For the Dustbowl Revival, everything new is old again
The Los Angeles eight-piece band time-travels and genre-hops
It all started with Craigslist. In 2007, Zach Lupetin moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, and posted an ad for musicians looking to play “folk and bluegrass and gospel blues stuff.” The result ended up becoming something of a collective of like-minded people.
Then, about four years ago, the group started playing and touring more seriously, and settled on the current eight-piece lineup comprising Lupetin (guitar, vocals), Liz Beebe (vocals, washboard, ukulele), Daniel Mark (mandolin), Connor Vance (fiddle), Matt Rubin (trumpet), Ulf Bjorlin (trombone), James Klopfleisch (bass) and Joshlyn Heffernan (drums).
The resulting band, the Dustbowl Revival, makes a stop at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub this Sunday.
“We kind of operate under the [idea of] the more the merrier,” Lupetin says. “If the instruments are in the canon of the folk or jazz traditions and they fit with our music, let’s do it.”
In the past, they’ve even incorporated tuba and accordion players, and albums have featured upward of 25 people.
“It’s been fun to have a large paint box to experiment with,” Lupetin said.
And while the instrumentation allows for a diversity of sounds, it also makes figuring out the band’s style a little tricky—even for its lead singer.
“I joke that I’ve given up attempting to pin down what Dustbowl’s sound is,” Lupetin said. “We can be musical chameleons, where we go in and out of a New Orleans funk groove into a straight-up string-band song from the 1800s, and then we’ll go into some weird folk love song.”
It’s a hodgepodge, but one that allows the group to jump through genres—and time periods—swiftly. Lupetin also says he likes the idea of updating the songbook while still keeping the reverence for the traditional sound.
“I wanted to write new standards,” Lupetin said. “My idea was like, ’I’m listening to all these songs from these artists, and the songs are great, but they’re all the same song.”
And just because the music may sound old, doesn’t mean it can’t have fire and energy.
“I wanted to play this vintage style but in a more rock ’n’ roll mentality,” Lupetin said. “Like young people doing it as dance party music, not as like grandparents-sitting-there-falling-asleep music. I feel like this music—through the ’30s, the ’40s,—it’s the most rocking music that’s ever been made and people don’t realize that or appreciate that.”
But, it’s also important not to just try to recreate the past. “It’s tricky to pull off sometimes,” Lupetin said. “You want to be someone whose revering the past but telling your own story.”
These stories have been collected into now four albums, including 2015’s With A Lampshade On, which was recorded mostly live— a first for the group.
“We pride ourselves on creating this time-travel-through-music experience, where you can go to a show and let loose and feel like you’re back on a front porch in 1938,” Lupetin said. “That’s something that I think has been hard to capture in a sterile, studio environment.”
And that time-traveling, front-porch sound is working. The group just returned from a three-week United States Embassy musical ambassador tour of China.
“Getting young people to actually appreciate music that was being sung in the ’20s and ’30s, and then we sort of update it in our own way, I think it’s really cool,” Lupetin said. “It’s the evolution of folk.”