Whether you call it Americana, alt-country, or one of the many other descriptions of what is classically understood as roots rock, it’s hard to ignore the genre itself these days has become saturated within modern music, oftentimes lulling the listener to sleep with homogeneous guitar twanging and sad song lyricism.
Breaking that mold—actually shattering it, frankly—is Los Angeles’ Dustbowl Revival. The group just released their latest LP, the outstanding Is It You, Is It Me, which instead of being a collection of cowboy and cowgirl laments is an upbeat mix of country rock and soul, with a killer horn section and social conscience that’s admirable and relatable.
Recently, AQ spoke with co-vocalist Liz Beebe about Dustbowl’s history, as well as the writing and recording of Is It You, Is It Me.
Hey Liz. Thanks for taking the time to chat with AQ today.
No problem. Thank you.
So let’s start at the beginning… Can you tell me a little bit about the band’s roots?
Yeah…. Zack (Lupetin, guitars/vocals) started the band almost ten years ago. Everybody that he had found at that time he found through a Craigslist ad. He had just moved from the Chicago area to L.A. and wanted to be working in music, and the people he found through that ad brought in other people. People are from all over; Connor (Vance) our mandolin player is from Santa Monica, but everyone else is from Washington, Illinois—our bass player right now (Yosmel Montejo) is from Cuba. Everybody has their own history, you know?
Definitely. You and Zack have such an integral role within Dustbowl Revival as co-vocalists. What really clicked for you guys when you started working together?
Well, I’m actually one of the newest members of the band, even though I’ve been around for seven years… and I think what is so special about Zack is that he studied screenwriting—he has always been a writer first, and a music lover. I come from an acting background, and I’m also a music lover. So, I think the way that he writes through stories is really special because I know how to insert myself in those stories and tell them like they’re mine. To me, not only do our voices fit well together, but our style of expressing art is similar, as well.
Sounds like you’re both approaching the music from a similar school of thought.
Yeah, I think so, and then the rest of the band are [trained musicians], so they all went to school for music. It’s a really great team of people that have strong foundations in music theory and improvisation, and then Zack and I have these strong foundations in storytelling.
My understanding is that the band challenged itself to write and record Is It You, Is It Me in a two-week fury. What was that like?
Yeah. The songs weren’t necessarily written in that two week period, but that is definitely when we took songs that Zack had been working on over the past few years since the last record. And unlike previous years, we did not play them on the road. We kept them close to our chest, and then when we came into the studio, we took those songs apart and put them back together into the way you hear them on the album. So, it was exciting and possibly a little nerve-wracking for everybody—I can only speak for myself. But I was definitely excited to have new material and to have it be fresh for the audiences and for us, which isn’t always the case.
That sounds like an intense experience. Did you learn anything about yourself personally as a musician?
In this process, it was really neat to come together and have the guidance of our producer Sam Kassirer. Because there are so many cooks in the kitchen in our group, it helps to have an objective, outside perspective that we can lean on, to have an over-arching view—which is what I think is wonderful about having a producer on a project. So for me, I think if you listen the album, the song “Let It Go” is one of the songs that I brought to the band, and I think working on this album was an in-real-life example of working on that mantra—letting go of control, letting go of perfection and personal expectations, and just seeing what comes in that collaborative environment.
How about the band—is this record a turning point for the group in terms of growth?
I wonder if turning point is the right [description]. It feels like every time we have a new album it’s at least a big step forward, because the album that existed before I joined the band definitely had an homage to a different time and feel to it…. So, I think that we definitely grow every time we get together and we write. I just hesitate to say “turning point” because to me that sounds like something else [laughs].
And what is that?
I guess a turning point feels like a departure, and instead of this feeling like a departure, I think we’re always learning and growing from our past experiences, so this more like an expansion.
I think some of the tracks on the album have a bit of a protest vibe to them. Would you agree?
Yeah, I would definitely agree, and that’s why Zack talks about a lot of [the songs] on stage. You know, he cares a lot. Not that it isn’t for all of us, but for instance, the song “Get Rid of You”—common sense gun control is something that Zack feels really passionate about, and that’s something that he took to heart when he wrote that song as an homage to the kids at the Parkland, Florida school shooting.
Very cool. So, if you were describe a Dustbowl Revival live show, how would you put that into words?
Oooh, um…. we might describe it differently, but I guess I can describe it for myself (laughs). I would describe a Dustbowl show as always a good time—you’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna sing, you’re gonna dance, and you might cry a little bit, at least on this album. But it’s ok, because we’ll hold you if you do (laughs).