The Dirty Guv'nahs is a Roots Rock/Southern Rock Band based right here in Knoxville, TN that's been growing in local and national popularity. I sat down with James Trimble, the lead singer of this "fiercely soulful band” (Boston Globe), to discuss what brought him to Knoxville and why he stays.
We'll start kind of generally. Who are the Dirty Guv's?
We are a band that loves the Rolling Stones, we love The Band, we love what I would consider good southern rock. We’re not country, but we’re not truly alternative, either. We appeal to the Southeast and to people in other regions that love the South: people that love the Allman Brothers and love that old southern music. We like the full boar energy that exists within the Roots Rock/Southern Rock genre and from the beginning we’ve been a six piece band, which is always gonna be loud—there’s really no getting around it.
How did you get started?
The Dirty Guv'nahs started honestly just on a whim. There was one concert that needed an opening band, and a friend of mine, Justin Hoskins, told them, “Hey, I’m in a band,” which was a total lie. He came home and told the rest of us that we were starting a band and our first gig was in thirteen days. And that was that. None of us had been in a band before, so this whole thing has been a learning process. In the beginning, you know, we were still learning our instruments, I’d never sung in front of people before, never been on stage. We’ve been really lucky and somehow it’s just worked.
Where’d the name “Dirty Guv'nahs” come from?
Well, the same day that Justin came home and said, “We have to start a band,” we get a phone call from Richard “The Guv'nah” Barry, saying that he had broken his ankle while hiking the Appalachian Trail, and he needed someone to come pick him up. We go pick him up, and on the ride home, we tell him about the band, and he proceeds to tell us the people that had to be in it with us. It was, at that time, such a joke, such a whim, that we just said, “Alright, yeah, we’ll call those guys.” [laughs]
So why’d they call him the Dirty Guv'nah?
Oh yea, well, when he was in high school, he used to sneak into some bar in Chattanooga call “The Governor’s Lounge,” this real off-the-wall, kinda seedy place. So his friends started calling him “The Dirty Guv'nah” and the name just stuck.
Why stay in Knoxville?
I just fell in love with Knoxville, truthfully. There’s something about Knoxville... it’s a place where I felt like exciting things had the possibility of taking off, but at the same time I felt like I was somebody. Knoxville offers this other type of experience, because it’s big enough to have a lot of amazing things going on, but it also feels like a place where you can belong and be part of the growth. And that growth is not only happening in the hands of people who have lived here for fifty years and have millions of dollars. People are creating cool things out of nothing here, and that’s exciting. Smaller ideas can take hold here in a way that they can’t take hold in [bigger cities]. With the Dirty Guv's, Knoxville gave us that chance to grow, and it helped us figure out who we were.
What's the best thing about living in Knoxville?
I would say, for me, it’s the access to both a city environment and an outdoors environment. It’s just really cool to see a place where people can come and hang and play, and at the same time, you’re forty-five minutes from all these experiences in the Smoky Mountains, and just an hour or so from Big South Fork. [Before I moved to Knoxville], hiking was something I’d do, what, like maybe once every four years? Like on vacation. Not on a weekend. Not until I moved to Knoxville, that is.
Do you have a favorite outdoor destination out here?
I’ve done the Honey Creek Loop up in Big South Fork four times in the last two years. It’s an incredible five miles. You go over Honey Creek about eight times, and if you go after it’s rained a decent amount, it’s a true adventure. You get significantly wet, you have to climb up on rocks, there are about three massive formations where you’re like this tiny figure underneath this 200 ft rock overhang. At one point there’s this ladder that you have to climb up that's like 200 ft, straight up, and you can overlook all of Big South River. It’s awesome.
I also love the Smokies. My brother came into town, and you know, he’s lived everywhere in the world—Alaska, Oregon, Wyoming—and I remember when he came to Knoxville and I told him, “I want you to experience the Chimney Tops at sunrise” so we got up there, you know, hiked it in the dark, and felt the sunrise, and it was amazing.
Most—if not all—of your videos are shot in Knoxville. Why has shooting in Knoxville been important to you?
From the beginning, we knew that the one thing we could do was stake a claim in Knoxville and shout it from the rooftops: we love Knoxville; this is who we are. I talk about Knoxville every time we’re on the road. At every single show. We shot all of our videos here as part of that same vision. We wanted to make music videos that showcase Knoxville. It’s home, and our image as a band has always been, “We’re those guys you know.” A lot of that has to do with the kind of music we create. You don’t make Southern Rock music and then make videos that give off some mysterious GQ persona.
We’ve worked with a company called Badland Pictures for all of our videos. They were in undergrad as the band was starting, and as we’ve grown as a band, they’ve really grown as a production company. I mean, they’re doing unbelievable stuff now.
What’s been one of your more memorable experiences in the outdoors?
One of my lower moments was this night right before I got married. I was just in a really hard place with the band. The travel, the ups and downs, the financial difficulty. Managing all that is really tough, especially when half the band is married and having kids. You start thinking that there’s a lot more at stake than me, myself and I, here. And the artistic side was really eating at me: How do I get better? What am I doing with my life?
I had all this on my mind, and I went up to Clingmans Dome and I slept in my car, and it was so cold outside. I was wrapped up in the back of my jeep in blankets and a sleeping bag. I woke up at 5am and I walked up to [the tower] to see the sunrise, and it was just such a cool experience to get some perspective. I always connect with nature, especially in those moments of , “Uh, what am I doing? God, why am I here? Why on earth am I doing this thing?” I always connect with nature in those situations.