Columbus, Ohio, rockin’ foursome Lo-Pan are going for it. They’re going for it like few in the heavy rock underground can afford to do, emotionally, physically, fiscally or just about any way you want to measure. Following the release of their excellent 2009 outing, Sasquanaut (remixed and reissued last year), the band hit the road like bastards and have never looked back. As a result, their new album on Small Stone Records, Salvador, is one of 2011’s best rock records. Hands down.
I had the chance to catch Lo-Pan live in Philly recently and they were tighter than I’ve ever seen them before—and considering the formidable sets I’ve seen them put on in the past, that’s saying something. Guitarist Brian Fristoe, bassist Skot Thompson, vocalist Jeff Martin and drummer Jesse Bartz have come together as few in fuzz can say they have, and I was thrilled to be able to gush to Bartz about it in a recent phone conversation:
When did you actually write the album? It doesn’t seem like you were ever off the road long enough to do it.
In reality, the time between the recording of Sasquanaut and the recording of Salvador was probably two and a half years, three years almost. Something like that. When we initially recorded Sasquanaut, it was October or November of ’08. We put it out in February of ’09, and so we had it out for like a year when we started talking to Scott [Hamilton] from Small Stone, and then last November, we went up to Boston and recorded the new one.
I think we had three or four extra songs, but we had almost all that material except for one or two of them written probably even before last summer. We only wrote one or two more during last summer while we were on the road and stuff. And that’s when we really started hitting the road hard and stuff, was the beginning of last year, or right after Sasquanaut took off for us.
Was there something in particular that led to you guys really becoming a touring band?
I think all of us in general have the same desire to do music at a full-time basis, and we kind of all got really motivated at the same time. The momentum was picking up really good for us.
How does the songwriting process go?
For us, mostly lots of jamming. Me and Fristoe and me and Skot get together and we jam out ideas, and those two get together sometimes, work through ideas, put more and more ideas together and stuff and come up with a rough draft and record that, and Jeff does his vocal things. We tweak it here and there.
We play it out a few times too before we’re actually totally done with it. Like I said, there was probably three or four other songs that we had written for the Salvador album that we just didn’t feel really had the energy or what we wanted live.
You ended up with a lot of really upbeat, really energetic songs on Salvador.
I guess that was a little bit of a conscious effort. We just write for our own appeal and our own opinions, and it just all came together that that was the material, those were the songs that we chose for this album. I think it worked out though. Pretty good.
We’re definitely really happy with it, but we’re also happy with writing in different veins, a little bit more slower tempos and stuff like that too.
How was the time at Mad Oak?
We did one full week there, and then [Benny Grotto] did a bit of mixing afterwards. It was awesome. Benny is one of the greatest engineers that we’ve worked it. It made it really, really easy for us. It was really comfortable, really good time, all the way around.
Were you actually there for the remixing of Sasquanaut?
No. Benny got our tapes and remixed it. We actually had to go back and re-record one of the songs for it. “Wade Garrett,” the last song on the album, it’s a little bit different than the originals, the first pressing that we did alone.
We couldn’t find the original tapes for that song, since it’s been so long, we didn’t have a tape long enough or space enough on a tape to put it, so we put it on one of the studio tapes, and when we went back to get those tapes and stuff, that tape was not around anymore (laughs). Kind of sucks, but we were really fortunate [to be] able to go record to tape again and just send all of that to Benny and he did an awesome job, again.
Sonically, there’s definitely a difference. Benny is a master, man. He’s really, really good. There’s a lot of people that have said they also like the original versions and stuff—and it was a little bit dirtier and a little rougher and stuff—and make no mistake, our intention with getting the original out there was to record onto tape as cheap as possible and get it out there as much as possible.
When we first were moving those records, we were selling them at anything we could get out of them. Five, 10 dollars. Whatever we could get in the night, we were just trying to move as many CDs as possible.
It was a DIY, gung-ho effort from the beginning, in that sense. And now that Small Stone got involved, it changed the feel as far as the professionals we’re able to contact in that sense too.
How was SXSW for you guys?
It was really good. Really good for us. It was our first time getting down there and playing and stuff. It was cool for us. We were at a good advantage in that we play out pretty regular, so we had a good tour going down there and a good tour going back. It was great for us.
We had a really good time, got to meet a lot of the bands that are also on Small Stone—Dixie Witch and Suplecs. They were really good guys and it was great to play with those guys. We’re actually headed back to Austin first week in June to do the Liquid Sludge Fest.
Last time you came through New York was with them.
We’ve played there a couple times with them, at the Ace Of Clubs, I think. Wasn’t that the Acme Downstairs at one point too?
Yeah, it was the Acme Underground.
Yeah. I was in there before, but we hadn’t played there. We played there a couple times [at Ace Of Clubs]. I thought it was a pretty cool club. It was claustrophobic (laughs).
I don’t know about how the exits work in that place or anything like that, but it was definitely a fun time. We always had a fun time there, and it was good crowds, great P.A. and stuff.
What’s planned for after this tour? Are you guys going to Europe at all?
We’re hoping to, in the fall. That’s the plan at this point. We’d like to get a week in over there in the fall sometime, and hopefully hook up with some people that are already established over there. We’re already writing again.
And do you have a timeframe on when you’ll start writing again, or is it just all touring for a while?
We’ve written a little bit since we were in the studio. We stay pretty constant with that, but it’s mostly touring. As far as that goes, we usually project out when we can take breaks from touring, and that’s generally when we get together and do a little bit more concentration on just writing and stuff, but I don’t see us letting up from touring for a little while.
I would say definitely over a year from right now. We’re already planning on at least doing SXSW again next year and trying to get out there and do at least two or three more national tours next year too.
And you’ve got the Small Stone showcase in Philly in September?
Yes, we are definitely planning on doing that, and trying to do the one he’s gonna do in Chicago too, as far as I know. I think we’re going to try and hook up with Suplecs and do some touring between the two.
We’ve been talking with Suplecs and Throttlerod and Freedom Hawk—all great bands, highly recommended if anybody wants to contact those guys, they’re really, really good bands to be on the road with and stuff—and if we get the opportunity, we’d love to try and do that too.
Lo-Pan’s Salvador is available now on Small Stone. More info at lopandemic.com.
JJ Koczan also doesn’t know where the fire exits were at Ace Of Clubs, but man, does he ever miss that place. firstname.lastname@example.org.