Yes, the exclamation point is requested when you type the name of 600LBS OF SIN!, says Michael Pushkin, co-founder of the Charleston, W.Va.-based band. The video above is a performance of the band’s song “29,” inspired by the April 5, 2010 explosion inside the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va., which killed 29 miners. It was the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years.
In the Q-and-A below, Pushkin talks about how the song came to be as the one-year anniversary of the disaster approaches. As he says when introducing the song during a show with Reverend Billy and the Church of Life after Shopping: “It’s not a protest song, it’s just a narrative about this state and just a reminder that people ain’t numbers.” Hear the band live after 9:30 p.m. this Sunday, March 20, in an Acoustic Solo Sunday show at the Empty Glass.
WestVirginiaVille | How did “29” come to be and who wrote it?
Michael Pushkin | As well as being a full-time musician, I also drive a taxi. On April 10, 2010 (the day after the Upper Big Branch mine explosion), I had to drive to Marsh Fork Elementary and pick up a Fox News crew. That is where the media set up shop to cover this story. While waiting for them to finish a press conference, I took a picture of the playground (it is surrounded by fence and barbed wire…. and sits next to a coal silo). That is now the cover of our EP.
While down there, I was overwhelmed with sadness. It was so thick in the air. I also noticed many locals carrying in trays of sandwiches for the national media. It was a very moving scene to see people whose friends and families were so directly impacted by this event to be taking care of others that might be considered “outsiders”. That scene really illustrated the true Mountaineer spirit for me. I believe the next day Denise Giardina wrote an op-ed piece about it where she commented on the actions of the locals – helping themselves by helping others. I was inspired by what I saw and what Ms. Giardina wrote about it, too.
I think it was the same day that I read her editorial that I lucked out and was asked to make a delivery to Pittsburgh (probably a box containing blood or tissue samples). All the way there I could not get the scene at Marsh Fork out of my mind. At some point I heard on the radio that the last four bodies had been found – 25 was now 29.
On the trip home from Pittsburgh I could not stay awake. My eyes were getting very heavy and to keep myself awake I tried to write a song. I would not recommend this on your next road trip, but it worked for me. By the time I returned the cab, I had all these lyrics (see below). “Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear … “
Q | How do you like to describe the music of 600 LBS OF SIN! and what is the origin of the band and its members?
A | I like to describe 600 LBS OF SIN! as a roots/rock/redneck jam-band outfit. Sierra calls it “Hippie-tonk.” We are becoming more song oriented and relying less on the extended jams. So let’s just call it Americana - that covers everything.
Josh Thomas, the lead guitarist, and I started playing together in 2005 in a band called Head Salad. That band broke up, but eventually I realized how much I enjoyed jamming with him. He plays exactly what I want to hear. So we started doing an acoustic duo called “the Filthy No’Counts.” In Fall 2009, I had a wedding gig that members of my band, Mike P. and the Lower Case G’s, could not fulfill. So, I called Josh and we hooked up with the rhythm section from Mother’s Nature – Tim Starkey and John Jacobs – and we nailed the gig. I decided I liked that sound better.
Around February of last year, I contacted Sierra Ferrell, who is now our singer, and asked her to sit in with us. It worked. We have had a few personnel changes since then, but we have kept the core of the band together and have really focused on making original music.
Q| It’s hard to come up with an original band name, but you managed. Where’s the name from?
A| 600 LBS OF SIN! is a very descriptive line from the Grateful Dead song “Dire Wolf”:
When I awoke, the Dire Wolf, 600 pounds of sin, was grinning at my window, all I said was come on in …”
Josh and I are unapologetic Deadheads. That song was from the era where they were transforming themselves from an experimental psychedelic band into a son- oriented, true Americana band. The vision we had for this band was to also be a song-oriented, American roots music band that has the ability to improvise in a live setting. However, 600LBS DOES NOT EQUAL OUR COMBINED WEIGHT!
We weigh much more than that.
Q| What’s a dream gig for 600 LBS OF SIN, if you could play anywhere? What is the band’s plan for world domination?
A| World Domination? I don’t know about all that. I would say ComCast and NewsCorp might already have that market cornered. However, we did just buy a 1991 International school bus and plan on traveling around this Summer to play for as many people as humanly possible. That is our plan. As far as a dream gig goes, I don’t know about that either. I really just want to play for as many people as we can. That is my only goal. I love music. I have a room full of old records in my house that I still listen to. One day, I would like for some kid in the future to listen to something I wrote. I really just want to make some sort of contribution to the musical landscape of America. I am in love with American music and want to be part of it.
Q| Do you hold out hope for the future of West Virginia as a seedbed for good living and creativity, and if so, why? And if not, why not?
A| West Virginia has always been my home. Even when I was living in other places, I was always a West Virginian. I will always call this my home. It has always been a great place to create and we have a rich cultural history to prove it. But we are a small state and sometimes it is best to take our creations elsewhere from time to time, so they can be heard by the outside world – and then bring them back to rest. I’ve always felt it was easier to love this place when you get a chance to get away from it often.
Q| (Ask yourself a question): Tell me about the rest of the band….
A| The key to success is to surround yourself with people that are more talented than you. I am good at doing that. The powerful voice you hear on “29” comes from a very small package: Sierra Ferrell. She has such an amazing voice. When I first met her she was hanging out at my house with her step-sister. At one point, I entered the room and she was singing along with a Joni Mitchell album. I thought, “Who in the hell is this little girl?” Years later, she resurfaced in Charleston and I knew I wanted to sing with her. So we do…and it works.
Josh Thomas is one of my favorite guitarists. Like I said before, he plays exactly what I want to hear (and I can be picky about what I want to hear). On a good night, he can create solos reminiscent of Clapton of the early 70’s – only if Clapton was from Loudendale and was steeped in old time and bluegrass music.
Nery Arevalo is a percussionist that I have had the pleasure of playing with since the early 1990s in my days with the Joint Chiefs. He has joined the group this Winter and has really filled out our sound, as well as providing us with a lot of insight into how this business works.
Steve Markle is a drummer that I have been friends with since before he was in the legendary, yet culturally confusing, Morgantown reggae band Rasta Rafiki. He is solid both musically and personally. He provides the beat on “29” and the rest of the EP.
The bassist on that track is one of my oldest friends, Matt Voth. Matt currently lives in Portland, Oregon. He was in town last Spring and we shanghaied him into the studio to lay down the first two tracks on this EP. His vast studio experience shows on his performance. We are currently working with Darrell Edgerton for our live shows. He plays with Full Flavor and has played in the Bob Thompson Unit.
I am thankful to be able to work with so many talented people.
Some say it’s almost heaven. I don’t know. You can see it from here.
Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.
The shaft drops even deeper ’til you can’t see us anymore.
We serve a life, or death, sentence for the crime of being poor.
25 is now 29
What’s mine is yours
‘Cause it damn sure ain’t mine
Should we fix it, shut it down, or just pay the fine?
25 is now 29.
Never did mind Mondays
and today we were s’posed to win it all.
Well, if not today then one day,
But life sure ain’t basketball.
Can’t seem to win for losing,
But I’ll be damned if I ever stop trying.
Go to work to earn a living on Monday
And one day, one day I’ll earn a dying.
Montani Semper Libri, maybe not free, but we work cheap.
Our reward’s in the by and by
Where the mountain’s high and the coal runs deep.
‘Til then we love the men we work for.
They feed our families, they pay our bills.
In kind, we dig their mines
And build their mansions on our hills.
PS : After you view the video above, view the video below