The Binghamton quintet feeds off their friendships as the world contends with anxiety and panic. (Interview + Album Stream)
Since 2006, upstate-downstate’s Driftwood have released successful albums backed by constant nationwide touring, leaving pleased toe-tapping audiences in their wake. From their debut to their latest, 2019’s Tree of Shade, the band continues to impress and inspire, mature and evolve, proving it’s entirely possible to choose your best friends and form a lasting family bond at the same time. AQ recently spoke with band members Joe Kollar, Claire Byrne, and Joey Arcuri about the band’s formation, its future, and the unexpected power of a tornado to unite. Be sure to keep an eye on driftwoodtheband.com for all the latest updates and rescheduled show dates.
AQ: Hi Joe, Claire, and Joey. Thanks for taking time to talk with me. To start, I’d like to talk about Driftwood’s past and make our way through to what the future holds. Let’s go back to high school. Joe, this was a high school band for you, right?
JK: That’s right. Dan [Forsyth] and I were initially not in the same friend group. He ran with some pretty scary dudes [laughs]. Yeah, he was super scary, but he ended up being a really nice guy. We’d party together. I was playing guitar and he went to the same guitar teacher I did; that’s how we kind of crossed paths. I was at a party playing, I don’t know, “Stairway to Heaven” or something like that and he said, ‘Dude, I play guitar, too!’ I just said ‘Don’t punch me.’ He said, ‘I’m not gonna punch you. We’re friends now!’ We played a lot of Led Zeppelin, Cream, a lot of 60s psychedelic rock with a lot of electric guitar. That was really the beginning. Driftwood was a side project where we got into the acoustic thing as a duo, then it evolved from there into a 5-piece.
AQ: So that was 14 years ago. I’m fascinated by bands that form in high school and are still together years later. Where do you think all of this dedication comes from?
JK: I think it’s a mutual admiration for great music and great songs and supporting each other. We all try to allow each other room to be artists in whatever capacity we want to be. And, there’s something fun about being the underdog. There’s something sort of primal about just trying to figure out this big massive heap of how to make a living out of this thing, and what’s the next thing. I think there’s some inherent drive there, but I don’t know exactly where it comes from.
CB: That’s a really good question, one we really haven’t gotten. I’m sure in bed tonight I’ll think of some other stuff but I do think everybody’s really a hard worker, for sure. But beyond that, to just reiterate what Joe said, we became really close friends through the music to the point where you could debate we’re closer friends than we are band mates. Know what I mean? What came first now —the friend or the music? We’re very close and very supportive. I think we continue to push each other and it’s an environment that works for everybody. If it wasn’t a good environment that everybody was still feeling good in, I think we would lose the drive. It is not easy to always travel and it gets harder over the years. But, I think, because the environment is really healthy there’s a place for everybody and it continues to work really well.
JA: I can answer that, too. I think we all can think back to when we were each young and can remember the joy that we felt, initially, from music. It does change over the years, in terms of [becoming] adults and we treat it as a business, but at the root of it all when you get five individuals together there’s a uniqueness and quality that happens that’s special. It’s sort of magic. It brings me back to our roots and why I came to music. When we get together and play, it’s a lot different than when I’m practicing on my own. There’s just some magic that happens. We believe in that and that’s what really drives the discipline and pushes us forward to share our music and spread it across the land!
AQ: You’ve each referred to the band as being more than a band. Let’s keep going with that idea for a bit and talk about the band as the “Driftwood family,” to use a term I hear Joe say often.
JK: I think it has a lot to do with living in close quarters for so many years. It just sort of naturally develops. It’s funny because each person does take on sort of their own role. It’s just the natural dynamic of the band. Claire’s definitely like the mom of the band. Joey and I are—
CB: But I’m a fun mom!
JA: With a fanny pack.
JK: [Laughs] She’s a fun mom, yep. She had a dream about me last night where I wouldn’t come in to eat breakfast because I was busy playing a game and we had to get on the road to get to a gig. That’s kind of a real dream.
CB: It was real!
JK: It’s like a real thing where I’m just
doing something and we all need to go! I think just the close quarters of it
and how intimate [the] music is. It takes a lot to just lay yourself out there
sometimes, to say ‘I have a new song and I think
it’s OK but I want everyone to be a part of it.’ It’s a vulnerable place
and takes a lot of trust. Also, making it into a business and a living takes a
lot of trust. You have to
trust that everybody is fully invested and one person isn’t pulling more weight than another. Everyone has to feel like everyone’s in. Because of that, it just goes way beyond a friendship and becomes a family. I legitimately miss doing it, as hard as it is and as grueling as it can be. It’s like, where’s my family? Where’s my brothers and sisters?
AQ: You have a newer member in the family, Greg Evans on drums. How has it been bringing somebody new into the lineup, the family?
JA: It was pretty seamless. There’s just an unbelievable amount of talent on that guy, with great vision. He’s super intelligent and is more than just a drummer. He offers great insight into the music as well. It’s funny because I joined and the band had already been established for five years so I related to what he was going through. There’s an insecurity when you step into a family that already is [together] and you’re the new guy. It doesn’t take long—basically one tour—and the amount of time you spend together, the laughs, and the talks just solidifies it right away. We immediately threw him into a tour to Minnesota, down to Nashville, across to North Carolina, and back home. We hit a tornado on the way and had laughs and drama.
JK: Genuine fear. Fear of death.
JA: Yeah, all the fixin’s that go into the family pot. It was pretty immediate. He’s a really great addition and is inspiring us to think differently and write differently. We’ve grown a lot, and there’s more to do with him in our group now.
CB: It is an adjustment for sure. I think the dynamic between everybody is just so strong—Greg actually commented on this multiple times during that first tour—our people skills are pretty good. So you have to understand, like Joey said, when somebody new is coming out on the road maybe they’re nervous. Everything’s so established. You don’t know anybody that well. You have to keep those things in mind and kind of work with the person and be forgiving that maybe they’re having a rough day. Everybody has their quirks, too. But Greg’s a great guy. We really got lucky with him. I think other people would be harder to adjust to and he’s a really good dude.
JK: Super positive. And really, all you have to do is just bring someone through a tornado and they’re in the band. Drive through a tornado at night. Make sure you can’t see it. Then, if you survive, you’re like the closest family you can ever imagine.
CB: And one person in the crew is pregnant.
JK: Who could that be?
CB: [Laughing] And if you all survive, you can’t go wrong.
AS: Since you’re a local band I want to ask about your attachment to Binghamton. Have you ever considered calling somewhere else your home base, maybe the city or somewhere?
CB: We definitely have talked about relocating, not so much to the city but to Nashville. I remember we talked about that once or twice. I think we’re all—we’re not really homebodies—but we didn’t really want to go away from our families. The other thing about Binghamton is that it’s pretty cheap. You don’t make a lot of money as a musician, but you can feel like you’re doing decent in Binghamton. I think we’re all proud to be from upstate New York. It’s not Nashville and it’s not the city so are we potentially missing opportunities? I don’t know, maybe. But, it’s worked for us really well.
AQ: With everything being so odd right now, with people in quarantine and large gatherings basically against the law, how have you all adapted to not performing live in front of an audience, your extended family?
JA: It’s been really powerful. We’re all in this together, all in our homes. To see these musicians in a very intimate light, to see livestreams from bands in theaters, and ones with a guy sitting in his room with a guitar is very naked. It’s a beautiful thing, and very stripped down. It unites us all, gives us hope, and provides entertainment that’s much needed because everyone’s missing the arts at this time.
CB: All three of us have done livestream stuff. Joe’s probably the veteran of the three of us. I definitely felt like I went to work a little bit, like I’d done a job. I felt the connection with the community and it felt good to play but, man, you have no idea what you’re missing until you don’t have it. And we have a very strong community of people that follow us. They make friendships between themselves, and we make friendships through the music and other things. It’s like a high compared to what we’ve got right now. We always knew that. We’ve always been a live show band. That’s our thing, our bread and butter. We’ve always known how essential it is to create with other people there because you’re creating together then and you’re sharing it together. Once it’s gone, you really miss it.
JK: The livestreaming part of it is just amazing. It shows the resilience of expression and entertainment and art, and just sharing experience and connectivity. It’s been really fun to dive into that because it’s a totally new avenue for a lot of people, especially us. We’ve done, maybe, two livestreams in the past. It’s really opened up a new arena in some ways that’s really cool but it’s definitely no replacement for a live show when there’s a crowd and that energy in the room. I mean, it’s kind of funny because the Internet’s been around and there’s been livestreams in the past, but [people still] come out to see shows. I don’t think that’s going away. Even after this crazy thing, it’s going to take a while to find a new normal maybe, but there’s just some kind of primal creation that happens at a live show. Especially with a band like this, we really feed off the audience. Our setlist is not the same every night. We don’t have a “show” per se. Each person does a different set. You never know, really, what it’s going to be or what kind of vibe is going to be in the room. Sometimes we play sit-down venues; sometimes we play big festivals or places where people want to dance. It’s really an interactive experience with everybody. There’s some sort of thing—referring back to what Joey said—that brings you back to that joy of music and everyone at a show experiences that. It’s an amazing experience.
JA: You know, it’s funny, we’re used to performing onstage but I’ve heard from some other people who have gone live that it’s so nerve wracking. I did it last week and I was so freaking nervous. It was so weird.
CB: So nervous, so nervous.
JK: Seriously. Incredibly nerve wracking.
JA: I stared at my phone. All I had to do was push the button. I stared, playing, for one hour and thought ‘If you don’t do it, you’re going to be so pissed.’ So I just went live. I couldn’t do it. My heart was pounding.
CB: I had to convince my husband to do one. I was like ‘You can do it. We can do it! I did one. We just have a beer beforehand.’
JK: I typically get drunk in front of everybody. It really helps.
AQ: What does the future hold in terms of a new album, and maybe rescheduling some shows?
CB: Everything’s kind of stalled. When this all started happening and our shows started getting canceled it became clear that at least we wouldn’t be playing in April. We thought that was no problem and we’d book a photo shoot. We can get together and do some recording. This is OK, we could work through it. Then it became clear that we really shouldn’t even be getting together. Some of us live an hour apart and it would be a group of five. So, personally I’m writing a lot and trying to expand as a musician with these live shows being focused on my solo stuff. That’s really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I think working on stuff like that, that you can work on at home, will only make you a better musician. And when you come back to the group, hopefully you have something to offer [laughs].
JA: We’re due for an album for sure. There’s momentum there that’s definitely been stalled but we have great songs that I’ve been hearing from my band mates. It’s really exciting.
JK: I think the goal is to put out a new record as soon as possible. We definitely have more than enough songs. We’ve been road testing some and they’ve been coming together pretty good. As soon as we’re allowed to touch each other again, we’re gonna make some music!