Beards galore as Portland’s own Left Coast Country made a hair raising entrance at The Tractor Tavern in Ballard, opening for Della Mae May 6th, 2015. I was lucky enough to catch up with Blue Grass, “New Grass” Northwesterners Ian Wade, Drew Tucker and Zack Lovas to talk about some tunes on their upcoming album ‘Pines Fly By’, their cross country formation and who in the quintet has the best singing voice.
NWMS: First question I want to ask, you guys all get a microphone, who’s the best singer out of the bunch?
(Drew rapidly answers.)
Drew: That guy, Ian Wade. Ian Wade, no question.
(He points to Ian who humbly chuckles.)
Ian: I think the best part of the band is that we all sing but we all sing really well together and a lot of people [and I] have said that Drew and I have a “blood harmony” or a “brother harmony” which is really only something you get when you’re related by blood to someone. It’s been recognized before and we’ve thought it too.
Drew: It’s nice having a brother harmony with someone who’s not a brother.
NWMS: What do you guys think of the term “new grass?”
Ian: When you really think about bluegrass and where it comes from, there’s only so many people who consider themselves “purists” to the name bluegrass where if it’s not Bill Monroe or Earl Skruggs, you know of that era, and you’re straying away from it at all, it’s not bluegrass. Basically if it’s not old time music, you have to all put it together. I mean, I play electric bass so we’re trying to find anyway we can preserve the past.
Drew: Like the way people were cheering for your new haircut, tonight.
Ian: Anyway we can make Bill Monroe turn in his grave.
NWMS: I was curious if all five of you guys were in to Bluegrass or were some of you guys coaxed into it?
Ian: The band started out from me trying to start a bluegrass jam that wasn’t a traditional jam. There are a couple of traditional jams in Portland where people will tell you to “slow down.” So I found some guys who really weren’t that great of players, myself included. I was like (hey) “you guys wanna play bluegrass but you’re not any better than me, let’s play something.” And it kinda worked out, the couple guys I found, we were just ready to start a band.
Zach: And then Mickey our dobro player moved from Vermont to Portland and had been kind of emerging in the scene there. (He) had played with a few people and that was really the first big change in the line up. Then there were a few changes in guitar players.
Ian: I then called up Adam, who I also went to school with who had moved back to Ashland, North Carolina where he was making sandwiches. I asked him August 1st of 2014 if he wanted to move out to make less money than that to be in a bluegrass band. He showed up August 4th and then August 9th left on tour with the band. The first day of that tour was his first day in the band.
And then since then, it’s been kind of locked up that this was the band to have the kind of sound that we wanted and to go the places we wanted. And then we won the Northwest Strings Summit and went on two national tours and three regional tours. And now we have our latest album to release this summer which we actually recorded last summer that we’re just dying to put out.
NWMS: Previous albums you played original stuff and you played some cover tunes. What’s the ratio of the new album of originals to covers…of your friend, to old time.
Ian: Just about every song that we played tonight was original. One song that we covered is from Bob Dylan’s first album, “In My Time Of Dying.” It was a gospel tune that I know that Adam and I kind of revamped and made it into this bluegrass arrangement. We double timed it, added a solo section toward the end.
Then our friend, Max, who passed away a two years ago, just last week was the anniversary, actually. He wrote two of the songs on the new album. They’re just great tunes, he was such a close friend of ours, that we just couldn’t get away without using them. If he were alive, he’d be a member of this band, as the banjo player. He was just a great songwriter, we’re trying to keep his music alive. Other than that it’s us kicking in obscure tunes from obscure songwriters and making them our own.
NWMS: One last question, how has the northwest music scene treated you?
Ian: It’s treated us very well. We’ve seen most of the country, in February and March we saw just about all of it. We kept calling it our “Coolest Cities Tour.” We went to most of them,we spent a week in Sand Diego, we went to Austin, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana, Nashville, Tennessee, even Buffalo, New York, no matter how cold it got, we loved it. But we go to all the cool cities and get home to Portland and that hometown crowd just welcomes us. The music scene is made up of a lot of our friends that we love to watch play and that we respect a lot.
Zach: I love the northwest, growing up here and personally just getting back into music, developing as a fiddle player with this band. The Northwest has been a really receptive home being a new player, band, a new scene. Everyone’s all for each other. It’s a nice little tight knit community. As far as the arts are concerned you have all your friends there and they’re also in all the other bands you’re playing with. They’re going to see your shows, you’re seeing their shows. It’s really inspiring to see a lot of musicians, friend’s bands evolve into a bigger space, bigger atmosphere, taking the nation by storm. And hopefully pretty soon we’ll be there ourselves.
Ian: And also coming from a music community like Vermont, it’s a really small area that’s pretty well concentrated with musicians that know each other pretty well, have played with each other for a pretty long time and have a great appreciation for each other. It really transferred to the Northwest. Although the Northwest is much more spread out and vast compared to, ya know, just the state of Vermont.
We’ve got friends that we love in Seattle, Idaho, Montana, California. It’s always so communal.
Zach: Everyone we know and love or even people we don’t know, in the places that we’re playing, they know how far we’re traveling and they know that we’re doing this. Even if they haven’t heard us before. They heard us from a friend they come out and they tell all their friends. They listen to the music, they appreciate it, they’re really there for the music. That’s why I appreciate this region.
Even all the way to Colorado, Idaho, Montana, like Ian was saying, California, Oregon. People know we’re doing this for a reason.
The interview disperses as the venue lights flicker and Della Mae’s tour manager unites the ladies to prepare them for their drive for tomorrow’s Spokane show. Just before we part ways, Zach confides “We’re an all independent band. Most of our money goes towards the gas tank. We do this because we truly love it.”
Left Coast Country will be releasing their third full length, ‘Pines Fly By’ this summer/fall. They are the winners of the 2014 Northwest String Summit and you can find out more about them at www.leftcoastcountry.com or visit their Facebook fanpage HERE