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20 Questions

My NOLA: 20 Questions with John Shirley

John Shirley of New Orleans band the Cardinal Sons shares his favorite things to eat, see, and experience in NOLA.

“I’m proud to go out of town and say that New Orleans is our home,” says John Shirley, lead guitarist and vocalist for New Orleans based indie rock band, the Cardinal Sons. “The admiration for this city is an international thing, whether people have been here or not. The city’s culture and vibes reach anyone with a similar spirit.”

Cardinal Sons John Shirley
Photo: Steve Hatley

The Cardinal Sons are three brothers from Jackson, Miss. who have decided to make make music together and to make New Orleans their home. Brothers John, Joe, and Dave all went to Loyola University. John majored in business while his brothers studied music. In late 2014, the Cardinal Sons released The Echo Choir, their latest EP, recorded with the help of producer and guitarist Charlie Sexton, who truly takes the brothers’ energetic, danceable, three-part harmonies to the next level.

“I’m mostly proud of how we’ve developed, and I think we’re getting really close to figuring out what our sound is,” John says. “I think New Orleans has certainly supported how we’ve grown as musicians.”

Those who listen to The Echo Choir will likely be struck by the brothers’ straightforward sound, balanced with steady drum and heavy synth lines, in addition to their thoughtful lyrics.

The Cardinal Sons will be growing even more in the coming year, as they are currently working on their first full-length album. This is something John has wanted to do ever since the brothers started the band a few years ago.

“The album will tell a story, as complete piece of art,” he says. “Certain songs will stand out, but it will make so much more sense when listened to in the context of the album. Hopefully we’re able to have the time it takes to experiment with sounds and textures.”

I asked John to talk a little bit about what inspires him as he’s working, especially when he needs a burst of creativity for a project as big as an album.

“Maybe I’m too literal of a person,” he says. “I don’t exactly get inspired to be creative by looking at landscapes or hearing a child’s laughter (insert sarcastic tone). I’m much more inspired by hearing a band that blows me away and searching for the context or sound that gives me the same rush if I play it.”

John finds a lot of that inspiration as he listens to New Orleans artists, many of whom he counts among his closest friends and supporters.

“The good thing is that there seems to be a lot of demand for live music,” he says, “but it’s definitely more competitive, from the band’s perspective, since people have to decide what show to go to or between any other assortment of events. I’m just glad we all seem to support one another.”

Check the Cardinal Sons’ website for upcoming tour dates and to buy a copy of The Echo Choir.

20 Questions with John Shirley

1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?

Technically he’s from Marrero, but I’m still going to have to say Lil Doogie.

2. What first brought you to New Orleans? 

I went to Loyola for undergrad and have been unable to leave ever since.

3. In your opinion – what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?

That’s a tough question because every hood has its perks, but I live in Mid-City and am pretty happy with my current situation, so I’ll go with that. If you wanted to get specific about things to do in New Orleans by neighborhood, I’d probably have different answers specific to each “to-do.”

4. City Park or Audubon Park?

To be completely honest, I love Audubon Park and feel like I’ve only stepped foot in about 10% of City Park. I love them both but have a deeper connection with Audubon because of the shenanigans that took place there while in college.

5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans?

I consider myself a brunch connoisseur, so a huge shout out to the duck hash at Atchafalaya, along with the Bloody Mary bar and several rounds of coffee and water. I’ve seriously considered starting a blog highlighting brunch in New Orleans – I’d call it “Hungover Brunch” and just show pictures of me eating amazing brunch meals and looking very disheveled.

6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?

Oh, pretty ironic that this is the next question. Atchafalaya. A few years ago, I thought I was one of the only ones who knew how good it was, but now it’s almost impossible to get a table Saturday or Sunday.

7. What’s your favorite po-boy? Where do you go to get it?

Surf & Turf from Parkway.

The Cardinal Sons
Photo: Flatland LLC

8. You’ve got friends visiting and it’s their first time in New Orleans – where are you taking them?

I always get anxious planning these things. The options are too widespread. My out-of-town friends like to party when they come in town, so it’s safe to say we’re going to end up at a late-night spot with cheap drinks and loud music, and then at Parkway the next afternoon.

9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?

Twelve Mile Limit.

10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail and where do you go to get it?

Easy one: The Baudin at 12 Mile Limit.

11. Snowball or Daiquiri? Where from and what flavor?

[Snowball.] I typically choose whatever weird flavor I haven’t had yet and add sweetened condensed milk. Going with Plum Street as my main location.

12. Best spot to see live music?

I love Gasa Gasa, One Eyed Jacks and Tipitina’s equally.

13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?

This is almost impossible for me to answer so I’ll go the safe route: Lil Doogie. He’s an incredible lyricist.

14. Favorite New Orleans Festival?

Jazz Fest. I truly love Voodoo Fest and Oak Street Po-Boy Festival and Bayou Boogaloo and French Quarter Fest, and Buku has gotten really cool, too, but Jazz Fest is really one of my favorite times of the year.

John Shirley, Cardinal Sons
Photo: Steve Hatley

15. Favorite Mardi Gras parade?

I have to give this one to the newly rolling Krewe of Freret (I’m a member).

16. Where do you shop in New Orleans?

I shop exclusively online but I really like what they’re putting out at Defend New Orleans. I’ll be wearing some of their stuff at some upcoming shows.

17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?

Going with the WWII Museum because several of my relatives are honored there. Honorable mention to NOMA and will say that I have plans to go to Ogden in the next few weeks.

18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?

I find that it’s much easier to have fun and follow the game closely at friends’ houses. I like watching at bars, but actually prefer a big group at a house. As much as I love going to the Dome, I reserve that for a few times a season.

19. Describe New Orleans in one word.

Unshakable.

20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans and why?

Last weekend at Jazz Fest, I was talking with my good friend Alexis Marceaux, and she was saying that she and another friend, Andrew Duhon, were talking about how they were so happy to be part of the community of young musicians that’s here. We’re so lucky to be surrounded by such unbelievable talent and we’re actually all pretty good people. The community and the support we feel here is so unique, and we’re so happy to have that.

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