BACK in 2011, when Kayne Lanahan was planning the first ever Savannah Stopover, she asked her Brooklyn friends in Country Mice to be part of the show.
Ten years on, Country Mice has played the festival more than any repeats, returning this year for their sixth appearance.
Country Mice has been a band for twelve years total, but after a short break, they reunited three years ago to return to play the festival they love.
We spoke with guitarist Ben Bullington last week about the evolution of Stopover, putting on a good live show, and after parties past.
You played the first Savannah Stopover ten years ago. How did you get involved with them that first year?
Back in the day, when Kayne was living in New York, she was running a music blog and I think she had interviewed us for the blog, but we became connected to her somehow; we became friendly. She ended up going back to Savannah with this dream of starting the Stopover. When she did, she reached out to us asking if we’d be interested in playing. We went back and forth, and she sort of recruited us to get in touch with our other friends who were in bands and see if they’d be interested in playing it also.
The idea was that it was this swing stop where all these New York and East coast bands would come down, swing through Savannah on their way to SXSW, and that’s what we did. We pulled down some friends with us and did what we could to help support making it a thing.
I think we played Stopover six times or so over the years. We’d always just get invited back. I think at some point, it became a standing invitation, where Kayne told us if we ever wanted to play Stopover, we had an unlimited invitation to play it whenever we wanted to.
Do you think the festival has changed in the years since it first started?
It has. I remember those first several years; the staff that ran it was pretty consistent over those first several years, so when we would come down they were our Savannah family. We’d all hang out together and go to all the after parties and stuff. And then people got different jobs and things like that, so the personnel has changed over time. It’s a little different just because of that.
But I remember early on, those first couple years, they had this thing where they’d do these after parties, but they’d be in these historic homes throughout Savannah. So these incredible house parties in these beautiful old homes. I remember one house had a giant statue of a giraffe in the backyard that people were climbing on and sitting on, hanging out in the attic, things like that.
I think we should revive that tradition, because that sounds awesome.
I think they’ve reined in the after parties! I think after a while they ended up doing all the after parties in one space that they rented out—that has its perks also.
But I always remember the selling point of this festival early on, and I think it’s still the selling point today, is that it was going to be the festival that treated bands really well. Kayne always had that in mind. So it’s all about coming down and getting catered dinners, free drinks, these really great tote bags full of goodies, things like that. That was kind of the idea. Our friends would come down and be like, “Man, this is amazing!” For bands just starting out, you play pretty ratty venues and stuff. You have to foot the bill to get from place to place for the most part because you love it, because you want to make something out of it. You come to Savannah and you get treated in this way that’s so much better than other festivals and other venues.
It’s been cool to see Stopover change over the years and incorporate more local musicians into the festival.
I’m curious to see what the evolution of it is, too. I think it’s poised to have an evolution. I’m glad it’s still going on, because SXSW is not the same kind of draw that it used to be, where bands would show up and immediately have this chance of meeting a booking agent or running into the record label executives or get written up in Pitchfork. It doesn’t have as much impact like it used to because it developed over time and became a little more corporate, and bands like Stone Temple Pilots were playing.
But it’s nice to see that Stopover is still holding it down, and I’m curious to see and even talk to Kayne about what her plans are for the future of Stopover, because it could be its own thing. I fell in love with Savannah from going to these, but it’s also in this particular place, this beautiful place with lots of music venues and a pretty active nightlife and you have SCAD students there, it’s not too far away from Atlanta so people can make the trip. It could be its own standalone thing.
Country Mice has been together for twelve years and chose to reunite a few years ago. How’d you come to that decision to reunite?
I think it was about three years ago that we made the decision that we wanted to play the Stopover again, actually. We always had other stuff we were working on on the side, and everybody moved away, really, is what happened. One guy moved upstate in New York, another guy moved to the Midwest, I moved out of New York City, and we all just did our own thing for a little bit, other projects or family or career or whatever.
Then three years ago, we kind of all got itchy. We got the itch to play with each other and see each other again. And the Stopover always brings us back, in a way. At the time, we were going to try to play it every two years, and then that didn’t work this last year—we couldn’t quite get it together.
Three years ago we ended up meeting up in New York at our friend’s place upstate and we just took over his house, rehearsed for a couple days, and then we did a little tour down the East coast and ended up in Savannah.
To take it back, how did you guys get first together?
I met Jason [Rueger] through a mutual friend of mine, not necessarily through college but through college friends. Jason and I both went to the University of Kansas together, but we didn’t know each other at all when we were there. It was when Jason was moving up to New York City that this friend reached out and was like, “Hey, you guys should meet each other and hang out and maybe play music.” So Jason and I started hanging out, started writing some songs together.
Jason was working at Mexican Summer record label and he met Kurt Kuehn who was also interning there. We brought him in and we had a series of bass players until we met Mike [Feldman], who was a friend of ours’ brother. He just fit right in.
We knew we wanted to start a band, we knew we wanted to play shows, and we just kind of made a decision that we were going to play a show by the end of the year in 2008. And we booked a show on December 27 or something like that, just to do it, and we did it. And it seemed to click with people. People came to the show, people seemed to like it, so we just kept doing it and just rolled on from there.
We started getting a little competitive about it, where we wanted to get better and better. For whatever bill we were playing, we wanted to be the band that people walked away saying “Wow” for that night. We ended up opening for some pretty decent bands, touring all over the country.
What can people expect from your set?
Well, we’ve always been more of a live band, so the songs we have on our album are a lot less, I would say, alive than what we do in person. Our shows always involve some sort of element of something else, so some sort of jam that gets thrown in or some cover song or something like that. It’s just a lot more amped up than when we play live. If there was one thing we wanted to do well, it was put on a live show.