Nothing to prove
Last to Leave
The room in which a band practices often says something about the music. Many loud rock bands practice in the basement. Bedroom bands are usually naval-gazing solo projects. Garage rock bands practice in the garage. The less said about bands that practice in the bathroom, the better.
Reno’s Last to Leave is a living room band. (Although they also sound great in the kitchen.) There’s a communal, open-hearted spirit to the band, the feeling that these people play music together because, first and foremost, they enjoy one another’s company.
Like many of the best bands, Last to Leave is difficult to peg down genre-wise, though it falls under the broad umbrella of Americana.
“It’s a cross between aggressive folk—because it’s fast—and sing-a-long dance numbers,” says Skye Evans, the group’s principle songwriter and singer. He also plays guitar, vocals, harmonica, mandolin, and other miscellany.
The group started six years ago, when Evans was still in high school, as a more straightforward folk-punk project.
“We’d basically just go downtown and busk, playing all cover songs, and try to make enough money to buy Awful Awfuls from the little Nugget,” he says.
Over the years and through many lineup changes, the band has evolved into a songwriting-oriented project, with a unique, bittersweet tone and distinctive instrumentation. The current lineup has been in place for a year and a half. Melissa McMorran plays accordion, Patrick Kelley plays banjo and bass, and Dalton Cason plays alto sax. Drummer Luke Knudsen is spending a year studying abroad.
One strength of the current lineup is its adaptability. The band members can move comfortably from busking in a nearly empty park to playing an electric set in a busy downtown club.
One of the band’s best weapons—though it’s not the least bit threatening—is Cason’s plaintive sax playing. He has a nostalgic, almost sentimental tone, and his lines are melodic, though there is almost nothing jazzy about his playing, which is unusual for a contemporary saxophonist. He’s also a tall, lanky, awkward fellow, often stripped to the waist during live sets, who dwarfs his horn, and this semi-comical appearance adds to the unexpected pleasantness of his playing.
The band name comes from the title of an Arlo Guthrie song
“Obviously, anyone playing folk music is into Woody Guthrie, but I don’t think his son, Arlo Guthrie, gets enough credit,” says Evans, who also cites Jim Croce as an inspiration.
The group’s excellent recent album, Fare Thee Well, features songs by Evans as well as several written by Knudsen before he went abroad. Many of the songs, by both writers, are about travel—though religious angst is also a nice recurring theme. There’s a bit of darkness around the edges of the songs, especially in the lyrics, though Evans, in his train conductor mustache and overalls, seems like a laidback, easygoing, salt-of-the-earth guy.
He says most of his songs start as chord progressions, and then he writes about whatever is on his mind.
“I have nothing to lose,” he says. “I don’t expect a lot, though I hope people enjoy it. We have nothing to prove, except we exist, and we try our best.”
“When I’m feeling depressed, I drive and I listen to our CD, and I immediately feel better,” says Cason. “It feels like the home I never had, just emotional and comforting.”