This week, we check in with veterans of Humboldt bluegrass Absynth Quintet about the upcoming album Telepathy with Glowbugs and discuss making the leap from house parties to professional venues with 20-something psych-jazz quartet High Crimes.
AQ and I go way back — banjo player Ian Davidson is my neighbor and I've interviewed these guys a dozen times over the years. So when guitarist Ryan Roberts sent an email announcing the new album's release party, I wondered what questions I could possibly ask that I haven't asked before. So I told them to talk among themselves and send me the result.
Telepathy with Glowbugs, the band's first album available on vinyl as well as digital formats, is a collection of eclectic material written on napkins in late night diners and incubated during about three years of hot van rides on the West Coast.
Right now, we're driving on I-5 in the big blue AQ van on the way to play a gig near South Lake Tahoe. Tofu Mike (drums) is manning the helm while eating a steaming sausage, chard, rice and onion casserole. The dish has a strong odor and is making Ian nauseous so he is sitting shotgun, playing one of his custom banjos.
Between bites, Tofu offers insight into the cause of bird deaths at solar farms. Ryan pipes in from the back of the van and steers the subject toward weather pattern changes as a result of wildfires. "Pyro-cumulous" is the word of the day. Apparently birds vaporize at solar farms and raging wildfires cause thermal updrafts into the atmosphere, altering cloud formation. The relationship between these two seemingly divergent subjects is fire-induced metamorphosis. Burning changes things.
In the song "Tofinski," Ryan had penned the line, "And all of the while the smoldering pile sits fanning himself in the wind," a lyric typical of our new album: both confusing and incorrect grammatically, yet somehow exactly what needed to be said. Perhaps a more poignant line, later in the song, "he walks on his hands/but only because of his legs," captures the essence of what we are trying to do as a band — evolve new ways of purveying our illogical ear art through turning what first seem like limitations, into possibilities. No, actually, that's complete bullshit.
John Ludington (bass) wakes up and looks like a dinosaur being born for a minute. We talk about Iyengar's eyebrows and when, as a man, it's time to start trimming them. Ryan offers his smoothie to John, who accepts. The van smells like blueberries and mangos now, which is an improvement over Tofu's decomposing meat-food. Tofu told me not to make fun of his food about an hour ago.
Will more people come to our show if we are sincere and normal? Vulnerable?
[At this point, Ryan offers to conduct a "sincere and normal interview," which follows.]
Ryan: How do you describe your music? Tofu: Well on OKCupid one time some girl said that "your description of your music as Kinetic Gypsy Jamgrass makes me want to puke in my mouth."
Ryan: What are your influences? Tofu: We played a taqueria in Ashland.
Ryan: It was more of a taco bar. OK, so tell me about your new album.
Tofu: It's the newest album we've ever done.
Ryan: I'd like each band member to describe your experience in the AQ in two words. John: Action-packed! Tofu: Mo' rhythm! Ryan: That question sucks. That's a bad question. It seems so arbitrary. Why two words? Ian: Double down. Bird Jowaisis (mandolin): Why me? Ryan: Great! Thanks for your time.
And thus concludes our experiment. Just know these jokers are also stupidly talented. Experience them at Humboldt Brews, Saturday night. Doors at 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m. Beats and Kale opens. Tickets are $10 advance, $15 at the door, 21-and-over.
For a while, the local music scene lacked an element critical to future success: new blood. All props to those persistently playing into their third and fourth decades, but we couldn't help but wonder where the kids were. We're pleased to report glimmers of a rock renaissance among the millennials. Among the most promising: High Crimes, consisting of Humboldt State University students Harrison Laver (vocals, lead guitar), Kimmy Kennedy (vocals, rhythm guitar), Ben James (vocals, bass) and Alyssa Jung (drums). The four have been playing together for about a year and are launching from the easy fun of Arcata house parties to the Humboldt venue circuit with three shows coming up over the next week-and-a-half. Jung, 21, spent some time discussing the band's ambitions and sharing observations on the local music world over salad and brownies last Sunday.
NCJ: What's prompting the emphasis on playing all these venues?
Jung: With house parties, it's way more accessible not only for the bands — all you need is a friend with a house — but also the audience, who is probably similarly aged — and broke. But if you're a serious band, you have to go beyond the easy house party scene into playing real venues. Otherwise you're forever going to be a college party band.
NCJ: Is it harder to get college students out to those shows?
Jung: Yeah, there's such a weekend party scene, it's hard to motivate people to go to legitimate venues and pay money. Most people I've met are interested in music, but are not so passionate about it that they feel it's necessary to support. Like, "I could go out and pay $5 — or I could just go to this party."
Earlier Jung and her friend Brandon Drucker had debated the importance of setting when listening to music. That theme re-emerged when talking about High Crimes' recent eponymous debut.
NCJ: So ... when would be the ideal time to listen to your CD?
Jung: (Laughs.) Oh, my! This will sound cliché, but driving home from a day at the beach.
Drucker: But at dusk! Because it's a little darker.
NCJ: Any bands you make a point of seeing?
Jung: Wrecks Goliath! Casey has really good stage presence and they appeal to musicians in that they write interesting intricate riffs, but also to the average listener because they're catchy, super groovy. And River Valley Mud! When I saw them at the Logger Bar, they were super tight. The vocalist was so energetic and vibrant, and people fed off that. They're all super talented and I loved the incorporation of horns. ... It's really awesome that a town this size has such an active music scene.
You can find High Crimes on Friday night at the Ocean Grove, 8 p.m., 21-and-over, and Saturday at the Jambalaya opening for Juicebox Theory and Into the Current, doors 9:30 p.m., show at 10 p.m., tickets $5 advance, $10 at the door, 21-and-over.
As mentioned last week, Bay Area seven-piece Supermule plays the Arcata Playhouse Thursday, Sept. 4. The super group of superbly talented musicians plays a bluegrass-inflected mix of catchy originals, plus covers from artists as diverse as Bill Withers and Bill Monroe. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with show time at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 general and $13 Playhouse and HFS members and are available at Wildwood Music, Wildberries or at 822-1575.
Full show listings in the Journal's Music and More grid, the Eight Days a Week calendar and online. Bands and promoters, send your gig info, preferably with a high-res photo or two, to email@example.com.