The spirit of the West is alive and well in the music of Los Angeles-based roots music collective The Dustbowl Revival. This rambling, rolling spirit is the same spark that lit a fire under the past two centuries of Westward migration in America. It comes from a need for wide-open vistas, rollicking street parties, laidback lifestyles, and communities that you build yourself. For the folks in The Dustbowl Revival, West Coast living suits them just fine. Their high-spirited blend of old school bluegrass, gospel, jug-band, swamp blues, piercing brass blasts, and the hot swing of the 1930’s has made them one of the hottest roots music bands in L.A.. Growing steadily from a small string band playing up and down the west coast (hundreds of shows in the last two years), The Dustbowl Revival has blossomed into a traveling collective featuring instrumentation that includes fiddle, mandolin, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, banjo, accordion, tuba, pedal steel, drums, guitars, a bass made from a canoe oar, harmonica and plenty of washboard and kazoo for good luck. This ain’t no fake-mustached hipster revivalism here, The Dustbowl Revival are the real deal, shouting and hollering the nearly derailed, buzz-saw crazed music of the American South that first inspired them.
The Dustbowl Revival play The Sunset Tavern tonight! I had the chance to chat with Zach, the bandleader of the collective, about the inspiration for the name of the band and the future of The Dustbowl Revival.
the mixtape: Tell me about the name of your band, ‘The Dustbowl Revival’. Clearly, it’s a reference to the Depression Era and the ‘Dirty Thirties’ but why that specific name?
Zach: I believe I came up with the name while reading a lot of Steinbeck. I liked the idea of a joyful traveling revival like a circus but with swing music coming to places that really needed a shot in the arm. I know me and some friends also were part of a Midwest migration to the land of milk and honey in LA. Of course California is isn’t quite as sweet as it sounds to folks back home in Illinois.
tm: How do you grow from a small string band to a several member roots-jazz collective?
Z: The band started as a place for people playing acoustic music to get together and try stuff out. I became more obsessed with early roots forms like gospel, New Orleans swing and bluegrass later on and wanted the instruments to mirror that sound. We’ve been lucky to draw from a fertile pool of jazz and folk musicians in the LA area. Probably have about twenty folks who can play in our rotation at one time though we usually stick to a 7-9 member crew on stage.
tm: You blend a bunch of musical styles together (roots, bluegrass, blues, swing, etc…), so what is it about the style of music you’re playing that attracts you to it?
Z: It’s brash and joyful – and I love it because you can be as loud and raucous as a rock band but do it on a front porch with no amplification. We dig going out into the crowd and playing – just watch out for the trumpet and trombone, they will blast your head off!
tm: What’s the challenge in composing a song when you have upwards of 8 people in the group and instrumentation that often includes fiddle, mandolin, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, banjo, accordion, tuba, pedal steel, drums, guitars, a bass made from a canoe oar, harmonica and plenty of washboard and kazoo? It seems like way too much to choose from.
Z: It can get tricky for scheduling and travel but we have been lucky in keeping a pretty loyal group of about 8 of us (like the group that just toured the east coast). I usually aim for having two strings and two horn soloists to battle it out, anchored by bass and drum. I and sometimes a gal singer will share lead vocal duties. Many of the other folks like accordion, clarinet, gypsy guitar etc will come in and out as special guests and will join in on recordings.
tm: Speaking of a bass made from a canoe oar, did someone in the group make that?
Z: Austin Nicholsen who often plays with us in LA is a wizard when it comes to hand-making equipment. He just completed a banjo bass too. The oar bass is handy to travel with.
tm: Do you, as a band, ever think about wanting to make music of a different genre or will this style be your niche for years to come?
Z: We have discussed bringing in new elements to future recordings. An awesome MC in LA called J-Brave did a freestyle hip hop jam with us over some New Orleans street beat stuff and it sounded awesome. Secretly we have a dubstep/klezmer mash-up we are working on called Toothless Jackson. Actually that’s pretty much an inside joke. For now…
Dustbowl Revival with The Summer Januaries and The Golden Tree Story: Fri, August 23, Doors: 9:00 PM / Show: 10:00 PM, $10
Buy tickets here.