When the blues become cutting edge
Holmstrom is a dyed-in-the-wool blues nut, and up until three years ago that was the only music he was interested in. Then a friend introduced him to the wacky world of electronic dance music, and shazam – he was off and running. On his latest album, “Hydraulic Groove,” Holmstrom recorded classic blues and R&B music, then laid breakbeats and samples over it.”It’s really opened my eyes to what I can do,” he said. “You have to be careful you don’t water down the blues – I like the grease and sloppiness, the soul and feel of them. I was real careful on “Hydraulic Groove’ that we didn’t make it sound like drum machines. I just wanted it to be raw.”And raw it is. The songs each have their own texture – gritty, smooth, in-your-pocket subtle or center-stage frenetic. Holmstrom worked with producer Rob Schnapf, who helped artists like Beck, R. L. Burnside, Elliot Smith and the Foo Fighters.The challenge was re-creating on stage during a live performance all the tricks available to musicians in a studio. They’re helped along on their quest by the programming device drummer Donny Gruendler activates during a concert. It allows different breakbeats to play through the sound system, while the musicians play their instruments. The result is a show that mimics the album to a certain degree, in the first three or four minutes of each song.”And then we branch out and go where we go,” said Holmstrom. “We always leave ourselves room to improvise on stage, before working our way back into the song.”He’s currently excited by the work of Chuck Prophet, a songwriter who mixes his rock with the hip hop electronica cultures.”Chuck’s thing is coming from the singer-songwriter rock place,” said Holmstrom. “He’s Bob-Dylan-meets-Tom-Petty. I’m more Gatemouth-Brown-meets-Muddy-Waters.”Though blues are still the main event in Holmstrom’s life, he finds himself leaning toward electronica hip hop.”Hip hop is so cutting edge all the time,” he explained. “I’m not talking about pop stuff, but Cypress HIll and Jurassic 5.”He also looks to singer-songwriters such as Lucinda Williams, Teddy Morgan and Chuck Prophet, considering them the real deal. (The other stuff, he doesn’t give a hoot about.) Holmstrom was introduced to the guitar at a young age, but didn’t take it up in earnest until he was 20. After playing his first gig in exchange for beer money, he was hooked.He shares the stage with Dale Jennings (upright and electric bass), Gruendler (drums and programming) and Ron Dziubla (saxophone, keys and turntable).”We use a little digital turntable,” said Holmstrom. “It’s not like a bunch of scratching going on, it’s more used for textures. It’s almost like a keyboard.”The group is on the first leg of a six-week tour. They stop at the Half Moon Saloon in West Vail tonight. The music begins at 10. For more information, call 476-4314.Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.