BLUEGRASS, SWING, hot jazz, pre-war blues, Southern soul, New Orleans funk - The Dustbowl Revival is an American roots orchestra with eight full-time members — and they play it all, mashing the sounds of traditional American music into a genre-hopping, time-bending, dance party.
Now they are bringing their stomping, feel-good, sounds to Ireland for the first time and on Thursday August 18 at 9pm, they roll into Monroe's Live for what promises to be a stormer of a gig. The band’s founder, frontman, and main songwriter is Zach Lupetin and ahead of their Galway show he talked with me about how they came together and have evolved over their nine year existence.
“I grew up in Chicago and my dad turned me on to a lot of my music education," he tells me. "He is a big music fan and he plays blues harmonica sometimes with the band. I started listening to a lot of rock and roll; The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Allman Brothers, who were probably my dad’s favourite band. He was also a big fan of the blues and in Chicago the blues is practically in the water so I grew up listening to a lot of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and greats like that.
"I went to college in Michigan and was in a group that played blues and rock and roll. I started getting intrigued by earlier forms like bluegrass and Dixieland and I wanted to bring a lot of genres together. I’d never been content just playing one style or writing songs that way – I started songwriting when I was about 14."
"I was a classical violin player growing up," Lupetin continues. "I did that for about 10 years and then I sold my violin for an electric bass guitar and then later I got an acoustic guitar and harmonica. Bob Dylan was a big eye opener for me, listening to Blonde On Blonde in college changed my brain around a lot. I liked the way he took blues and folk and different styles and made them something different. I write for theatre and film as well so I like telling stories."
Lupetin describes the beginnings of The Dustbowl Revival: “I moved to LA in 2007 not with any special goal in mind musically but I wanted to form a band. I put up an ad in craigslist saying ‘does anyone like Bob Wills and Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters and want to play some music?’ I got very lucky with who responded; some of the people who answered that ad are still in the band. I think a lot of people like different stuff musically and not just one thing or another.
"We formed with the idea of having a bluegrass folk band with a New Orleans jazz band put together. What was very inspiring for me was seeing Del McCoury and his bluegrass band play with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. They did a tour together and would play as one huge band and it was so cool to see that. The different forms of music didn’t clash, it was actually very harmonious. Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions was another inspiration for me.
'Our sound has started to merge more into, less of an old time band, and more a combination of roots, soul, and funk'
"Building a band can take time for it to gel, I was lucky to find people who liked to play trumpet and trombone and fiddle, and so on, and it worked, We then started touring more professionally about four years ago. We’d been mostly people with day jobs who played together on the side then we started getting popular around Los Angeles and playing in festivals across America and in Europe, and so on, and we’ve been taking it on the road more and more.”
Dustbowl Revival’s current album is With A Lampshade On and it showcases their strength as a live act. Noted LA live sound expert Alex Chaloff rigged up to 20 microphones to capture the group from every angle, and the sound is remarkably clean and warm. It is raw, close and sweaty, and you can hear every breath.
“We started as a collective of musicians playing old time swing, folk and bluegrass, stuff like that," says Lupetin, "and we were writing new versions of old music We had a core group of musicians and about 15 guests who would come in and out depending on where we were, and so on. As we did more touring we got into the eight piece band we have today in place. We have trumpet, trombone, fiddle, mandolin, bass, drum, me on guitar, and Liz Beebe singing with me. We had another singer for years called Caitlin Doyle but she moved to Nashville.
"About 75 per cent of our songs are original and we will often reconfigure traditional songs. I’m the songwriter on most of them but the band shape it musically. Our sound has started to merge more into, less of an old time band, and more a combination of roots, soul, and funk. If you listen to With A Lampshade On you can hear traces of James Brown, the Staples Singers, stuff like that. The songs have started to be more of a party sound; my goal is to bring the joy of that kind of music wherever we go.”
Their video for their recent single, ‘Never Had To Go’ features a guest turn from legendary actor Dick Van Dyke. Lupetin reveals how they hooked up; “Dick is a big fan of old jazz and swing. He saw us perform at a private party some years ago and we chatted to him afterwards.
"Sometime later we opened for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in LA and Dick and his wife emailed us and asked for front row tickets so I had their contact details from that. Then when we started thinking about ideas for a music video we reached out to them not thinking they’d actually be interested but they said ‘come over to our house and we’ll do something’ and that’s’ basically how it happened, we went over and shot it all in a couple of hours.”
Tickets are €12/10 via www.monroes.ie