Olin & the Moon front man David LaBrel was sitting in an airport terminal a couple of years back, waiting for his luggage, when he saw a little boy struggling at the baggage carousel. He helped the kid with his bags and then asked his name. "Olin," the boy said, and then proceeded to scamper off.
Thus was born the moniker of the band, who have a Tuesday night residency at the Echo all this month, and perform there tonight. Dave's older brother Travis LaBrel tells this story at Mohawk Bend, a new bar in Echo Park, over sips of Racer 5 IPA. Or gulps, rather. "The Moon part just came about organically," he says. "That kid was the spark." LaBrel looks something like Santa Claus, if instead of milk and cookies Santa existed off of Marlboro Reds and beer. As Olin's lead guitarist and backup vocalist, it's quite hilarious to see him singing falsetto next to his brother who is, literally, half his size.
Olin are somewhat of an anomaly on the L.A. indie scene; they don't rely on trends, but rather have quietly built a fan base with solid country rock records. Most of the group hails from Sun Valley, Idaho, which is evident in their styles, both musical and sartorial. LaBrel wears a cutoff denim vest over a Nascar T-shirt, and jangles a janitor-size set of keys without irony. In fact, what's great about Olin & The Moon is how straightforward they are in their alt-country: their latest album, Footsteps, features the sincere twangy sounds of banjo and pedal steel.
LaBrel finishes his beer and suggests we head to Little Joy, another Echo Park nightlife staple, for $3 Coors night. On the walk over, he tells me about how Olin & The Moon got banned from the city of Las Vegas. "Once upon a time we played a two night gig at the Cosmopolitan. We showed up, looking like the poor kids we are, and rocked the first night. But the next day some casino exec told us we played too loud the previous night." Long story short, they had words with the manager and overstayed their welcome in Sin City. Once back in L.A. their friends in another band, Voxhaul Broadcast, imparted: "We were supposed to play the Cosmo, but they canceled all the upcoming shows because some band with ripped up jeans and bad tattoos ruined it for everyone." LaBrel smiles at the memory.
A couple of nights earlier I watched the band play a solid set at The Echo, to a crowd that seemed to be mostly made up of attractive women.
Afterwards I followed them across the street to a great little bar called El Prado, where drummer Marshall Vore said they had to meet someone. That someone turned out to be Ryan Adams. Everyone talked shop for awhile -- discussing country music and where the band is headed, with Adams mentioning that he may be want to be a part of Olin's next album.
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Adams also took the slow-burn route to alt-country fame, so he may end up being a potent mentor to the band. At the end of the day, LaBrel says, they're just buds. It seems that even out here in L.A., country roots run deep.