Ask anyone who their favorite band is and surely it involves a minimum four piece with a bassist, lead guitar, drummer, and vocals. It’s not often two-man bands come immediately to mind. Certainly, acts like The White Stripes and Black Keys standout, and on a smaller scale (two of my personal favorites) The London Souls and Little Hurricane, but get ready to hear Illiterate Light’s name a lot more as they’re being wooed by major labels and already have 2019 festival gigs at Shaky Knees, SXSW, and at least two other major ones.
When recording an album, it’s common to add studio musicians and play multiple instruments on a song to capture that perfect sound, and there lies the challenge. How do you translate that in a live show with two people? For this band, the answer is extraordinary well:
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The Illiterate Light duo of Jeff Gorman (lead vocals, guitar, bass) and Jake Cochran (drums, vocals) accomplished it with some ingenuity and a lot of hard work. As I stood 10 feet back from the stage, Jeff was shredding a solo on his Gibson SG, but at the same time I also heard a distinctly clear bass riff reminiscent of Lemmy Kilmister – both in perfect harmony. Say what?! At that same time, Jake is whaling on his stand up drum kit grinning ear to ear. They had full attention of the sold out Pour House and it stayed that way from first chord to last. I politely rammed my way to the front of the stage for a closer look and snapped this photo of Jeff’s foot pedal setup. It allows him to play bass guitar with his feet, which had quite a learning curve as he mentioned in an interview with Extra Chill:
“It probably took about a year to get comfortable playing bass with my feet, playing guitar, taking solos, taking lead riffs, and then singing lead, and still trying to maintain a positive connection with the audience and Jake and not just have it be this uber technical thing…”
I had the chance to chat with Jeff Gorman a few days after the show, which turned into an incredible thirty-minute phone call talking about their journey from 2012, where Jake and Jeff met as upperclassmen at James Madison University, to a stacked 2019. Their path included a band breakup in 2013, how they got so big in Nashville, recording with the legendary, Vance Powell [White Stripes, Chris Stapleton, Arctic Monkeys, Moon Taxi] and being mentored by Jeff’s uncle, Steve Gorman [Black Crowes drummer], from age six to today.
Writers on the Storm: OK, I couldn’t find the answer to this anywhere online. So, what’s the story behind Jake’s incredible, floral crop top? It’s a special crowd moment when he reveals it.
Jeff Gorman: I sadly…(laughing)…it’s funny. It’s such a part of our thing. I don’t have much to expand on there. He showed up one day with that shirt. And for about three years now it’s happened every show. I think we all love it and the story is somewhere in his deep psyche.
In my research for this interview, I noticed you guys are playing Nashville at least once a month to sold out shows. Being based in Virginia, that’s an incredible feat. How did that come about?
Jeff: Yea, my uncle, Steve [Black Crowes], lives in Nashville and he’s been a mentor to us for years.
A year and half ago he came out and saw us and he hadn’t seen us in a while and our live show had changed. Jake and I’s dynamism on stage had gotten a little more energetic. And he said, “You know…you guys don’t need to move to Nashville, but you need to be here a lot. And I highly recommend you just start booking shows in Nashville once a month.” And at this point we’ve played Nashville easily 30 times. And it’s really cool. I just got a text from one of my favorite bassists on the planet, Tom Blankenship, the other night, the bassist for My Morning Jacket, and he’s driving around Nashville and Lightning 100 was playing Better Than I Used To. He took a little video and sent it to me. And I was just like, “This is so rad. Not only am I connected to one of my favorite musicians out there, he’s jamming to one of my songs being played on the radio in Nashville.” It’s an incredible city. And we make an effort to not just play shows but to go to shows. Every time we’re in Nashville we go see other bands. There’s just so much good music coming out of Nashville and people have been so supportive.
Wow. Having a close relative to one of the greatest bands of all time. Did you go to Black Crowes shows as a kid?
Jeff: Oh yea! All the time! That was like my upbringing. That’s why I wanted to play music since I was six years old. I have super early memories of going to Crowes’ shows but there was always this one in particular.
It was ’97 and they were playing Hershey Park. It was the “Further” tour. Rat Dog, The Crowes, Bruce Hornsby, and a few other bands like that. I just remember being seven years old and meeting up with my Uncle at this theme park. The Crowes had these Fast passes, so we could cut the line for every single roller coaster. He was hitting us up with candy. We went back stage, and Chris Robinson came up to me in this big, tie dye shirt on, and was like, “Jeff! You want some candy man! You want a lollipop?” I was like, “Sure!” So, we go into this trailer and he said, “This is back stage for this guy, Rat Dog.” I was like, “Rat Dog! That’s the funniest thing in the world.” My seven-year-old mind thought it was incredible. So, he hands me this blow pop and I’m standing side stage and it was so fucking loud, and I’m looking out at a sea of people that were just going nuts. For me, as a seven-year-old, the combination of roller coasters, candy, and loud music, I was like, “OK, I’m sold! Music is my future.”
I see that Vance Powell produced and mixed your Sweet Beast EP. How did that come about?
Vance is awesome. Vance came out to a show at the Basement in Nashville in July 2017 and afterwards came up to us. “Come to my studio tomorrow. Let’s go get lunch. Let’s talk. I want to figure out how to make this work.” We had no money and nothing going for us other than a really energetic live show. He’s not only an incredible producer and engineer…his personality…he’s just not afraid to takes risks and go with his gut, and we just can’t respect him enough for that. We’ve become really close in the creative process.
The dude’s got like 6 Grammy’s, so booking time with him…It would have been great to do the record there, but we found another studio closer to home and it just felt like the next step for us was to maybe track closer to home with a team that we really loved and then mix with Vance. So, that’s the way that the album has gone down. There are two songs on the EP that will also be on the album.
Is it true that you were originally the drummer and Jake was the guitar guy with your first band together, Money Cannot Be Eaten?
Jeff: So, drums were like everything for me growing up because of my Uncle. Jake started as a drummer but then also played guitar, bass and a little bit of keys. With Money Cannot Be Eaten, depending on the song, we’d just mix it up and were all over the place. With Illiterate Light, I really honed in on guitar and Jake really honed in on drums. The writing process, it’s still common for us to switch it up, but we just decided not to do that live any more. In fact, on the album coming out later this year, there’s a couple tunes where I’m doing some percussion stuff and playing drums on one track and Jake’s playing guitar on one track. Although Jake’s guitar track is supporting my main guitar track but yea we’re still mixing it up, it’s just more behind the scenes now.
Thanks again to Jeff for the time. In Part Two of our interview, we’ll detail the timeline of the band as told by Jeff, which included his farming stint with Jake, the band breakup, getting back together, the circumstances and success that took them from a trio to a duo, and the stories and reasoning for removing their three earlier EPs from their back catalog.
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Upcoming Tour Dates (tour and tickets)
MAR 9, 2019 (Saturday)
Savannah Stopover Music Festival
Savannah, GA, United States
MAR 13, 2019 (Wednesday)
South by Southwest
Austin, TX, United States
Illiterate Light with SUSTO tour dates:
4/10 – St. Louis, MO – Blueberry Hill
4/11 – Louisville, KY – Zanzabar
4/12 – Nashville, TN – The Basement East
4/14 – Pittsburgh, PA – Club Cafe
4/15 – New York, NY – The Bowery Ballroom
4/17 – Boston, MA – Great Scott
4/19 – Philadelphia, PA – MilkBoy
4/20 – Washington, D.C. – Rock And Roll Hotel
Illiterate Light with Shakey Graves tour dates:
5/1 – New Orleans, LA – Joy Theater⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
5/2 – Oxford, MS – The Lyric Oxford⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
5/3 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
5/4 – St Petersburg, FL- Jannus Live⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
5/7 – Chattanooga, TN – The Signal⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
5/8 – Charleston, SC – Charleston Music Hall
5/9 – Athens, GA – Georgia Theatre⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
5/10 – Charlotte, NC – The Fillmore Charlotte⠀⠀⠀⠀
5/11 – Raleigh, NC – Ritz Raleigh
5/13 – Cleveland, NY – House of Blues Cleveland
5/14 – Ithaca, NY – The State Theater
5/15 – Clifton Park, NY – Upstate Concert Hall ⠀
5/16 – New Haven, CT – College Street Music Hall ⠀
5/17 – Northampton, MA – Academy of Music Theatre