13 March 2012

SUGAR FARM's Lost Pacific Northwest Hill Country Blues

So much good music, so little time. A lot of stuff slips thru the cracks. I have a drawer full of cds that deserve better than to sit gathering dust. I intend to get to them one of these days but as the man said, The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions. This is one of them. 

Sugar Farm was/is Marty Reinsel on drums (aka the drummer for GravelRoad who, btw, have just released a very wicked album called Psychedelta) and Margaret "Mugs" Light on guitar/vocals. 

They operated out of Seattle between 2002-2007 touring the US and Europe on their own, though they played gigs (backing T-Model Ford) as recently as August, 2011. Margaret sings like she's worrying a raw secret wound that never heals and plays guitar like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside's  punk-rock god daughter. Marty keeps the North Mississippi groove sexy, stony, and locked in place.

I suppose the fact that they never issued a proper album is why I didn't get around to writing about them. But in good news for all y'all they did record eight songs in February of 2005 at Jimbo Mathus' Delta Recording Service in Clarksdale, MS and Sugar Farm has given me permission to offer them up as a free download right HERE. PW:: earl6623!

Below is a short Q n' A that I did recently with Marty Reinsel:

Your first MySpace post is 30 May 2005. In January-February of that year you and Mugs made a trip (pilgrimage?) to the North Mississippi Hill Country and spent time with the Kimbrough and Burnside clans.

Yes, we were in Mississippi until about March. We  lived for part of 2005 in Mississippi's northern "Hill Country," getting to play regularly with local musicians including members of RL Burnside's family and Junior Kimbrough's family. The recordings from February 2005 at Jimbo Mathus' Delta Recording Studio are perhaps the best recorded examples of the band's sound garnered from a traditional studio setting.  Otherwise the best recordings of Sugar Farm, according to me, are bootleg tapes of live shows of the band. I recall bootlegs from 2006 as being favorites, often capturing the band's best or weirdest moments including ones from less traveled tour stops such as Evansville IN and Morehead KY as examples of the our range and atypical approach to the music.

How did you two get together in the first place? Were you friends first then started playing together or did you get together with the intention of playing this music?
Margaret and I lived in a musical house in Seattle WA around the turn of the century.  We played with like-minded players, usually for the enjoyment of the music & often not going beyond the living room, perhaps playing a house party for friends during our first few years playing together.  Taking influence from hill country blues, fundamental four-on-the-floor rock-n-roll mixed it with primal energies, all of the music-making from that house in Seattle's Central District helped spawn GravelRoad- and gave Sugar Farm their start. Yes, we were friends first - through a common friend - and we were all learning this sort of music together. We had the "bricks" of a friendship in place, this music was the "mortar."

How on earth did this trip come about? How did a couple kids from Seattle manage to show up in Mississippi, meet the Burnside and Kimbrough clans, and hook up to record music with Gary and Cedric Burnside and Jimbo Mathus?
Really, a lot of it was determination to meet the people who made this music out of a deep-rooted connection to the music that I can almost not describe. Something intuitive was in place. I FELT this music more than other sounds. Literally, the heart beat rhythms and the general flow of energy and sounds - low & haunting, yet energetic and danceable - really resonated in me and for me. I, thankfully, heeded the call of the music. I was not a musician before the time I first started to play this (2000 or 2001). Having friends learning this music simultaneously and rally around this sort of sound made it easier. My first "real" trip to Mississippi to explore the music and people deeper in 2001 (with Margaret) led us to meeting David Kimbrough JR, among others, and got us into their church and their family (we went to a family reunion with David in July 2001 - meeting not only Kimbroughs but Burnsides and others). Special stuff.

Approximately one year from that trip Sugar Farm started touring, doing shows with the likes of Hillstomp and Cicada Omega. Was that year a whirlwind for you or did it all seem like natural progressions?

Natural progression. It's funny now to think of that time, but we were Over-ready to be playing by the time of 2005 and '06. This might be hard for some to believe, but we were not very connected to the bigger world of music, namely thru the web. Sugar Farm didn't get a website - and a crappy one at that, but it's all we could afford - until mid 2005. We coulda been playing more shows earlier, but we were not knowledgeable and/or connected to really get gigs. Local venues didn't seem to take us seriously. It was tough and weird, but ok. We just kept working on our craft. It was not about a specific outcome -like money - that drove us. I'll only speak for myself here, but music held and still holds such a magical place for me, that to dull it down to being driven by money would lose some, if not all, of the luster and appeal of it.
Really, I'd been lucky to have a great life in terms of learning and creating a life that was filled with meaningful endeavors. I wanted to learn this music, I wanted to play with my friends, and I wanted to travel. If I made some money, great. But it really was and is about the music and the relationships around it. Thanks for asking.
I snagged a few early Sugar Farm MySpace posts for historical perspective:

May 30th, 2005
Sugar Farm is a music duo performing our own style of electrified, boogie-blues based music. Our live show currently packs a pretty big wallop. We've been making music for a few years, but this year has seen us taking great strides to expand our musical horizons.
We spent a large chunk of time in January and all of February in Mississippi. We got a number of great life experiences and musical connections during that time. We played with the Burnside family, the Kimbrough family, T-Model Ford, and a bunch of other talented and dynamic people while we were there. We are currently working to create a tour with the Burnsides (not RL, unfortunately, but with Cedric and Garry, in conjunction with their 2-piece). They are up for it, and so are we.
We'll keep you updated as we go.
Sugar Farm is M Light on vocals & guitar and M Reinsel on drums.

Current mood:awake
Hey Any and All out there-
Muggs and I are by no means wizards at this computer stuff. Hell, Marg. gets on about once a month, and I seem to screw up the website when I try to update a show date.
Well, I'm learning more and definitely giving more time to the computer thing (at what cost?), so hopefully we'll get some music and phots on this site, but you can still check out music on our own website; www.sugarfarmmusic.com.
The "push" is on for more shows; and not just Seattle, but all over the place. Hell, if we can travel to Mississippi to play, there's no reason the I-5 corridor (and then some) can't accomodate us.
Keep on rockin'.

Dec. 2, 2005
Check out our Mississippi recordings - with the Burnsides and Jimbo Mathus. We recorded some songs when we were down in Mississippi. We've finally posted them up here (thanks to Stefan from Gravel Road) - they are rough mixed and not mastered, but they have something special on them that we figured people would want to check out.

"Lord Have Mercy" had Garry and Cedric Burnside (RL's kin) playing on it. And "Boogie Chill" has Jimbo Mathus adding a second guitar to the track. Both of these tracks were impromptu and unpracticed. We got to play with the Burnsides a bunch, but when we recorded this track with them, we'd only screwed around with it once together at brother DuWayne's juke. And the track with Jimbo ... hell, we hadn't met him before that day.

All of those guys were great in offering their time and energy. We love 'em.


Everyday I learn something. I learned (again) that playing $8 cover shows where your time slot is small sucks for those that came to listen to the music. I don't see us doin' that again, unless there is a hell of a good reason.

To those that came to the show last night at El Corazon ... sorry for the short set ... we coulda played all night long, but they wouldn't let us ... we'll make it up with a "party" show w/ no cover, especially for those friends/fans that came last night. You will be personally invited.

Last Night's show at the Comet

We had so much fucking fun at last night's show. We'd like to thank everyone that was there, our friends, those that heard us for the first time, the other bands, and the fine folks of the Comet. It was a great nite.

Feb. 14th. 2006
Last year, SUGAR FARM went and lived in Northern Mississippi. We had some amazing experiences during our trip. One that stood out occurred on Valentine's Day (even though we did not realize it was Valentine's Day until later on). We had been able to spend a fair amount of time with the Burnsides (namely Cedric and Garry) in Holly Springs, but we hadn't gotten out to the house to see RL. We were a bit reluctant, given his recent physical struggles.   

On February 14, a weird thing occurred. I was talking with Cedric, and I was giving his dad, Calvin Jackson, props for his drumming. Cedric said to me: "I wish he could hear that ... Why don't we go out and see him?" Soon, we were on the road. I didn't realize we were going out to RL's to meet up with Calvin.
When we got there, I was a bit uneasy. I knew I'd get to hang with Calvin, yet I also wanted to see RL, but I did not want it to seem uncomfortable to the family. I hesitantly asked Cedric, and in a very nice way he let me know that RL would want to meet us. 

We went back to the room where he rested. He was obviously weakened and looking less robust than the RL I was used to seeing. Life was leaving him. Yet his eyes were brilliant: bright blue, with that glimmer that we all know, and as vibrant as it ever was. He smiled as we held his hand and let him know how much we've enjoyed his music over the years. I felt very humble in his presence.
It was quite an experience. We quietly left his bed and joined the rest of the crew in the living room. I knew that it would be a once in a lifetime experience. I knew it was the last time I'd see him.
M. Light, my bandmate who joined me on the trip, said it best: "I don't normally care about Valentine's day, but this one meant something." I agreed. It was my favorite yet.
Thanks for the memories RL (RIP) and the entire Burnside family.
-M. Reinsel


The Stranger March 16-22nd, 2006
Rocka Rolla
Sugar in My Bowl
by Hannah Levin

Boy-girl two-piece bands that fold swampy blues into dirty punk are definitely nothing new, especially since a certain Detroit band with a fondness for red and white saturated the scene. Despite that reality (or perhaps because of it), I'm impressed with the sounds being passionately banged out by local duo Sugar Farm (www.sugarfarmmusic.com). Though originally from the Seattle area, guitarist/vocalist Margaret Light and drummer Martin Reinsel spent a few months last year living in Mississippi, exploring the roots of their chosen genre at ground zero. Rensel describes their time in the South with great fondness and respect, citing "truly life-altering experiences recording and giggin' with the likes of Cedric and Garry Burnside [close kin of the late R. L. Burnside] and T-Model Ford." They also got involved with the local Mission Baptist church attended by Junior Kimbrough's family—a cultural and spiritual immersion that now informs their work with palpable authenticity.

However, they're hardly content with emulating their predecessors, and enthusiastically pull a powerful sense of punk-minded aggression and paint-peeling sexual heat into the mix. If your idea of a dream band is one that fuses the lusty charisma of the Bellrays with the articulate aggression of Fugazi, then I strongly advise you to catch their next show this Thursday at Hana's (downtown at 1914 Eighth Avenue). Need more incentive? This will be the alternative venue's last show—Hana's is being bulldozed to make way for yet another onslaught of condos.


Alek said...

I was lucky enough to see Sugar Farm twice in 2006. They were playing the rawest and dirtiest blues I have ever heard! I was really bummed when they stopped playing. I'd be the happiest man on earth if they were to reunite and play again!

Miguel "Blanco" Luz said...

Few artists have the intangible "It"---Muggs has it in spades. Guitar chops that rollick and thump---combined with a vocal delivery that commands your attention and wont let go-- A true gem that must be seen and heard!