In part two of the Southern Rock Revival, the feature from the "lost" issue of Honest Tune, we take a look at Outformation.
The Atlanta, Georgia band is about to embark on a winter tour in support of their August, 2007 release Traveler’s Rest. They closed out 2007 with their first run at Denver’s Gothic Theatre, and the future looks bright for the band.
“Southern Rock means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but I’m proud of it” says Sam Holt, lead guitarist and primary vocalist for Outformation. “We’re not out there waving rebel flags and drinking Jack Daniel’s every night, but you can hear an occasional passage or a song from our music and that’s definitely where it comes from. I’m not trying to hide it. I grew up in Tennessee and lived in Georgia since 2000, and it’s just who we are.”
Holt took a bit of time to talk with Honest Tune about life with Outformation, his decision to split with Widespread Panic to focus on his own work, and much more. Enjoy!
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Latest Release: Traveler’s Rest
Forefathers: Marshall Tucker Band, Widespread Panic
Outformation – the name is inspired from Col. Bruce Hampton’s “you have to go in to get out” theory – is a rising star in the world of Southern Rock. Having really only been a band since 2004, they’ve covered an immense amount of ground in a short period of time.
In just a few years they’ve released a nationally distributed debut, 2005’s Tennessee Before Daylight, played the summer festival circuit and John Bell of Widespread Panic’s annual Hannah’s Buddies benefit, and Holt has sat in with Gov’t Mule (playing Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See”), jam kings Umphrey’s McGee and Aquarium Rescue Unit to name a few.
Due to his seven year tenure as Michael Houser’s guitar tech and extensive history with the Widespread Panic, Holt was fortunate enough to take the stage a number of times with Panic and was even featured as the band’s lead guitarist for a string of shows last summer. Because of this, Holt is the most well known member of Outformation, but he’s quick to point out that this is not the Sam Holt Band.
“I’m just one part of this band” says Holt. “I may have more recognition than anyone else – but musically, and writing songs, and making setlist and decisions about this band – I am one of five.”
Holt and bassist Grady Upchurch have been playing in bands since going to neighboring high schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After linking up with New Orleans drummer/vocalist Lee Schwartz, the trio started writing songs and recorded a demo which led them to a few shows in Colorado. There they met keyboardist CR Gruver (originally of Colorado band Polytoxic) and percussionist Jeff "Birddog" Lane, the addition of whom solidified the Outformation lineup and gave the band a foundation upon which to start building their sound.
Although they never played a note on New Year’s Eve 2006, the day marked a milestone for Outformation. As Widespread Panic walked into 2007, Sam Holt walked away from Panic, resigning as guitar tech. Ending his career with Widespread Panic was sort of like drawing a line in the sand for Holt. It was a statement to his band, the music world at large, and to himself. By finally taking this leap of faith not only can Holt focus solely on Outformation, but he also fulfilled one of Mike Houser’s final wishes. Leading up to his death in 2002, Houser had been encouraging Holt to stop teching and focus on his own music.
“It was the right time, those guys [Widespread Panic] are in a good place and I’m in a good place to go do my thing and I know I have their support 100% and that really means a lot to me,” Holt explains. With his guitar teching days behind him and his guitar playing days finally being the focus, Outformation was ready to give this tricky music business a real shot.
Coming out of the Panic organization some folks are quick to overlook Holt and Outformation, thinking perhaps that they aren’t the genuine article. “Once in a while it will creep in that people think we are following on their coat tails,” says Holt. “But I’m proud of where I came from and I’m proud of my association with those guys and I’m proud that those guys believed in me and Mike was so supportive of me.
"I got no problem admitting that I learned a lot from him playing guitar. I’ve never heard anyone sound like him, and I really don’t think I do – but maybe once in a while I’ll hit something that will remind people of him… I’m proud of that and I respect those guys to no end. There are a lot of different influences that make us up; I almost think we sound more country than Panic.” When you listen to Outformation it’s not the glossy Nashville country – it’s the soulful, gritty country-rock of bands like Marshall Tucker that comes to mind.
“There was one day about ten years ago, and I didn’t know much about the Marshall Tucker Band and I had never even heard the name Toy Caldwell, and somebody goes, ‘hey man, check this disc out, it’s the Toy Caldwell Band’ explains Holt. “And I was blown away; I didn’t know this music existed. It was almost to me like discovering the Dead or Panic or whatever.”
Discovering Caldwell and his Marshall Tucker Band would have an incredible impact on Holt. “When I really started getting serious about guitar I would come home and listen to that stuff everyday and play along with it,” says Holt. “And he didn’t use a pick so the only way I could figure out what he was doing was to not use a pick and use my thumb. So that was a really big deal for me, to just abandon playing with a pick because I really like that sound.”
When asked where Outformation falls in the paradigm of these new Southern Rock bands coming after some of his heroes, Holt states, “I have a couple things I feel really strongly about and one is Marshall Tucker and Toy Caldwell; and the other is Mike Houser because of my circumstances. I’m all about carrying that torch for Mike and Southern Rock and Toy Caldwell.”
But it’s not just all Panic and Tucker; “Growing up in the South in the 90s, I can’t even count how many times I saw All Good and Indecision and the Grapes,” laughs Holt. “I used to go see the Col. and ARU, sneak into a bar in Chattanooga and go see him when I was like 18; and I know almost everyone else in the band used to too. Lee’s [Schwartz – drummer] from New Orleans so he’s got a whole different angle than we do, he kinda swings more and we kinda rock more and I think there’s a good place in there when we’re firing on all cylinders.”
Last August, Outformation recorded their latest release, Traveler’s Rest, at Dark Horse Studios in Franklin, Tennessee. Holt is quick to discuss a favorite song, the title track.
“We co-wrote it with Panic,” he explains. “Jojo and I came up with it when they were in the Bahamas recording Earth To America. It sort of evolved from that with us, so it’s kind of a big collaboration basically between both bands.”
Holt also mentions that in addition to Jojo Hermann being featured on the record there are “some country people” as well. In fact, Holt even recorded with a guitar from country legend Buck Owens’s arsenal. Outformation’s engineer Eli Akins’s brother is country star Rhett Akins. Buck had given Rhett the guitar a few years ago and when Outformation began recording a song titled, “I feel like Buck Owens in 1974,” Eli grabbed the guitar and brought it for Holt to play. When asked if the guitar added anything to the session Holt said, “I totally feel like the presence of different people were around us and he [Buck Owens] was probably one of them for a minute.”
Focusing on classic themes like love and loss, tragedy and triumph “and trying to find the good and the bad in both,” Outformation excitedly brought Traveler’s Rest to the people. It’s a snapshot of Outformation’s immense growth over the past few years. With Holt no longer splitting time working for Widespread Panic and the band truly starting to find their voice, the band’s future has never been brighter.
As Holt comes back around to thinking about his band’s place in the current music scene, he says, “I definitely feel in the same boat as Tishamingo. We’ve played shows with them and we’re friends with them and nothing would be better than to keep going up the ladder with those guys. I’m just excited that there are a bunch of people touring around trying to make it happen. It kind of reminds me of when I was young and going to see a bunch of bands like Panic and Phish, Blues Traveler and ARU and the Grapes and All Good.
"it was an exciting time back then, I’m hoping it’s exciting for some people now too.”