Justin Vinson and Come Sundown
Justin Vinson is a country boy at heart, born and raised in Lake City, Arkansas, which he affectionately refers to as “Home of the Lake City Catfish.” Considering he grew up surrounded by the St. Francis River, cotton fields and southern churches, it’s no wonder that six years ago with the creation of his band, Come Sundown, his music career took a turn from the punk bands he was in as a teenager back toward his country roots.
Vinson was playing guitar in a band called Candy Coated Warheads that had started to disband when he started to think about taking his music in a different direction. “One evening I sat down with a half-gallon of Evan Williams whiskey and decided that I was going to embrace my southern roots,” Vinson said. The first five Come Sundown songs were written that night, and Vinson has kept at it ever since.
According to Vinson, his southern heritage plays a huge part in his writing. “Most everything that I write is drawn from images and my experiences growing up,” he said. “There’s a million and one ways to write an extended metaphor for what you’re trying to say, but it all has to come from your background, your schema, or you have no clue what you’re saying and it sounds completely emotionless.” Vinson said some of his influences are Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, as well as the train rhythms made popular by Johnny Cash. “It’s a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll, not to rip off the creepy Osmond twins,” he joked.
Operating in a fashion similar to the Mountain Goats or Bright Eyes, Come Sundown’s only constant member is Vinson, with a rotating line-up of collaborators coming in to accomplish whatever sound he’s after at the time. Come Sundown started as punk infused country, but slowly transformed into slower alt-country with time. “It seems that due to my personality type I keep members revolving,” Vinson said. “I’m sure in another six months I’ll be playing with different guys.”
Current Come Sundown drummer Jeremy Speakes is a frequent accomplice of Vinson, which is no surprise considering they’ve known each other their whole lives. “Jeremy and I have been friends since we were two years old,” Vinson said. “We’ve spent 90 percent of our lives together.”
The two started being in bands together in junior high, and due to this familiarity and the history they have together as musicians, it’s easy for them to work together, despite the fact that Speakes currently lives in North Carolina.
John Parks of Batesville, Arkansas, is another of Vinson’s collaborators, writing songs, playing lead guitar, and providing back-up vocals for Come Sundown. Both Speakes and Parks are on Come Sundown’s first studio album, God, Love, & Loss, to be released later this year.
Recorded last summer at Landslide Studios in Asheville, North Carolina, the album was a departure from the usual DIY recordings that Vinson was used to. “Recording at a friend’s house, you’re really not spending any money,” he explained. “But when you’re in the studio and every second that ticks all you can think about is dollar signs, it’s pretty stressful.”
While that album is being finalized, Come Sundown has taken on a new project with Juli Jackson, a filmmaker from Paragould, Arkansas, who is working on a feature film entitled 45RPM. Jackson intends to feature as many Arkansas bands as possible, and Come Sundown is writing songs in the vein of 60s southern garage rock for the film. Writing in the 60’s style is a challenging change of pace for Vinson and Parks, who have performed quite a bit of research in order to get the right sound. “It’s been incredibly difficult,” Vinson said. “We’ve researched a lot about 1964, we’ve looked at all the number ones, pretty much the Billboard top fifty for that year, and we started sifting through the ideas in the songs, the messages behind them, and how they worded each one.”
As for the exposure 45RPM might bring for the sometimes overlooked artists in Arkansas, Vinson thinks it can only be a good thing. ” I feel really grateful that Juli has thought to include us in this film,” he said. “Her using local bands is phenomenal. It gives all these bands an audience finally.”
When discussing the progress and future of the Northeast Arkansas music scene, Vinson said that even though technology is making it easier for new bands to get their music out there, people are still doing primarily the same things that they were 10 years ago when he started getting serious about music.
“I think I’m probably just a bitter, jaded old man,” Vinson said. “Honestly, I’m 30 years old and I’ve been playing music since I was 16. A lot has happened. Everything repeats itself.”
When he’s not recording albums or writing songs for films, Vinson is a full-time 11th grade English teacher, and graduated this spring with a Master’s in Educational Leadership with hopes of becoming a principal in the near future. He’s also engaged to marry his girlfriend of eight years, and recently bought his first home. Due to his busy schedule, his music often has to take a backseat to other responsibilities, at least until summer break. With God, Love, & Loss being released, Vinson hopes to be able to take an Interstate 40 tour next summer to perform at venues in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Asheville . With Come Sundown’s studio album near completion, a tour being planned, and projects with other artists in progress, Vinson is hopeful for the future of his music career. “It feels great,” he said. “Like all this work has been worth it.”