A Veteran Rock Photographer Takes A Turn At The Mic

Aug 11, 2013
Originally published on August 14, 2013 2:09 pm

As the former chief photographer for Rolling Stone magazine, Mark Seliger was used to being up close to musical stardom, shooting everyone from Kurt Cobain and Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones and Katy Perry. But these days Seliger may need to get used to seeing his own face in magazines: His band Rusty Truck has just come out with its second album, Kicker Town. Seliger spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about growing up in Texas and "trying to put the Western back in country"; click the audio link to hear their conversation.

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As the former chief photographer for Rolling Stone magazine, Mark Seliger was used to being up close to musical stardom, shooting everyone from Kurt Cobain and Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones and Katy Perry. But these days, Seliger may need to get used to seeing his own face on the cover of Rolling Stone. His band Rusty Truck has just come out with its second CD.


RUSTY TRUCK: (Singing) Early in the morning, you can hear a little rooster lotus calling out your name, but ain't it a shame? I don't like the way you talk about it, Jimmy (unintelligible) and Sally Jo past the lane, and I think it's a shame.

MARTIN: Rusty Truck's new album is called "Kicker Town." And on it, as one reviewer put it, Texas native Mark Seliger, quote, "whips up a blend of roadhouse rock 'n' roll, guitar-driven blues and Lone Star country." Mark Seliger joins us from our studios in New York. Welcome to the program, Mark.

MARK SELIGER: Good morning, Rachel. Great to be here with you.

MARTIN: Great. We're so happy to have you. So, that description I just read about you - do you think that suits you well?

SELIGER: I think one of the aspects of growing up in Texas in the '70s, you know, country-western was a big part of music at that time. So, we're trying to put the western back into country on this. And it has a lot of references, I think, back to that world as well.

MARTIN: I want to talk about how your life as a photographer has informed your life as a musician. I imagine there were some interesting intersection.

SELIGER: Oh, absolutely. When I see something and record it, it becomes sort of fair play in songwriting as well. For instance, I spent some time in Paducah, Texas photographing a small-town rodeo. And as I was making my way through Main Street, it really provoked a sense of kind of a world forgotten. And in looking back on the contact sheets and making the photographs, I could take that experience and take those images and start to create a story in my mind, maybe a fictitious story about a wanderer or a love story or something romantic. Those things helped to create, to build that intersection for music.

MARTIN: And it's all about storytelling for you and to some degree in both photography and music.

SELIGER: It starts, I think, it's like a nagging child. It's like one line that pops into your head and it grows, you know, with a melody and just keep going back to it and reworking it. And eventually it does become a character or something that I'm working through myself. Sometimes, it's kind of a darkness that I need to find my way out of.


TRUCK: (Singing) Cracker Jack Sunday on sweet late nights...

MARTIN: This one feels very classically old-timey.


TRUCK: (Singing) I'm coming on to see you, Lord, try to make time, I'm heading on from Dallas on the old 45. And it's just like heaven...

SELIGER: Well, it's a little bit of a wink to, like, a Ralph Stanley song. And I wrote that many years ago. And it's about growing up in Houston and it's actually about the first love of my life and going to her apartment when I was in my first year in school and the rain was falling down and she was playing old records on her stereo. And it just had this, like, fantastic afternoons of playing music and talking and getting to know each other.


TRUCK: (Singing) I'm looking out your window, it's good pouring rain, and Jimmy puts another record on the old stereo. And dance away our troubles ever again. Jimmy puts another record on the old stereo. Dance away our troubles ever again.

MARTIN: I wonder if you've actually gotten to collaborate musically with people you have photographed earlier on?

SELIGER: Well, I have. It's always a remarkable experience to be able to meet your idols. And I think when I take an assignment as a photographer, whether it's working for Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair or Details, whatever magazine I'm working for, I get a chance to do a fair amount of research and get to know the music. And when I started to think about just writing one or two songs, I had been working with the Wallflowers. And Jakob Dylan knew about, you know, my found passion. And I, you know, I played him kind of the beginnings of one song called "Never Going Back," kind of as a friend. And he took me into the studio and he recorded "Never Going Back," which was on our first record, Rusty Truck first record. And Jacob really helped me in showing me the 101 school of, you know, making a record. So, I had a chance to see the way that musicians worked and the process which I found to be just incredible.


TRUCK: (Singing) And I close my eyes sometimes, and I close them in the sun. And I feel my winds changing. Well, my memories out of time. I ain't never going back, I ain't never going back, I ain't never going back...

MARTIN: I wonder if making music has made you better at seizing the moment, at taking portraits of musicians.

SELIGER: Oh, absolutely. I think that having the ability to walk away from the pleasures of writing music and making music with people and then going into the appreciation of the way that an artist works and the process of the way that an artist works has rekindled my experience in portraiture and also pulling new ideas for myself and to build from there. But absolutely, the two work hand-in-hand.

MARTIN: There's a lovely tune I'd like to finish up with. This one is called "Beautiful Pain." Before we hear some of this song, can you give us the backstory of this track?

SELIGER: Really, this song - I'm glad you picked it out - set the tone for the rest of the record. We wanted it to have this kind of spare quality to the recordings and to be able to have air and to move through the music but also for there to be a real presence to the voices and to the harmonies, which is really important, I think.


TRUCK: (Singing) And I pray to myself something's changing my head. My heart forget me said (unintelligible) and knows not in a way for my beautiful pain...

MARTIN: Mark Seliger. His band is Rusty Truck. Their new CD is called "Kicker Town." Mark joined us from our studios in New York City. It was so fun to talk with you. Thank you so much for making time.

SELIGER: Thank you so much, Rachel. I enjoyed the experience. It was great talking with you, as well.


MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.