Yankton Sothern hadn’t planned on fronting his own band. After years as a guitarist in other bands, a stint as a live venue owner and a “regular” life as a 9-to-5er, he didn’t foresee hitting the recording studio to make a rock album – let alone forming a new group and taking it on the road.
Yet that’s where he is today, thanks to a slate of great songs and the backing of some of the Midwest’s most polished and prolific rockers-for-hire. The end result is HeartPunch, and the group’s self-titled first album – now available online.
It began as these things so often do … with a woman. A bad breakup led to a stream of songwriting for Sothern. He’s no stranger to writing music or being on stage, having been a guitarist for ‘90s Springfield group Fuller’s Earth. But these songs were something new for Sothern — personal and stripped-down, in the vein of his longtime heroes Ryan Adams and Elliot Smith.
“I’d always wanted to do the singer-songwriter thing, but I’d never had a push, or any real reason to really do it,” Sothern said.
The “push” was on. After reading about Adams’ method of writing something — anything — every day, Sothern decided to treat songwriting as he would a job. He wrote two songs a day, five days a week, for several months. Much of it ended up on the cutting room floor, but the process yielded a handful of solid pieces Sothern wanted to record.
With a batch of songs in hand, Sothern took an acoustic guitar into the Springfield studio of bass player, producer/engineer Lou Whitney. The idea was to record basic solo singer/songwriter demos.
Whitney says, “I have known and worked with Yankton and Fuller's Earth for years in a recording context and, being a family friend, took a personal interest in this heartbreak-generated and honest first flight of songs with Yankton taking on the vocal responsibilities. We whittled down the original batch of songs, polished up the A-list, added Yankton's take on an old Louvin Brothers cut and soon decided to kick it up a notch and see how the songs might sound in a combo setting. All we needed was a crew and to let the fun commence.”
With Sothern on guitar and vocals, Whitney on bass, Joe Terry on keys, Bobby Lloyd Hicks on drums and Stevie Newman on lead guitar, HeartPunch was born. They backed Sothern on the album, as well as few gigs in their hometown of Springfield, Missouri. As anyone who follows roots rock can tell you, these are no ordinary sidemen. Terry and Hicks have been members of Dave Alvin’s touring group for years, and Newman gained his reputation as a searing guitar ace as leader of the Domino Kings.
“I’m not Grammy-winning songwriter,” Sothern says. “A rock band from your neighborhood probably could have recorded most of these songs. But most neighborhoods don’t have the likes the Joe Terry and Stevie Newman walking down the street.”
Appropriately released on Valentine's Day, 2011, the album features 10 songs, including nine originals. A song-by-song rundown from Yankton himself:
1. Forget Me — A straightforward rock song about a guy left watching his recent ex-girlfriend try to distract herself in an attempt to get over him — all while he has neither the luck nor the desire to get over her.
2. I’m Not Ready — This is a very specific song about a rebound situation. I was spending time with a girl I really liked at a time when I was still very much heartbroken over another girl. She gave me the speech that she couldn’t invest any more time into me until I was over the other girl. I saw her point, and I wrote this as a sort of apology or explanation to her. There is a restaurant in the town that serves 46 oz. margaritas for two. I changed it to 64 so it would rhyme, and the drunken sex part is fictional … but I thought it gave it some character.
3. What Will You Do — This is for a girl I dated who was from a very strict Christian family. I felt like she was embarrassed of me.
4. My Baby’s Gone — A Louvin Brothers tune. Lou played this song for me on an acoustic guitar and I really related to the story. I went home and played it until it worked for me. We recorded in over the next few days before he ever told me who cut the original. We were finished with it before I ever heard the Louvins’ version.
5. Fucked Up Over You — Basically says all there was to say in under two minutes.
6. Tribulations — I proposed to my girlfriend in the hallway of her apartment. She said ‘no’ for reasons I won’t go into here, but this is a song specifically about that time in my life.
7. Relief — I am convinced that if the devil is real, it is a woman. I had to write the rest of the story just so I could say that one line.
8. Bridge — For me, there is always a day that I know I’m officially over a girl. I wake up, and everything is different. This particular girl and I went to the same restaurant where we had our first date and we talked for hours as if everything was going to be fine. After dinner, I never saw her again.
9. Recognition — While looking though some old pictures I remembered that she had such a beautiful smile when we met — and realized I hadn’t seen her smile in months. She looked sad and tired in all of the more recent pictures, and I assumed I was the cause.
10. Being Baptist — Every line in this song is about something very specific to me. The lines don’t really have much to do with one another, but as a whole this conveys how I was feeling at the time. I scribbled the whole song in a single sitting without thinking much about it then went to bed. I read it the next day after work and didn’t edit anything. It’s my favorite song on the record.
released February 14, 2011
Recorded at The Studio, Springfield, Missouri by Lou Whitney
Assisted by Eric Schuchmann
Produced by Lou Whitney
All Songs by Yankton Sothern, Column Two Music, BMI except My Baby's Gone, Hazel Houser, Central Songs, BMI
Mastered by Randy Kling, DiscMastering, Nashville, Tennesse
Designed by Kara Remington
Cover Art by Ryan McCurter