The Athens band Hog-Eyed Man is in a style category of its own. Self-described as “guardians of 19th century solo fiddle traditions from the Southern Appalachians,” Rob McMaken and Jason Cade seek to bring attention back to a genre of music that is often overlooked.
McMaken, a local high school teacher, and Cade, a University of Georgia law professor, created the band together after years of playing this style of music on their own. The pair started the group as a way to pay homage to the way that old, folk-type music was originally recorded. Their goal is to not only have fun, but to encourage listeners to go back to the roots of the songs they enjoy.
The duo enjoys collaborating with anyone who they feel fits their style—usually local artists. At this show, they will be performing with Athens native Art Rosenbaum. Hog-Eyed Man will play at White Tiger Gourmet with Don Chambers on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m.
The Red and Black spoke with Rob McMaken of Hog-Eyed Man about the band’s style, writing process and plans for the future.
Red and Black: Where did the name “Hog-Eyed Man” come from?
Rob McMaken: The more that Jason and I explored this repertoire of Appalachian fiddle music, we noticed there were a lot of references to this character, “The Hog-Eyed man,” and that was really fascinating to us. He seemed so mysterious, so I figured that would be a good band name.
R&B: How did you meet each other?
RM: IN 2003, both of us were hired to play on Jonathan Bird’s record, “The Sea and the Sky.” Five years later, I saw Jason again in Memorial Park in New York, after he had lived in New York for about 10 years. I had just stopped playing with another band, and I wasn’t looking to do anything professional–I just wanted to have some fun. After that, he moved down to Athens for his job and we started the band.
R&B: How did you guys get interested in this type of music?
RM: Jason grew up on a farm that his parents owned. Starting when he was eight years old, his parents would trade goat milk for lessons with Bruce Green, a renowned musician. When I was fifteen, I bought an Appalachian dulcimer and learned how to play it. Years later, I heard the music Jason was playing and I knew I needed to support it. We accompany each other really well.
R&B: How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard it?
RM: The music comes from southern Appalachia, so it’s super specific. Jason plays fiddle and banjo, and I play mandolin and Appalachian dulcimer while we both sing. Our sound has been called “one big instrument.” We’re very blended, and people will say they hear three or four instruments moving at once. This music is based on solo fiddle, odd time signatures and an absence of chords. I’d describe it as crooked, harsh and powerful, all blended together.
R&B: What can people expect from your show?
RM: Art Rosenbaum is playing with us at this show, which is really exciting. He used to be an art professor at UGA, and he’s also a really good musician. He really brings a lot of heart and deep understanding of music into what we’re doing. Some of what we’re performing was recorded in Athens. I’d call it a revival of music from this region.
R&B: How do you feel about playing with Don Chambers?
RM: He has a really engaging style, and I think it’ll be one of those shows that people will remember. Both of us would say that although we’re not in the same style, we complement each other.
R&B: Why did you choose White Tiger over the other venues in Athens?
RM: After living in New Orleans, I realized that high ceilings, old buildings and small spaces make a show great. When I was deciding where to play, I was actually eating in White Tiger, and I thought, “Why not here?” So I asked the owner, and he loved it. I’ve played all over the country, and it just seemed like a perfect venue. I also live two houses away, and there’s something great about being able to walk to the show with my family.
R&B: Would you consider “Hog-Eyed Man” an Athens band?
RM: Yes, and proudly so. We want people to know that we’re from here, not just because Athens is a cool place, but because it supports all kinds of music. We love it here.
R&B: Is there a possibility that Hog-Eyed Man will ever go on tour?
RM: We have more invitations than we have accepted. We are really happy to play gigs that are easy to get to, but when we have other opportunities, it never sounds perfect. Our full-time jobs make it difficult to commit to anything like that. We will go up to New York City and play a few shows, but other than that, we try to stick to the south.
R&B: How do you decide what tunes to play?
RM: We try to recreate what once was while still adding something new. Our process comes from 20 years of nerding out in the basement and learning old-time tunes. Jason will send me a whole batch of really scratch, old, archived recordings that he has, and after we listen to it, we’ll come together and try to play it. Then we’ll keep working to see if we can make it work as a duo. It’s ironic, because we’re playing old tunes, but without our iPhones and current technology, we wouldn’t have this band.
R&B: What do you do when you’re not playing music?
RM: I always joke with Jason about everything he does, because he’s a skater, a fiddle player, and an important law professor “on the side.” He came to Athens to be a law professor at UGA, and I teach Human Geography at a local high school here. We both have wives and children, so we stay pretty busy.
R&B: What is your goal as a band?
RM: Our goal is to encourage people to look at the deepest roots they can in the music they love. We’ve found a lot of ways songs have changed is that they have lost a lot of the expression that they originally had. The original coming together of music was pretty wild, and a lot different than people would think. We want people to dig deeper, and we want to show people the tunes as they were first heard.