After years of slogging it out in their van, bringing their fuzzy, heavy brand of rock and roll to willing heads on an almost door-to-door basis, Ohio four-piece Lo-Pan are starting to see their years of work pay off. Last fall, supporting their 2011 Small Stone Records debut, Salvador, the band—Jeff Martin (vocals), Brian Fristoe (guitar), Scott Thompson (bass) and Jesse Bartz (drums)—joined High On Fire for a U.S. tour, and dates since alongside Torche and shows upcoming with Weedeater have only confirmed their steady ascent.
With the recording of a new album on the horizon this autumn/winter, a new vinyl reissue of their second album, 2009’s Sasquanaut, just out, and fresh off a slot at StaVent Fest in PA, Lo-Pan will headline this coming Saturday, July 27, at The Eye Of The Stoned Goat 3 festival, to be held at The Acheron in Brooklyn, with support from labelmates Gozu, Lord Fowl and Supermachine, as well as Black Black Black, Wasted Theory, Wizard Eye and others.
Just off a round of dates with Indianapolis-based buds Devil To Pay, Jesse Bartz recently took some time out for a quick call to update on all things Lo-Pan:
How were the Devil To Pay shows?
Really good. Really good. Those guys are playing a lot of the new material and stuff, and they’re nailing it. Really tight. We’ve played with those guys a lot of times over the years and we dig those guys a lot. They are definitely brothers of ours. They’re really, really playing tight as a unit and stuff right now and writing some really, really good music. We really like being able to see that more than one night in a row. It’s cool to be able to listen to their set over and over again and get more familiarized with their newer music live and stuff.
How much of Sasquanaut did you wind up playing each night?
Well, we started off playing the entire album. We did it for the first two nights (laughs), then we talked about it and we were just like, “Man, we are just so much more motivated by our new material right now” and it just didn’t feel right to us. Generally when you’re on the road, you have a lot of disagreements and stuff, and this was one thing we actually all got in the van and looked at each other and were like, “Hey let’s talk about the set real quick,” and everybody was like, “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too!”
We just decided to change it up and play some of our newer material for the rest of the evenings and stuff, and there’s just a certain kind of energy or chemistry in new material that you don’t really get out of your material that’s six years old. That album, in what it is, we love that album and we were very fortunate to make that album—but at the same time, that’s just something that is six years old to us and it just does not have the same energy live to us at all, as far as that material goes. The recordings and listening to the recordings is great.
But we play select tracks from that album live here and there. We’ve been known to pull out “Dragline,” “Savage Henry,” “Kurtz,” “Wade Garrett” and stuff, but some of the other stuff that’s on that album, we kind of came to the conclusion that there’s reasons we haven’t been playing them live for a while.
I think it’s fair, six years later like you say. It was 2009 the CD came out, so I think it’s reasonable you’d want to move on, especially with another album since and new stuff coming together.
We’re writing a lot now too and we want to stay motivated on that stuff and keeping that fresh in our minds and getting ready to record and stuff.
How’s the writing going?
Really good. We’re probably like nine tracks into it. I think we’re probably gonna write at least four, five more tracks and then head into the studio late fall, sometime over the winter or something.
You going back to Mad Oak?
Right now we’re searching out a couple different options. Mad Oak is definitely one of the options that we’ve been searching out, but we’ve been talking with [Small Stone Records label head Scott] Hamilton about a few other options that might be out there. We’ll just have to see where that goes.
We’re not expecting to do it anytime in the near-immediate future anyways. We’ve still got a lot more writing before we nail down where and who we want to work with to do the recording.
Do you have any sense of where things have gone since Salvador yet?
You know, I definitely think that we have matured. To me, it feels like we’re starting to hit a real good comfortable stride in our writing. Salvador was like a new experience in writing with a singer that really sings a lot, because Sasquanaut—most of the material—was written before Jeff was part of the band. He put lyrics to the music that we already had.
Salvador was the first stuff that we started writing with a singer and really feeling out how he would fill in over top of what we were doing. Now the newer stuff that we’re doing, really feels like we’re comfortable writing with a singer who really sings and we’re giving each other a lot of the space that we need and also the foundations that we need to be more comfortable with our singer. It’s like the sophomore-with-a-singer now.
I’d imagine that the road time—not that that’s anything new at this point—but that’s got to play into the comfort level.
Absolutely. A lot of the stuff we wrote in a certain way and have road tested it for a while. Some of the stuff that we’ve just written and not necessarily road tested—kind of keep that for the album when that’s coming out and it’ll be some newer material that way too—but for the most part a lot of those things are written more…
We’ve actually even shelved three or four now because we had road tested them and didn’t really get what we wanted out of them, so we kind of felt it was better to move onto another song and rewrite for another song.
I think “Eastern Seas” and “Colossus” were the two I’ve seen.
Yup. Those two have stuck around for quite a while and we feel really strong about those two. They’re good energy songs for us and they seem to transition well for us.
Really, Jeff ties a lot of that in. He’s coming very, very of age in his singing and feeling a lot more confident with us underneath him as the foundation. I think that really shines through in those songs a lot.
Has there been a difference for you in doing the bigger tours—High On Fire, Torche—than going out on your own?
Yeah, it is definitely different. They’re just two different situations. Very different all the way around. There’s a lot of different examples of how, but they’re very, very different. Night and day differences. I would say that going out on your own and cutting your teeth and paying your dues is exactly that, and it makes those other experiences where you get the chance to do the opening spot or the support slot on some of those bigger tours, it makes those things so much easier when you actually get that opportunity.
To be blunt, having your shit together a lot more, because of having those other experiences, makes it a very, very, very fluid situation to be the opener on one of those tours and be done by nine, 10 o’clock and have everything pretty much over and just be selling merch and stuff. Just to be on time and be punctual and be where you’re supposed to be and stuff. It makes a lot more sense when you’ve been doing it for years and years and years on your own, but you don’t really realize it until you’ve actually done a couple other tours that were a different situation where you’re like, “Hey man, this is pretty easy compared to what we’ve done before this” (laughs).
It makes a lot more sense when you’re in the situation. You realize that’s a lot of what paying your dues is all about—and not to say we don’t have a lot more dues to pay. We’re very honest about where we’re at and know wholeheartedly that we have a lot more dues to pay and look forward to that too.
Lo-Pan play The Acheron on July 27 with Gozu, Supermachine, Black Black Black, Borracho and more. Info at theeyeofthestonedgoat.com and lopandemic.com. Sasquanaut is available on vinyl through smallstone.com.