‘Facing fears and acknowledging failures and doubts’: Dust Bowl Revival brings songs from new album to Valley

  • Dustbowl Revival brings their unique blend of Americana, folk and soul to Gateway City Arts in Holyoke on February 4.  COURTESY OF ALL EYES MEDIA

  • Dustbowl Revivals’ latest album, “Is It You, Is It Me,” comes out January 31 via their own Medium Expectations label and Nashville’s Thirty Tigers.  COURTESY OF ALL EYES MEDIA

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 23, 2020

For over a decade, Dustbowl Revival has taken its unique blend of Americana, folk and soul music on the road. As Z. Lupetin, singer-songwriter for the six-piece Los Angeles-based band puts it, “we wanted to tell the whole story of American roots music.”

“That means combining string band music, brass band music from New Orleans, blues, gospel,” Lupetin said. “Then, coming into the second half of the century, soul, funk and rock and roll, and we’ve really tried to do our own thing sonically.”

Nearly 12 years ago, Lupetin moved from Michigan to Los Angeles with ambitions to be a playwright and screenwriter, but a fateful Craigslist ad would form the basis of what would become the Dustbowl Revival. The ad sought musicians who were as comfortable playing Appalachia bluegrass as New Orleans jazz. The line-ups have varied — at one point with over two dozen members — but now, the group embarks on a tour in support of their new album, “Is It You, Is It Me,” coming January 31 via their own Medium Expectations label and Nashville’s Thirty Tigers.

On Feb. 4, Dustbowl Revival plays at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke.

Dustbowl Revival has a big, theatrical sound that never sounds too busy. Singers Lupetin and Liz Beebe often harmonize and trade singing, and are accompanied by violin, mandolin, trumpet, trombones, bass and drums throughout the album and in live performances. The latest record is filled with 13 carefully crafted songs, yet there is a lot of vulnerability in the songwriting and instrumental experimentation that shows a band that is willing to go places musically it has never gone before.

Producer Sam Kassirer, of Massachusetts, flew out to Los Angeles and the band recorded the album in two weeks, many songs which were composed day-by-day.

“He tried to get us to throw out our preconceived notions of what songs we were going to pick and which songs to focus on,” Lupetin said. “It’s a bit old-fashioned, but we thought an album should have a full story arch, like a movie, and this album, for me, is about facing fears and acknowledging failures and doubts and really try to move past them and be a better person.”

There are songs about pre-show stage fright and a feeling of disbelief as the curtain rises. Songs about feeling broken down and beat up after grueling tours and the emotional toll it takes. And songs that address topics — such as political divisions within families and the student activists that emerged from the tragic Parkland High School shooting in Florida — that Lupetin said the band had never addressed before.

“(‘Get Rid of You’) was a song that we maybe never thought would make the record,” Lupetin said. “When we started playing it in the rehearsal room, it had a certain power to it. Sam, our producer, encouraged us to not be afraid to say what we needed to say on this … These kids who had endured this unimaginable tragedy basically said we’ve had enough, we are going to go and create our own movement to stop these people. Really, it’s a call to action to get rid of you, everyone has to vote. Young people have to vote these people out of office and that’s how it will happen. That’s what democracy is about. People standing up for themselves and having people heard.”

Lupetin has a lot of songwriting credits on the album, and he says co-writer Beebe encouraged him to let his songs be more personal. The first song on the album, “Dreaming,” initially started out conceptually about a baseball pitcher who blows the biggest game of his life in front of a national T.V. audience.

The song evolved into one that Lupetin reveals that underneath the perceived glamour of being in a wildly successful band is the sober truth of being a musician that performs nearly 150 days a year, opening up to strangers night after night with personal stories, and the vulnerability and sometimes loneliness that being in a touring band can leave one feeling.

“(The song) made me think of those nights where you are overcome with nerves and you have to give up yourself 100 percent no matter what,” Lupetin said. “The beauty of creating music in front of an audience is more important than the fear of putting yourself out there and pushing through fear is the most important thing.”

Beebe also has a background in theater, and Lupetin said their “original passion” comes out in their music and performances. The band has a grand sound like an orchestra, with members that play several different instruments depending on what is called for.

Connor Vance plays violin and, for the first time on this new record, picks up the electric guitar. Matt Rubin trades off trumpet, fluegelhorn and vintage keyboards effortlessly. Ulf Bjorn plays a tender trombone and Josh Heffernan keeps the band in sync with drums and a wide array of percussion.

On “Dreaming,” Lupetin plays an autoharp, an instrument often found in folk and country music, especially in songs by June Carter and Johnny Cash. But even though Dustbowl Revival has learned from the American music that has come before, the band is ready to bring it to where it’s going next.

“We put (the autoharp) through an amplifier and tremolo pedals and it sounds very psychedelic and cinematic,” Lupetin said. “We tried to really harness our full potential that way.”

Gateway City Arts is at 92 Race Street, Holyoke. Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Show is 18+ unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Visit www.gatewaycityarts.com or call (413) 650-2670 for tickets.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.