Over the last three decades of a career that would require reams to fully account for, Hall has shared the stage with Jane’s Addiction and Rage Against the Machine and palled around with the Indigo Girls.
Now he’s part of a supergroup comprised of fellow cult-status rocker friends — guitarists Jim “Johnny Blade” Troglen and Mark Patrick, bassist James Wahl and drummer Jack Massey. They’re known as The Ladies Of, and their latest album is “Coming Out of Our Tenderness.” The band kicks off a mini Southeastern tour with a sure-to-be-raging gig at Star Bar Thursday night.
ArtsATL caught up with Hall ahead of their show, and he talked about the trials and triumphs of being a rocker in his 50s, the gritty beauty of the Star Bar and his friendship with the Indigo Girls.
Q: You’re no stranger to recording with other musicians, and you’ve done a ton of solo work, too. Which is your favorite mode of working?
A: I’m a greater fan of collaborative work than I am just working alone. I tend to be more industrious, and it sort of forces me to make decisions. Working with someone else exposes me to other processes and other ways of working, and it creates a finite time window. Sometimes when I’m left to work on an idea all on my own, I’ll get into perfectionism, and it will take three months to render a song. And if you’re gonna call yourself a songwriter, that’s expecting that you’ll be around for 100 years.
Q: You’re now in your mid-50s and have been in this industry for a while. What are some of the benefits of having grown and matured as an artist — especially when it comes to co-launching a new venture like The Ladies Of?
A: I think being 55 has afforded me the luxury of focusing on my emotional health and not a kind of borrowing strength or seizing power outside of myself. When I was in my 20s, I was so consumed with what somebody else might be doing or somebody else’ behaviors that I was not even enjoying the moment or the experience.
Q: This industry does have some craziness associated with it. What advice do you wish you had gotten at the beginning? What would you tell your younger self to look out for?
A: That’s a good question. In 1986, I was 18 and enrolled in college in Kentucky and had the emotional maturity of about a 13-year-old. I was perhaps ill-equipped for formal education then, at least impulse control wise. I don’t think that I’m anything special. There were others like me, who knew little else about academia other than where to eat, sleep and party. But if I had known a bit more about how relatable some of the topics were to my life, I might have been able to figure it out for at least three-and-a-half more years.
Q: What is your earliest memory of having it click into place that music was the thing you wanted to do?
A: I remember hearing “Walk This Way” on AM radio, riding in the car with my dad. I remember being like, “What is that sound?” And he’s like “God, Jimmy, that’s an electric guitar.” I remember hearing how fast Steven (Tyler) was rhyming and how fast Joe Perry was playing, and it had a lot of power for me. Then, when I heard (AC/DC’s) “Highway to Hell,” I studied that album back and forth. The guitarist has a devil’s tail and horns painted on his photograph. And, oh, by the way, their singer (Bon Scott) was already dead. It’s hard to get much more gangster than that for the time.
Q: When you were starting out in Atlanta in the late 80s, early 90s — can you talk a little bit about what that was like, and how it compares to being an artist here now?
A: There was a lot less economic pressure in 1989, when creatives could support themselves working at Publix or art supply stores or a pizza joint and it was enough to keep the basics covered while you’re paying for rehearsal space or travel to gigs. I do believe that Atlanta was easier (then) for musicians to kind of try things out and get creative. There was less pressure. I don’t know that I could imagine myself being 23 and trying to navigate rent, you know, even on the low end of things, for $1,200 a month or whatever spaces are going for right now.
Q: What’s one of the first moments when you realized you were achieving some actual success in this music business?
A: Pleasure Club was the first band where I started seeing, like, 10 people kind of near the stage, singing my choruses back to me. Like, wait a second, they know the words. And at that point, things started feeling really good. I was no longer in this lonely laboratory of experimental music.
Q: How do you grapple with the strong strain of perfectionism that lots of artists experience?
A: About 20 years ago, a friend said it had taken him time to get to where he knew even if a drawing didn’t come out the way he’d envisioned it, at least he had respect and appreciated it. As he was telling me this, I thought, “Oh, I so wish I could love my own songs. I wish that could be peaceful for me.” It’s something that kind of keeps me interested in rock music. The endless subjectivity.
Q: You’ve got this show coming up at Star Bar, a beloved venue that has somehow scraped by and survived all these years. What is one of your all-time favorite live performances in this city?
A: A lot of them have happened at the Star Bar. It’s a former bank. For whatever reason, people don’t feel that they’ve got to dress a certain way there. And they are highly inclined to dance at the Star Bar. You ever notice that? The Star Bar is a dying breed of rock and roll honky-tonks that you just won’t find left in many cities in America.
Q: And it always seems to barely escape getting redeveloped.
A: It’s pretty remarkable. It would be kind of interesting if they said, “OK, we’re done with this bar business. We’re going to open back up as a bank.”
Q: You got signed to Amy Ray’s label in the early ‘90s, and you also played trumpet on the Indigo Girls’ “Swamp Ophelia.” How did your friendship with them evolve over the years?
A: Amy and Emily (Saliers) are both gems. They are about as different of people as you could ever meet in terms of wiring and sensibilities. But they are case in point of why collaboration works. When they start harmonizing together, there’s nothing like it in the world. I have a lot of respect for them both. There’s an essential partnership at work there, which schooled me considerably.
The other thing I’ll say about them is that from the late ‘80s, they were supporting the Atlanta music scene in a substantive way. Like, if we had a show, they would put it on their calendar, and, if they weren’t gigging anywhere else, they would go see it. And I think that level of goodwill shows up in their melody. It shows up in their truth and I think that that’s why you see such a wide array of fans. I mean, what is the average Indigo Girl fan? It’s all over the map.
Q: The band name The Ladies Of is intriguing. It makes me think of Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon,” but I’m sure it invokes different things to different people. What does it mean to you?
A: Oh yes. I think it is, in a way, a commentary about how it may have taken every minute of my 55 years to be calm and comfortable in my own skin. It kind of reminds me of (The Rolling Stones album) “Some Girls.” And some of the artwork that Warhol did for that album. We’re having a little bit of levity with the album because nobody’s getting out of here alive. You know, we’re putting our parents into assisted care facilities. We’re making arrangements and that sort of stuff. At some point, even though I’ve worked very hard for credibility as a gloomy rocker, it just will not hold up in a court of law.
Q: So, you’re in the phase where you’re just generally taking yourself a little less seriously and bringing in more lightness?
A: I want to have joy. And I also believe that if humor has no function in rock music today, count me disinterested.
Alexis Hauk has written and edited for numerous newspapers, alt-weeklies, trade publications and national magazines, including Time, The Atlantic, Mental Floss, Uproxx and Washingtonian. Having grown up in Decatur, Alexis returned to Atlanta in 2018 after a decade living in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles. By day, she works in health communications. By night, she enjoys covering the arts and being Batman.
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