EXTRA: Tumbleweed Wanderers | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

EXTRA: Tumbleweed Wanderers

I don't want to brag too much, but I did add Oakland's vintage rock band Tumbleweed Wanderers to my concert wishlist for Bend way back in January. I also blogged about them a couple of times before that as a result of seeing them open for folksy troubadour Angus Stone in Portland last October.

A few months after that, they turned up on the lineup for the popular Free Summer shows at Les Schwab Amphitheater. Now I'm not saying one has anything to do with the other, but I like to think someone is reading my stuff from time to time. Otherwise, I'm just talking to myself!

This week the Source published my take on Tumbleweed Wanderers. As an added bonus, here is a mini-interview I conducted with the band via email. Just make sure to check them out this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at LSA. This is one of the best bands Bend will see this summer.

SW:Some of your music/lyrics sound like they come from 'old souls'. In a day and age when everyone seems detached from reality and plugged in to devices, how are you guys so connected to what's happening in the world?

Oddly enough we stay connected through our devices. There's a learning curve when it comes to new technology and we are in the midst of this pendulum's swing. The person buried in his phone is detached from reality directly in front of him but not the one spanning the entire globe. He just has to remember to hold his head up from time to time and communicate with those around him. That's what we try to do, ready ourselves for the future by looking at the past. Learn from history and use it to your advantage.

SW: Not only is the song "Roll with the Times" crazy good, but the video is awesome too. How'd you guys write a song so mature on all fronts?

The melody for the chorus and intro came while walking to my apartment in Santa Cruz. It felt like something a chain gang would sing and it stuck with me.

We first recorded the song on our self titled EP. We went to Tilden Park, my favorite place to go as a child, and recorded the sound of a steam train passing by, which faded into a track of us singing in a tunnel in Golden Gate Park. We set a mic up at one end of the tunnel and marched toward it clapping and singing. In the studio we tracked another gang vocal and blended that with the field recording. The reverb receded as the initial vocal increased to create the effect of a chain gang getting off a train and marching toward the listener. We had a lot more free time in those days.

Lyrically, the song is a conversation between "us" and "the man." I really don't want to be a soldier fighting a war I don't believe in. I don't remember what its like for our country not to be at war and I don't see any end to that in the near future. I think there's a lot of nostalgia for the late sixties and the chorus is saying quit living in a fantasy, this isn't the summer of love, it's not Woodstock, wake up, smell the roses, and grab a synthesizer.

The music video for "Roll with the Times" was conceived, directed, filmed, and edited by our friend, Andrew Callaway. It was both his and our first music video. We spent a month filming in the Bay Area with additional scenes shot whilst on a tour through the Southwest. The video depicts fight vs. flight through a series of homages to classic genres from film noir to greaser movies to westerns, splicing in found footage of presidents and their wars from JFK to Obama. The video shows how history continues to repeat itself. We always say that Andrew knows what our songs mean more than we do and I think the content and production of the video totally embody what the song and vibe of the album are about, which is taking an amalgamation of genres we love that have been absorbed in the cultural consciousness and blending them together with the aim to create something fresh and new.

SW: How much has studying/understanding the sixties contributed to finding similarities in what's happening today?

We are certainly not alone as a band in being influenced by the music and culture of the 60s. In many ways that seems like the beginning of the modern age in music, or at the very least rock music. By the end of the 60s, full records of original music was the standard, as it had never been before, the realm of possibilities for what rock music could do had exploded and the range of sounds being created in and out of the studio had begun their rapid expansion.

Musically, despite this, we have no intention of making music that sounds like it came from the 60s or any other era of music. We make music that feels good to us and try to take the listener somewhere along with us. We draw on a wide range of musical styles from all points of the last half century, but our real goal is to create something new.

Lyrically, besides our references to the 60s on "Roll with the Times," I don't think we draw specifically on our understanding of the decade. Our lyrics come mostly from our own experiences and desires. Culturally, the 60s blew apart the status quo and brought a greatly expanded way of looking at society to a large group of Americans. The results of that era shaped the current culture of our Bay Area home and our world views growing up. Our lyrics often romanticize leaving home for a life of wandering, a common theme of the 60s counterculture. Yet that theme has been common in American art since at least the writings of Mark Twain and is very apparent in the earliest recordings of American music as well.

Ultimately we see our music as a continuation of all that has come before us, but we are not attempting to recreate any of that. We want to build upon that huge body to make music that is relevant today.

SW: Do you see your music as influential in ways about more than just having fun? How so?

There's definitely more to the songs if you want there to be. Having fun is very important to us when we play but the songs we write are a lot deeper than that. We try to push ourselves and make each release better than the last. Whether it be musically, lyrically, or the production of the songs. We just want people to connect to our music anyway they can. If someone connects to it because they have fun and like to dance they have that option. If someone connects to it because of the lyrics or chord changes they also have that option.

One goal we have with our music is to treat it as a release for people as well as for ourselves. Music used to be more of a communal event where there was no line between the stage and the audience. We want to treat our music the way it was treated in gospel or in meditation. Its an escape from daily routines and a way to be a part of something bigger and more powerful. We want the audience to know that they have the ability to influence and be part of the show. We travel around the country to see our fans in the same way they come to see us.

About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...
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