In a town like Los Angeles, it’s rare you hear the sentence, “there’s this bluegrass band you have to see” …chances are if you do, it’s in reference to The Dust Bowl Cavaliers. Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of country or bluegrass music, but the DBC’s are that special breed of band that you can’t help but love. I dare even the most too-cool-for-school indie rock fan to see these guys live and not tap their leather pointy-toed Italian import shoe to the beat.
I talked with Dust Bowl Cavaliers’ upright bass player/singer Matt Young and guitar player/singer Mark McConville about their self-proclaimed “6 man hot-damn hootenanny.”
1. Is it hard being a bluegrass band in a city filled with hipsters and rock n’ roll?
YOUNG: Not really. We’re usually received pretty well by that crowd – I think it’s largely because we are different. I’ve found that there are a lot of closet roots music fans in LA and they come in all shapes and sizes.
MCCONVILLE: There’s actually a pretty great roots/Americana scene in LA. I think that if music is good, people will listen regardless of genre. Obviously, we’re probably not gonna play traditional pop and rock venues like the Roxy or Key Club, but we have managed to cultivate a pretty good following.
2. You guys do great cover songs. You even did a full tribute album to Tenacious D. How do you choose a song to cover?
MCCONVILLE: They just sort of happen. We’ll pitch songs to each other and try them out.
YOUNG: CMH Records hired us to do the Tenacious D record after they heard our covers of Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi” and “Take it on the Run” by REO Speedwagon. CMH has a whole line of bluegrass tribute CD’s called the “Pickin’ On…” series, and they find different bands to record whatever artist they’re covering.
3. Is there a band you would love to cover but haven’t yet?
YOUNG: I’d like to do the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man”. I’ve always wanted to cover a whole album for a show, too. Revolver or Badmotorfinger or Armed Forces or something like that, track for track, but bluegrass style.
MCCONVILLE: For years, I’ve been threatening to arrange a Whitney Houston medley. This is not a joke. I think a lot of her stuff would be fun if arranged for a bluegrass band. I never seem to get around to it. Maybe one of these days.
4. What’s been your favorite show you guys have played?
YOUNG: My favorite show was at Mississippi Studios in Portland a few years ago on our West Coast tour. The place is a real listening room with a great stage, great sound, and a great, friendly staff. We were surprised at how many folks showed up to hear us play so far from LA. We played really well that night and made a lot of new fans. The night before, we had played for ONE person in a pizza place. Yep – one person. Ups and downs.
MCCONVILLE: For me, we played a show at Molly Malone’s a few years back after a quirky variety show called Wizard Finger. Sword swallowers, gymnasts, fire dancers, crazy monologues, then us. The crowd was very excited and riled up and kept asking for encores. That was a moment where I realized that we really had something with this band. If memory serves, we ran out of songs and had to do a few a second time. More recently, our shows at Hotel Cafe have been very rewarding. That’s a great venue.
5. What do you consider when putting together a set list?
MCCONVILLE: It’s an interesting problem for us, as all the guys in the band sing lead vocals on a couple of our tunes. So the boring, practical answer is that we try to rotate the singing duties. The venue will often determine our sets, too. In a more intimate venue, we’re much more likely to play some slower softer stuff, or some newer stuff. But a bar crowd just wants to drink and have a good time. Usually, we can provide a pretty good uptempo soundtrack for such a thing. Mostly, we just play the tunes that we like and hope the audience likes them too.
6. Is there a “nerdy” instrument in bluegrass? I bet it’s the mandolin.
MCCONVILLE: Truly, the genre itself leans more toward nerdy than cool. There’s not a lot about bluegrass that is hip or modern. It’s a tradition-based genre, so there’s not a lot of cutting-edge, trendsetting going on. I just concentrate on playing music that I enjoy and let other people decide whether or not it’s cool.
YOUNG: It’s the mandolin.
7. What is the best part about being in a bluegrass band? What’s the worst part?
MCCONVILLE: The fact that we’ve been a band for this long and have been able to play around LA is fantastic. I love the fellas in the band, so the friendship is certainly one of the best things. Personally, it has forced me to become a better musician, which is a definite perk.
The tradition of bluegrass is a double-edged sword. There are traditionalists that would argue we aren’t a bluegrass band at all in that we plug our instruments in and play rock covers. It hasn’t been a major issue, but when it comes up, it’s not always fun to deal with. We just play what we like the best way we know how. We ride the line between honoring tradition and just doing our thing.
YOUNG: For me, the best part is getting a crowd really worked up. When people are rocking out to this music that’s nearly a century old, with big smiles on their faces, there’s just nothing like it. The worst part? I don’t know – counting all those piles of money sometimes wears me out.
8. If people have never heard your band before, what’s the best “starter track” for them on iTunes?
MCCONVILLE: I think our song “Lay You Down” is a great original tune that sums our band up pretty well.
YOUNG: “What is a Man?” or “Lay You Down”
9. Complete this sentence, “The Dust Bowl Cavalier will be the first band in history to…”
YOUNG: …become the first female President of the United States.
You can find tour dates and music by the Dust Bowl Cavaliers at myspace.com/thedustbowlcavaliers.