Two excellent but very different Americana/roots bands have joined forces for a tour that will see them both celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first two albums by The Band. Both Hot Club of Cowtown and Dustbowl Revival will play sets that combine the music of The Band with their own original music. They hit Malibu on March 19, so we spoke to Elana James from Hot Club and Zach Lupetin from Dustbowl about it all.
L.A. WEEKLY: This is all very interesting. How did this tour come about?
ELANA JAMES: We’ve known [Dustbowl Revival] for a while. We’ve had the same agent. We have similar interests, and Zach has been a fan of our band for a while. We’ve been on the scene, I think, a lot longer than they have. But we were aware of each other and it was our agent’s idea to think about presenting a show along the lines of The Band and our influences, which is something that never would have occurred to me because what we do is so much more vintage than that era. But we thought it was a cool challenge. It seemed like a great idea.
ZACH LUPETIN: I think we share a mutual love of the music of The Band. It’s music that I grew up listening to with my dad, and as I have played with my own band for 10 years, I realized how much of a springboard their music is for bands like us that want to bring all these different types of roots music into one group — New Orleans brass, blues, folk and string band music. They were one of the only bands to make it their own. It’s definitely an inspiration for me as a writer and musician. It’s our goal to make timeless music now. Hot Club have been one of those bands that I started listening to in college about 15 years ago, and they got me into Western swing and some of the early prewar jazz. Being able to tour with one of your favorite bands is an exciting thing to do, so why not?
How much of an influence did The Band have on your band?
EJ: I wouldn’t say it has conscious, direct influence. Our influences tend to go back to the 1920s, 1930s. Pre–World War II and stuff like that. But as with a lot of people our age who are playing roots music, a lot of people grew up playing folk music or rock music, or listening to whatever the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, I don’t know. And then somehow those influences are redirected. When we apply ourselves toward this music, it comes out sounding cool. A hybrid of where we’ve come from musically and that more modern sound (even those records came out in 1968).
ZL: Well, sometimes you don’t realize it until later on. I was reintroduced to learning their songs seven or eight years ago when [Levon] Helm was dying. There was a documentary about him, and we were asked to play some Band songs at this screening and show. When we started learning the songs, I realized the parallels between our music and their music. You don’t necessarily realize you have a musical godfather until you meet them. A song that sounds kinda simple is actually really difficult to pull off. Especially Helm’s drumming. It’s very funky and nontraditional. That’s something that makes you a better musician — to get you of your comfort zone and try to expand your brain a bit.
Which is your favorite Band song to play live?
EJ: We made a seven-song EP on the occasion of this tour, and interestingly two of the slowest songs we do I think are the most beautiful. We do “I Shall Be Released” and we also do “Long Black Veil,” even though the band didn’t write it. Those two songs have a kind of majesty, and to do three-part singing on them is something that, when we pull it off, those are the two favorite songs we do.
ZL: We’ve been really loving opening the shows with “Don’t Do It,” which is on The Last Waltz. It’s very funky and sexy. With the horns that we have, it feels super sweet. Gets everybody dancing and fired up. It’s also great singing “The Wait” every night because you can almost have a choir of people in the audience doing a three-part harmony at the end.
So you'll be splitting the sets between Band songs and your own songs?
ZL: The goal is to integrate our songs with their songs in a way that can show the parallels and the jumping off points. We’ve been modernizing our sound for years, and the last couple of records felt like we found our sound. A place where folk and funk meet. In many ways, that’s what I consider The Band to have been doing.
The Hot Club of Cowtown and Dustbowl Revival play at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, at Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine, Malibu.