Richard Speight Jr. is an incredible actor who’s given us plenty of memorable characters; chances are you know him from Supernatural, although I still have a soft spot for the role he played on The Agency. What audiences may not know is that he’s also a musician with his band, Dick Jr. and the Volunteers.
To celebrate the release of the group’s newest music video for “Goin’ Straight,” which was filmed entirely from home as the band members shot their own individual footage during lockdown, I connected with Richard to discuss his long-running music career and how he continues to flourish as an artist in every respect.
Brittany Frederick: Your music career is not a new thing; you’ve been active in the music world for a while. How do you sustain it amongst all your acting projects?
Richard Speight Jr.: Music has always been something that I do. Acting and directing and writing have always been my career pursuits – always something I do, but also as my career. Music hasn’t been a career pursuit; music has been a passion of sorts. I’d say a passion-hobby.
I always equate playing guitar, for me, to playing pick-up basketball. I love it, I find it just an absolute blast and very freeing. But I put all my energy in carving out a career into acting, writing, directing. Music is pure fun. Keeping that separation of energies, I was able to sort of keep music alive for the majority of my life.
BF: Several of the musicians I’ve interviewed recently have spoken about how the pandemic has stretched them creatively. Can you walk me through the story of this single and this video, and how the current situation shaped them?
RSJ: This single was recorded before before lockdown, and it’s part of a full album called The Dance and How to Do It.. The video idea happened in response to the COVID-19 lockdown. Suddenly, the kids were not at school; they were at home doing school. I have three boys, 13, 11, and eight in ages (back when lockdown started). We were following the rules, and the rules kept you at home. They kept you alone and kept you in your own little enclave. And I get antsy; I like to do stuff. I’m not a sit around and watch grass grow guy. So I thought, well, if I’m stuck here, I’m going to do something fun. I’m going to make a music video!
It’s an upbeat song, and you need something upbeat in these times. I was pretty sure the band would be on board. Emma [Fitzpatrick] is super-creative, for example, and always game for anything. I know tough times can inspire some tough, inspiring music, and that’s awesome and much needed. But at this moment, I thought, well, a toe-tapper would be nice. So let’s make this video and have fun with it! It will be a hoot for us to make and hopefully an upbeat experience for people to watch. And that’s what we did.
I worked with my sons on it, and that made it really cool. My oldest boy Steve shot all my underwater footage. My middle son Fletch operated playback. And then Frank, who was in second grade, he and I would take breaks from school and come up with little shots to shoot, like up through the glass or me coming backwards out of the pool. We’d talk about it and we’d do it, watch playback and decide if we liked it, and so on. It was really solid father-son bonding.
I enjoyed the process because I was having fun and challenging myself at the same time to be as creative as possible with zero dollars and zero crew. And that made it incredibly freeing. I didn’t have to worry about coloring within the lines, because it was my crayon and there were no lines. So the boys and I could do whatever we wanted to do.
BF: But like you said, you don’t do this alone. Tell me about the Volunteers and what you love so much about this group and working with them creatively. Why is this the right group of people for you?
RSJ: I think you can really start that conversation with two people, and that’s Jason Manns and Billy Moran. Those are the two guys I knew the best when we started this whole idea. Jason Manns got the ball rolling; he was the driving force behind my making an album. “Let’s make an album! We can do this! come on, Rich, rah rah!” He brought that energy to the whole thing. I trust Jason, I trust his sensibilities, and he’s a good dude and we get along really well. So I knew it’d be fun.
But I was definitely a little out of my comfort zone at first. I have played in bands my whole life, but I haven’t been a recording artist my whole life. I’ve made some demos and I’ve made another album in the mid ’90s with a different band, but I was a bass player and guitar player, I wasn’t the front man. And so that created a different kind of pressure. Also, this was my first time recording alt-country (or ‘drunk country’ as we dubbed it). But this is the style of music I’ve always wanted to pursue. And Jason Manns put together a hell of a squad.
I mentioned Billy Moran because Billy is a good friend, like Jason, and somebody I trust. Both those guys have different backgrounds but meld together really well. And we all know each other well and speak freely to each other about what we think works and what doesn’t work. It mattered to me to have guys I know involved. I needed that.
In terms of shaping the sound, look no further than Zachary Ross. Jason recruited him specifically for this band. He’s from Missouri, so he “gets” country, and he’s also a blazing blues guy. Anything with strings on it, he can play. He brought fresh ears and a different perspective that really kicked everything up a notch – little country, a little ballsy, a little bluesy, a little badass…and he just shook all that up and dumped it out for every track, creating a really unique through-line of sound that everybody else, including myself, was able to get a toehold into and build around.
Rob Humphreys, the drummer, is the professor of all things rhythmic. He’s such a cool guy, so freakin’ spot on all the time, and looks surprisingly good in a jumpsuit. And Cooper Appelt, the bass player is good and just so chill. Down for anything, so smart, and just always laying down a rock-solid foundation.
Billy was the hammer, coming in with his heavier rock background to lay down some key guitar hook lines that melded with Zach’s choices beautifully. Different guys, different styles, differently approaches, great mix. And then there’s my secret weapon – Emma Fitzpatrick.
I’ve heard Emma sing over the years with other folks and in her own bands. She’s a force of nature – stunning voice, amazing stage presence, you name it. She was one of the first people I reached out to, because I just think she’s a freight train of talent. Her voice is a razor sharp blade that cuts through everything. She’s way beyond working with the likes of me, but somehow I lured her into doing it.
And she came up with the idea for the song “Goin’ Straight”! Zach Ross and I helped finish it off, but she walked in the door with that title, vibe and half the lyrics good to go. I actually ran into her backstage at a Supernatural convention in some city and she sang me this first verse (which ended up being the second verse). She sang that to me backstage saying, I’ve written a song and I think it’s going to work for you and your band of nuts. And she was right.
I wrote the next verse and Zach Ross rounded out the music and boom, we had a song. Her voice is a key component throughout the record. Either out front with me, or in back carving out stunning melodies, she’s all over the record and just elevates the whole thing.
I just feel so lucky to have this group of people, all of whom are far more talented than I, as a part of the sound. I mean that with the greatest respect. They are phenomenal players, I am lucky that Jason roped them into my world. And then Zach brought all these other people who just crushed it. Molly Rogers played fiddle and viola on “Raspberry Beret” and a bunch of other tracks, Ben Peeler played pedal steel, lap steel, banjo, and brought a real country stank [to] every track he touched.
It was just so freaking fun to be a part of this and to watch it all come to life. I mean, we would find the vibe for these tunes in the studio, and some of the tracks you hear, that’s the take. We tweaked here and there, but we would find a jam and then we’d look around at each other and be like, “Well that’s a song that’s going to be on the record. Everybody back away slowly – I think we’re done.” That gave the music a live feel, an organic feel, not an over-produced feel. I might sound a bit hippie-ish about it, but sometimes it just happened.
Coop and Humphreys know each other, they know Jason, they know Billy. Zach was new, but he knew Molly and Ben. So you’ve got these new faces mixed with the veterans. It was like two clumps of folks: Jason, Emma, Humphreys, Coop, and Billy in one clump. Then Zach Ross, Ben Peeler, and Molly Rogers in another clump. And those clumps got together and made a helluva talented huge clump, and everybody was digging what each other [was] bringing to the table and respecting each other and gleaning from each other and playing off each other. I just got the hell out of the way and enjoyed the show.
We did one track where it’s Billy and Zach dueling guitar solos – “24 Hours a Day”, the first track on the album. They recorded that live, and I was watching them do these dueling guitar solos going and it just blew me away. I felt like I should have paid for the seat I was sitting in because this was unbelievable. These two dudes were going at it; it was a guitar dogfight. It’s just great and inspiring to watch great people do great things, and then realize that you’re going to get to reap the benefits of those talents. That’s rare and awesome, and that’s why the record works.
BF: Is there anything you want people to know about Richard Speight Jr. the musician that maybe they haven’t yet? How would you describe that part of your career as opposed to being an actor?
RSJ: Doing a record to me is never about me doing a record. Doing a record to me is about being part of a unit. It’s a team sport, in the same way that directing is a team sport, and acting is a team sport. I need you to be awesome in order for me to do my best work. Whether I’m on stage with you as an actor, on set with you as an actor, behind the camera as a director, if I’ve written the script, I want it delivered at a high level. It takes everybody doing their best work to create something cool.
And it should be fun. Have fun while you’re doing your best and pushing yourself (even if you have to push yourself into uncomfortable areas). That’s how you get your best, get the best from others, and generate the best product possible. The music is no different.
I probably could have gotten a little traction for making a record solely because I’m a guy from Supernatural, but that seems like a perilously lame path to go down. I’m damn proud of the album we made. I think it’s really good, really fun, and I think other people will, too. If it ever gets a little traction, I think it could find an audience outside of the Supernatural fanbase, outside people who know who I am, because you hear the fun on the record. You hear the talent. You hear the cohesion.
I have two hopes, the first being that we get to play live more. I know what we can do in the studio. I want to hone that on the road in bars and become a kick-ass live band.
My other hope is that eventually, people listen to our music and hear it not as “Richard Speight the actor has a band,” but as an album from Dick Jr. and the Volunteers. I’d rather that be the story that takes over someday, because that means the album will have found an audience on its own. The size of the audience doesn’t matter. I grew up buying and loving music from bands no one I knew had heard of.
But those bands were great, and the albums were amazing and each of them had an impact on me. I still enjoy them to this day. If this album makes it to that level for even one person, well, that would be a helluva thing.