PETE DAVID hardly looks like he’s just stepped out of his Sharrow terrace.
With his bowler hat, rollies and battered jacket, Pete David of Pete David & the Payroll Union is more reminiscent of an 18th-century Appalachian moonshiner than a tax-paying Sheffielder.
But then, spiritually, at least, the vast Apalachian Mountains are more like home to Pete David & the Payroll Union than the gritty streets of the Steel City.
“We are rootsy in what we play,” says David: “We’re all into country music and artists such as Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash and Leftie Frizzel.”
And they’re loyal to the genre – songs tell tales of prostitutes, rivers and loss, sharing the same subject of human struggle as the likes of Parsons or Cash. But the band don’t see the genre of country as limiting.
“I see having parameters as a freeing thing – the rock/indie genre is so vast that bands practising within it have a tendency to become bland.
“Having a more specific genre keeps you in check.”
And, like his fellow country troubadours, David sees songwriting as something to be worked at: “I think with songwriting you’ve got to sit down and give yourself time. It’s a craft – it’s about hard graft.”
Like Nick Cave, who keeps his songwriting to a strict, 9-5pm regime, David enjoys the work that goes into a song. “I get such a thrill and pleasure from the hard work you put into a song. Songs are about how much time you are prepared to give them.”
In April the band will release an EP of tracks entitled Under Fed and Under Paid, a title from a line in one of their songs.
Already the band are working with Bromheads frontman and producer Tim Hampton for a later release on Hampton’s newly-established Crystal Ship label.
The band already have a healthy stash of songs, including Abigail, a melodic, saddening ditty about a woman in the 17th century whose hopes of making a go of her life in the big city are dashed by the temptations of city life.
While working away, her admirer remains at home with a broken heart. “I was inspired by a character in a play at the Crucible about a woman who goes off to the big city but becomes corrupted.”
Other inspirations include David’s fascination with North American / Canadian history: “There’s a song called Lawrence River about a British soldier that goes to Canada to fight in the Seven Years’ War – it’s a personal story against a historical backdrop but the setting is very visual.
“I think good storytelling is about keeping things visual and to make them look interesting.”
The band’s repertoire – laden with bluegrass style banjo, subtle layers of blues guitar and hoedown rhythms – makes for a refreshing listen. There are no mundane ‘boy meets girl’ references here.
Life in Pete David & the Payroll Union’s songs is epic, hard graft, tragic and real – the stuff that shaped the music of the Apalachian Mountains as far back as 100 years ago.
“Roots and country music is about the struggles of like. It’s folk music – it’s about folk and their stories.
“Many of these stories are universal and apply to very real-life situations that have happened and continue to happen.”
Pete David & the Payroll Union will host a hoedown with whisky, Lindy Hop dancing and support from The Yellowbellys and Dan Haywood’s New Hawks at the Broomhall Centre on Friday February 19. Their free downloadable song is available now at the band’s website.