The Dustbowl Revival have Dick Van Dyke to thank for much of their fanbase. The age-defying screen legend stars in their delightful video for "Never Had To Go," where he clowns his wife until she dances with him. It has garnered roughly 4 million views.
The band formed through Craigslist in 2007 when Zach Lupetin, after graduating from the University of Michigan, made his way to Los Angeles and posted an ad seeking fellow devotees of Dylan, Springsteen and Louis Armstrong. The result is a wildly eclectic sound with an array of instruments in their arsenal: fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, ukulele, trumpet, trombone and whatever else they can find in the studio.
An eight-piece band, their lastest release, out June 16, 2017, is a self-titled album produced by Ted Hutt, who earned the Best Folk Album Grammy in 2015 for his work on Old Crow Medicine Show's Remedy. Lupetin, who is their lyricist and along with Liz Beebe handles lead vocals, told us how the band creates their sound, and how they wrangled Dick Van Dyke for that video.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): "Busted" tells a pretty specific story. Is any of that true?
Zach Lupetin: Let's just say there are plenty of kernels of truth inside it - I like to joke now (though it didn't seem funny at all at the time) that having your heart broken and being cheated on is the best thing that can ever happen to a songwriter. We don't forget things easily - so in the sense that the person you love and have been giving second chances to has been sneaking around on you all along - that's definitely something that happened to me when I first moved out to California, and I tried to translate it to the woman's perspective.
Songfacts: Where did you shoot the album art, and were there any adventures associated with it?
Zach: We were lucky to connect with a talented photographer named David Talley who took us on quite the two-day adventure - first to Kelso Dunes towards Las Vegas for the cover shots with the lantern. It's a magical, otherworldly place. Liz got pretty cold in that epic dress as the sun went down!
The other spot was near Mount Baldy for forest shots with balloons - which popped way more than we thought - but you just need one shot to make it worth it.
Songfacts: How do you describe your sound?
Zach: It's always evolving to be honest. Really it's always been roots music.
To me that means you're honoring certain American folk traditions: acoustic blues and gospel and string band and soul and brass band sounds, but also linking them together to make something new. Folk funk? That might describe the new record!
Songfacts: How do you typically write a song?
Zach: I really let songs come to me typically. I'm blessed (and sometimes cursed depending who you ask) to have melodies and different kinds of chord sequences float into my brain - sometimes I wake up singing something I've never heard. It's always a mad dash to jot it down before it disappears forever. I'll usually come with my favorite more-completed ideas to the band and then we flesh it together and they shape the horn and rhythm and string parts from there.
Songfacts: What is the recording process for Dustbowl Revival? Wondering if everyone is in the studio at the same time.
Zach: It depended on the song. Ted Hutt, our producer, wanted everyone playing together to get the rhythm right, then would strip back each part and add or redo as needed. Some of my guitar parts are from those first few all-in takes, and others I completely redid with tremolo or other echo to give it some air.
The beauty of the studio is you can layer and try unexpected things - like Ulf [Bjorlin], our trombone player, singing opera into the spring reverb tank. And we kept it!
Songfacts: Please tell us about the song "Debtors' Prison."
Zach: Definitely the most emotional song for me and Liz to sing. It's kind of a folk song in the style of Springsteen's "The River" which I grew up singing with my dad. A young couple who is sort of falling through the cracks of society - but they're still proud that they aren't giving up and their love endures it all.
Songfacts: Your music is very joyful, but recording can be rather laborious. How do you get that sound in the studio?
Zach: It's a challenge recreating live energy without a crowd and with the gun of time and money against your head, but you fall into the rhythm of going in and laying it all out there. Ted really pushes us to go raw - not to be perfectionists. The feeling of abandon that you hear in a great song is often a mind trick, but I think I got a lot of soul from this new set of songs.
Songfacts: What are the biggest challenges in managing an eight-person operation?
Zach: Travel for sure. We usually fly into a region and get two minivans and do our thing. It's hard being away for weeks from the ones you love, but we really get to see things no one gets to see, and bringing music to people is an important thing. It moves us - makes us come together.
Songfacts: Please tell us about the song "Never Had To Go," and if there's a real "Bobby."
Zach: I wrote that back in Michigan where I used to live - and as I mentioned in the "Busted" reply - I like taking kernels of truth from my past - being cheated on, etcetera, and twisting it around a bit. In this case Bobby was a one-night-stand that our lady singer is saying didn't mean anything, but it did. We've all made mistakes - it's how we proceed after that is interesting.
Songfacts: How did the video come about, and what impact did it have on the band when it took off?
Zach: Dick Van Dyke had been following the band a bit for years in LA - he adores old jazz and folk music - and we got super lucky that we were able to contact his lovely wife who set it all in motion. Having a funny viral video did bring some new folks to shows who would never have checked us out. People are still discovering it, which is amazing.
Songfacts: Please tell us about one of the other Dustbowl Revival songs that means a lot to you.
Zach: The last track of the new album, "Don't Wait Up," is my personal favorite and wasn't necessarily going to make the record. It's a bit dark and tells the story of a father going out and fighting for civil rights.
It's tricky these days if you want to be active politically but you're not a political band... but it's important to tell stories that matter.
June 7, 2017. Get the album and more info at dustbowlrevival.com.