The Dustbowl Revival has grown from a quiet folk outfit to a roaring jazz/funk/folk/roots machine that, as the cliché goes, defies easy categorization. The band performs at Barleycorn’s on Friday, Dec. 8. Founding member Zach Lupetin recently called the KMUW studios to discuss the band’s present and its past.
Jedd Beaudoin: When the band started, did you have a pretty clear vision or was it a matter of writing the songs and finding the voice of the music over time?
Zach Lupetin: I found in college, in Michigan, that a lot of the music I really loved, that moved me, was music that came before classic rock and a lot of it even before World War II. I found songwriters who were my heroes, Bob Dylan, Springsteen, those guys, grew up with that type of stuff as well. So, it just sort of clicked that I wanted to play more traditional American roots music. We started as more of a folk band but I always wanted to have that spirit of a rock ‘n’ roll show. Bringing in the horns and the drums and that taste of soul and funk really made the shows more fun. We’ve evolved into this eight-piece band that’s been touring for the last five years. It’s been a really fun journey.
As you were starting out and putting the band together in Los Angeles, did you have a sense that there was a community of like-minded bands there or was that something that you had to go out on the road to find?
The reason we were encouraged to go on the road was the receptive community of listeners and dancers that came out to our shows in L.A. It blossomed from there. San Francisco was a good a hub for us. We started going up the coast, the Pacific Northwest a bit, over to Chicago, where three of us are from. When we got into some music festivals, that was able to expand our reach.
What went into the making of this new record? I sense that there’s some reflection within the lyrics of present times. I sense that there’s a real focus on the sound and the diversity of the sound.
This album was definitely different than anything we’ve tried before in that in the past we really wanted to harness songs that we’d been playing live. Catch lightning in a bottle and put them on tape. This one, the songs were more carefully arranged. We worked with a Grammy-winning producer, Ted Hutt, who really had us focus in on the songcraft and less about the instrumentation and everyone’s ability to show off their talent.
There’s eight people in the band. There’s a lot of sounds. He wanted us to strip back a little bit and say, ‘Hey, what is this story about? What are you really feeling on this song?’ So you have some of the fun, funky dance party songs but we were able to sneak in some of the introspective folk tunes that definitely speak to our current times.
“Debtors’ Prison” for sure and “Don’t Wait Up” at the other end. Those are two songs that point to more political awareness in the band. Eventually, as an artist and as a songwriter, it’s our responsibility to reflect the story of our time. It’s easy to write 10 love songs or relationship songs but there’s also some real stuff happening when you’re going into your thirties and you’re just trying to get by day-to-day. It’s definitely something I was proud that we were able to put on the record.
You talked about the refinement of arrangements and so forth on the new record. Did that change how you approached live performance? Were you more cognizant of certain elements of the live show after taking that time and honing things in the studio?
The band has evolved to where we can have a lot of dynamics in the show. We can come way up and go crazy with some of the honky-tonk and funk and New Orleans-type songs, but also play some folk songs that get a little emotional. That’s the testament of a good show to me, when you can make people feel all sorts of things.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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