"It's all about the South!" goes the chorus to the Cadillac Three's biggest hit, a Dixieland anthem that rattles off the names of more than a half-dozen Bible Belt states. But while the trio may be steeped in Southern pride, they also have a major fan base overseas and tour there regularly. Like Kings of Leon before them, they're poised for their first big break in the U.K. — where they've sold out every headlining show for nearly two years — before conquering their U.S. home turf.
"Tom Petty is a huge influence on us," frontman Jaren Johnston says from a pit stop in South Carolina, where a malfunctioning bus has left the guys temporarily stranded at Buffalo Wild Wings. "We love the way he runs his show and his business. You know, that whole Damn the Torpedoes mindset. The Heartbreakers were gigantic over in Europe before they were a dot on the map here, even in their hometown of Gainesville. It's cool for us to get to experience that, too. That's a dream every rock kid has — 'Man, wouldn't it be cool to land over in the U.K. and hear ourselves on the radio?' — and that's happened for us."
The Cadillac Three wrapped up an overseas run last week and flew home on November 13th, the same day as the terrorist attacks in Paris, where 89 people were killed at an Eagles of Death Metal concert. (In total, an estimated 129 people died in assaults around the city). Johnston and his bandmates watched the news footage on their tour bus, while heading to a stateside gig in Birmingham, Alabama. With another European tour scheduled to kick off in late January, no one would blame the guys for ringing up their agent and postponing all overseas shows. But Johnston and drummer Neil Mason say they're committed to making the return trip — and not only in January, but as often as possible. Below, in their own words, they explain why it's essential that they continue to bring Southern rock to U.K. crowds.
Johnston: We've gone overseas six or seven times in the past two years. We went over there the first time and did a headlining show in London, just because we'd heard there was some excitement brewing, and it sold out within a day. Since then, every headlining show we've done over there has been sold out. I think people out that way love that Southern rock situation.
Mason: We were actually in London this past weekend. We played the O2 Islington, and it was just us and 800 kids — completely sold out. It was awesome. We got to pop over to Abbey Road the next day and record some songs, too, which was a dream for all of us. Then we came home the same night that the attacks happened.
Johnston: We literally got home, got off the plane, got on a bus and went to Birmingham to play another show. We were watching it happen on the bus. It was crazy, seeing that shit on TV. You're sitting there, thinking, "Well, shit, man. Why?" It's such a surreal thing. We were worried about our friends, too. Eagles of Death Metal is one of my favorite bands, man. Julian [Dorio], a good friend from the Whigs, was playing drums for them.
Mason: It could've happened at any show. It could've happened anywhere in the world. All these bands are out there, and they're all doing what they love doing, and you just can't just stop doing what you're doing, just because someone is being completely senseless. It's a terrible thing that happened, but it's also the sort of thing where you have to keep your head up and move forward.
Johnston: There's that human moment where you're totally scared, though. We all looked at each other and said, "Wow, what if that had happened in London?" We're going back over there in January, but what if something had happened last weekend, while we were still there? Buddy, I'd be lying to you if I said we would've pulled a Kacey Musgraves and said, "We're not canceling our shows for nothin'." But Good Lord willing, we're gonna try our best to get back over there, because we love it. What's happened over there for us is indescribable. We have to go back.
Mason: We're hitting ten cities. It'll be our biggest headlining tour to date. All the clubs are getting bigger. It's exciting; we've been over there so much in the past year and half, and each time, it's like, "OK, here's 300 more kids at this show. Here's 500 more kids at this other show." We're bringing along our good friends from Texas, Whiskey Myers. They took us out on the road when we first started, so we're excited to repay the favor.
Johnston: Music can help you deal, you know? In Birmingham, dude, I just poured a tall glass of something and we hit the stage and just rocked out. It was a relief to get up there and do what we do. A lot of the kids had been in the club all night and hadn't even seen the TV yet, so they didn't know what was going on. It was emotional for us. I think I said, "I'm glad to be home, I'm glad to be here, and let's all help each other." It was a good night.
Mason: I think it's important that everyone comes together and and says, "This is not the way the majority of the world wants to treat each other," and music is a good outlet for that. To see people coming together and being part of a crowd again, right after those attacks — that's standing up to it. Because the truth of the matter is, what terrorists want is for people to hide. They want people to cancel shows. And we're not gonna do that.
Johnston: You can't live life scared. You've gotta go for it. That's where we're at, mentally. We're excited to go back there and kick some teeth in.