Last December, Reno rock ‘n’ roll band Karma embarked on an open-ended, not-sure-when-or-if-they’d-be-back national tour. The group returns this month, with a homecoming gig at Singer Social Club on Oct. 17. But, like Frodo returning home after destroying the ring, they’re forever changed. For one thing, the group, which left as a four-piece, is now a three-piece.
The band plays straight-up rock, with hints of ’60s psychedelia and lots of ’70s glam swagger. When they left, the group consisted of singer-guitarists Michelle Belle and Greg Gilmore, bassist Adam Springob, and drummer Carter Stellon.
They started out heading south for the winter: playing their way through Arizona, Texas, and the South. Then they worked their way north, and ending up living in New York for four months starting in March, and then they started working their way back west. Along the way, the group lived an uncut, unadulterated rock ’n’ roll lifestyle that’s the envy of aspiring young musicians and weekend warrior rock dads alike. They played famous venues, like The Bitter End and Cafe Wha? in New York, and the Double Door in Chicago. They met George Thorogood, partied with the Black Angels, and hung out with members of Jack White’s band.
The group’s residency in New York, during which time they holed up in a recording studio, happened by accident.
“When we got there we were going to be there for a month to work and demo some recordings—that was the plan,” said Gilmore.
But while they were in New York, Springob decided he wanted to leave the band to live there. The remaining members had to reconfigure their sound to fit the smaller lineup. Gilmore switched to bass.
“We were trying to figure out how to work as a three-piece after being a four-piece for so long,” said Gilmore. “It almost seemed empty for a minute.”
“Being on tour and living in a box together for so long, and living in this studio, it just influenced some weird part of us,” said Belle. “We’d just jam and come up with something, and every song would come out vastly different than the last one.”
The experience of living as road dogs made the band tighter, musically and personally.
“We spend so much time with people—even not playing—you get on the same level, so that when you jam, you can go into song and they’ll follow,” said Belle.
And the experiences of the road—and the people and music encountered—helped the band members find new approaches to songwriting.
“We were stuck in Nashville during these horrible ice storms,” said Gilmore. “The tires were frozen to the ground. It was crazy. So, we went to a bunch of open mics in Nashville, and met a bunch of great singer-songwriters. And then we wrote a Nashville, little-bit-on-the-country-side song. So a lot of the places we’ve been to really influenced the songs we started writing.”
And the band members had the requisite horror stories from the road—including the time the van broke down on the New Jersey Trunpike. It was 1 a.m., after a gig, and traffic had ground to a halt. There was an accident up the road, and traffic sat still for several hours. Eventually, they turned off the engine and went to sleep. They woke up around 7 a.m. when traffic started moving again. And the van wouldn’t start.
“Traffic starts moving faster,” said Gilmore. “Diesel trucks are flying by. Everybody is honking at us.”
After they were finally able to push the van off to the side of the road, the band members were exhausted.
“So we slept on the side of the fucking New Jersey turnpike,” said Belle.
And then they woke, and the van started right away.
The group is already planning their next tour.