Dangling well turned phrases from sharply hooked melodies, the Recipe cook up tasty tunes with a heaping helping of love
by Lee Abraham
Sometimes you just have to sing along. Who knows why. That’s just the way it is. Everybody does it. Some folks sing anytime, anywhere. Others are stealthy, only loosening the pipes while speeding down the freeway. Stop at a red light, they stop singing. Doesn’t matter. Shouting shoulder to shoulder in a hot and sweaty night club or yodeling with abandon in the privacy of one’s own shower, it’s all the same - everybody sings along with music they relate to. It feels good. From the stage, watching wall flower inhibition give way to dance floor swagger is as good as it gets.
"We are rarely in front of an indifferent audience," says Joe Prichard of the Recipe. "We’re not always in front of a large audience, and we’re often in front of a small audience. But no matter how small, the excitement in their eyes makes it very easy for us to stay motivated. We realize we’re doing something good for people... even people that won’t come back, or won’t buy the CD, while they’re there, they’re affected by it. It’s just too rewarding to stop."
A key ingredient of the Recipe’s live performances are the songs themselves. Skilled tunesmiths, the West Virginia band’s ’98 release, -Night Of the Porch People-, was an instant classic in jamband circles for its strong melodies and well crafted lyrics. And their sound is distinctive - toe tappin’, acoustic guitar driven, fiddle-fired mountain-pop, with unmistakable male/female harmonies from the American heartland. Literally. Thanks in no small part to Kristen Wolverton, there’s lots of unabashed love in the Recipe’s music. In addition to fronting the band, Wolverton also writes some of the songs.
"There’s really no formula," says Prichard about splitting the songwriting with Wolverton. "‘Little Yellow Pepper’ is a good example. I had the chord changes and I was playing it in the van. Kristen just started singing over it. The ones I labor over usually never see the light of day, and the ones that pop out in five minutes are the ones you hear us playing." Lately, the songs have been popping out. If everything goes according to plan, the Recipe will hit the recording studio in April to cut a new album they hope to release in the fall.
The cache of fresh tunes is already overflowing. Prichard feels that the new stuff is some of their best. "Lyrically, ‘Real Wild Cinema’ is probably my favorite," says Prichard. "Every songwriter comes to that point where they have to write a song about what’s been happening to the band... we’re not real out front with it, but it’s obvious when you listen to the lyrics what we’re singing about." Being able to sing his own lyrics means a lot to Prichard. He’s overcome adversity to achieve it. Growing up in West Virginia, Prichard suffered from Attention Deficiency Syndrome. "I had a really bad case of A-D-S when I was a kid," says Prichard. "As far as taking lessons and staying focused on them for very long, I couldn’t do it." In sixth grade a friend showed him the guitar chords to a Kiss song. "That’s when I realized how easy it was to just put chords and melodies together," he says. "I was like, ‘Well hell, you can do it how ever you want, can’t you?’"
Although interested in music, Prichard also had an aptitude for sports. Wresting in particular. In high school he won the State Championship for the 155 pound weight class. After graduation, Prichard enrolled in West Virginia University to study English and continue wrestling. After his freshman year though, an operation to remove a cyst from his tailbone put an end to wrestling. "I was going to lose eighteen months, and you can’t lose eighteen months in that sport. You’re done," says Prichard. "So of course, what the hell do I have to do all day? Play guitar and start writing songs again."
Somewhere along the line, Prichard left school to pursue music full time. "I was always working on a project that was concerned with the songs that I had written," he says. "Obviously, to get work, around here playing, you had to do other things." It was an uneasy compromise. "The Recipe happened when I was ready to give up on it," recalls Prichard. That was early ‘95. He was twenty-eight and had been playing locally for nine years. "Cover bands, heavy metal, funk, country bands, punk, whatever." Nothing clicked. "I was so frustrated with everything, but especially frustrated with being in bands. I still loved playing music, but being in bands was such a hassle. Everyone was so lazy, nobody really wanted to work at it. It was just a party."
Things got so bad, Prichard was ready to go back to school and finish his English degree. "I just decided to go out with my acoustic guitar, when I wanted to, without any concerns or hassles, goals or expectations. I was basically like, ‘Forget it, I’m gonna have fun now, I don’t care any more.’ And as soon as I didn’t care anymore..." Prichard’s voice tails off as begins to tell the story. "I was hosting open mic. night every Monday. I’d play a half hour set and then I would drink and take the door money while everyone else played. The musicians just slowly came. One by one. They would hear me do my songs and decided they wanted to play with me. And I thought, ‘Oh God, here we go again... what the hell!’" When Wolverton joined the band in June of ’95, the Recipe was complete. "Kristen is our franchise player," says Prichard. "Kristen Wolverton has developed a name for herself. A big part of why people come to see the Recipe is because this chick is gonna wail."
Another part of the attraction - the warm sense of community that develops at Recipe shows. "We’ve seen people taking pictures of the crowd and everyone in the crowd is smiling," says Wolverton. "Sometimes we see people just holding hands, they’ll hug one another, or sing to each other. That’s what it’s about. It’s what we’re doing to them." Prichard Agrees. "We get e-mails from couples saying, ‘We met at one of your shows two years ago and now we’ve been happily married for a year, or whatever. You’re creating one extremely happy moment after another, night after night after night. You can’t stop doing that."