts his stamp of approval on it, it makes you want to pay attention and listen to it, too. We really don't take songs from outside people. The outsides songs that we have done, the people didn't pitch them to us. We just heard them and said, “Man, we would really love to record that song!” But as far as someone coming to us and asking if we would listen to a song – we'd probably listen to it, but we probably wouldn't record it. We do have a publishing company and we'd be glad to do some pitching for people.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: That's good to know. We aspiring songwriters are always trying to figure out who and how to pitch songs to, so this is good to know. Scott, with everything that's happened to the band, how would you describe success at this point?
Scott Lester Don't you have to experience it first? (Laughter!) I don't know – I think that we've been very successful, first of all just because we've lasted as long as we have. We're certainly not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we do what we do for a living. We get to do what we want to. It's still the same four people that we started this band with... actually, when you get down to it, we have four successful companies now. Our publishing company, our touring company, the band itself, and then we have our own record label. We had our own label when we first started out in the business. So, we have been successful. We own our own bus now; we have a couple of fulltime employees. We hire other people from time to time, so when you really get down to it, we've created a business that's supporting five-six families. I think that we have been successful.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Thanks, Scott. JJ, is there anything that we haven't touched upon that you'd like to share with us?
J.J. Lester People don't realize that you can go out and make a living and have the time of your life playing music. You don't have to depend on the standards that other people think: you have to have a major label deal – it's not true. We made six albums and been successful doing what we do. I get to do what I want to do and have the time of my life with three guys I really like. I get to play the music that I want to play – I don't have to play what others are telling you to. Don't ever do that. People need to know that. You don't have to depend on the industry.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: This has been a really enjoyable time for me, visiting with you this morning. It's obvious that you really enjoy each other's company.
J.J. Lester We're fun guys!
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Thanks so much to the members of The Great Divide for talking with MusicDish today.
The Great Divide Thank you, Anne! It was our pleasure.
Visit The Great Divide at www.thegreatdivide.com for touring info, sound clips, CD sales, merchandize and more!