The Dustbowl Revival digs deep on new record, plays show at Agave on Nov. 15
November 13, 2016
AVON — When Zach Lupetin moved to Los Angeles about seven years ago, he posted a Craigslist ad looking for musicians to create what would become The Dustbowl Revival.
"I ended up bringing in brass players and string band players," he said, "and we kind of put everybody together and that was sort of the seed of the sound, was bringing soul music and funk and stuff that normally wouldn't be combined with string band music and bluegrass and folk music and sort of seeing how the two could grow together."
The band fuses the warbling brass of trumpeter Matt Rubin and trombonist Ulf Bjorlin with the strolling beat of James Klopfleisch's bass and Joshlyn Heffernan's drums and the strings of Daniel Mark on mandolin and Connor Vance on fiddle. Lupetin contributes guitar and occasional flashes of harmonica and kazoo, as well as vocal harmonies supporting the lilting voice of ukulele and washboard player Liz Beebe.
On the road
The resulting amalgam of old-school bluegrass, gospel, pre-war blues and the hot swing of New Orleans has stirred up a devoted audience, as well as acclaim from the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Rolling Stone magazine.
All of this has led to a ferocious touring schedule that has had the band averaging 150-plus shows a year for the past four years, including a stop in Avon in February for the WinterWonderGrass Festival and a return trip Tuesday to perform at Agave.
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With so many days on the road, The Dustbowl Revival has evolved into a "dysfunctional family," Lupetin said.
"You learn to find the positives of living this nomadic life," he said. "I love traveling; I love seeing beautiful places. The band I think really loves coming to Colorado because it's such a beautiful place and it's much more fun to drive the mountains of Colorado than driving through Ohio or Indiana.
"It can get pretty bleak out on the road sometimes, so having places where we can see the great outdoors and do some hiking — we like to kind of get outside and have some fun, too, so that definitely helps. We love eating well, and there's definitely some other recreational pursuits in Colorado that are fun."
Lupetin said the band has gotten good at knowing what works on the road, renting two minivans to travel rather than one large vehicle, which allows the eight band members to choose their own adventures.
"If some of the group wants to go hang out and have a late night, they can do that, and some can go back to the hotel and chill," he said. "It allows different personalities to do their thing without being held hostage, which I think that's been very helpful to keep morale high.
"You play music, I think, to bring joy to people in different places, and it's not an easy life, but I'd rather be doing this than working behind a desk, that's for sure."
In the studio
During breaks in touring, The Dustbowl Revival has been in the studio recording a new album. The yet-to-be-titled record is scheduled for a May release, but the band dropped two singles on Oct. 14 and is anticipating a vinyl 45 to be in-hand for the Avon show.
"The lead song is called 'Busted,' which is really a kind of fun, new sound for us — I would say, like, if Beyonce was singing in a folk-funk band — and it's pretty intense." Lupetin said. "I've been writing songs for Liz that really show off her pipes and her personality. She's pretty fierce out there.
"'Only One' is almost more of a ballad, the other side of the coin. Where 'Busted' is calling out this cheating man, saying I'm not taking this anymore, you're full of s—, and 'Only One' is sort of about this long-suffering woman who's going to stick with her man. She can't help but love him anyway, that type thing."
The band returns to the studio in January, and in the interim, Lupetin continues to write songs for the album, channeling a lot more emotion and honesty into his lyrics than could be found in previous releases.
"I'm maybe writing them a little more about our own experiences, the different relationships and emotional turbulence that comes from being in love is a lot what these songs are about," he said.
"There's two different sides to love, and I think that's what these new songs are kind of exploring in an interesting way. I think we've sort of made a name for ourselves kind of as an old-time party band, which we still do in a lot of ways, there's just a lot more to this group and the sound than having a good time. We're trying to dig a little deeper in these new songs."
The band has also matured musically, and there's a lot more collaboration happening with the new record, Lupetin said.
"In the past, it was more my project, so I would kind of steer the ship mostly in sort of the direction of my artistic interests," he said. "We're more of a partnership now.
"There's eight of us in the band, so we have people who have masters degrees in music theory, so there's some very talented musicians and creators in this band that are just now sort of being empowered to share their influences and their desires of what the songs can be, which is not always easy."
Lupetin said it was a bit of a challenge for him to give up creative control, but the collaborative process has helped drum up new flavors for the songs and fill in gaps in his own musical education. Having "a lot of cooks stirring the pot" can be stressful, he said, but the tensions that come from different people coming together can create new music that hasn't been made before.
"I think if there's one thing I pride myself on what this band can offer people, it's something that they really haven't heard," he said. "I've sort of given up trying to define what our genre is, but I think in this new record, I think we're kind of finding our own sound, finally, and that has a little more soul and elements of the music I grew up listening to — Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, even The Beatles.
"I think you get into the studio to try to make your mark on whatever the musical tapestry of the time is. … We're still experimenting on sort of how the collaboration will work best, and the hope is that each person's best ideas can kind of come together and gel when it needs to."