The alternative-folk boys from Oakland are generating quite a buzz as of late – having primed themselves with festivals in 2012 and 2013, Tumbleweed Wanderers are on the bill for California’s biggest summer festival at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park. Guitarists and vocalists Rob Fidel and Jeremy Lyon were kind enough to talk to Moxipop via phone about their upcoming touring as well as their musical processes. Kind, genial and thoughtful, the following is our conversation.
Mxp: The name implies a folksy connotation to your music. Was that connect intentional or did the music just happen to lend itself to be synonymous with Tumbleweed?
Fidel: We started out as a folksy band. We’d be out on stage playing banjo and mandolin – folk stuff. As we’ve gone on we’ve gotten into rock and other genres.
Lyon: We wanted to tour a lot and touring led to wandering so when we go from gig to gig it’s wandering, yeah.
Mxp: In a current musical scape rife with folk-oriented acts, what best differentiates Tumbleweed Wanderers from the rest?
Fidel: We rock out. One of our favorite bands in My Morning Jacket. Our sounds developed playing live using effects and using a big full sound. You don’t get that with a lot of folk groups. We’re into a lot of American music.
Lyon: There are a lot of folk harmonies and qualities we translate into a more rock-type setting. Our music translates into rock really well.
Mxp: Is there ever any trepidation or hesitancy in making music in the vein that people so often assign to the same realm as Mumford or The Lumineers?
Fidel: There will be times when people see a banjo on stage and assume that we’re Mumford and Sons.
Lyon: (Laughing) They’re what I call “arena-folk”
Fidel: It’s all so sub-genre-fied for all these bands. We land in the middle of all that. It’s not a genre making so much as it is thinking “What experience do we want the album to have?”
Mxp: Your 2012 album So Long has the theme of traveling – both weary and joyous in nature. Are the themes in the album based on real-life touring and traveling?
Fidel: It’s both conceptual and real. The first half (of So Long) were all songs that had been previously written. The 2nd side was newer stuff. There’s a journey within the album.
Lyon: The 1st side was before you leave for traveling. The 2nd side was what happened after you left and during the trip. Definitely constant motion.
Fidel: We all quit our jobs. A lot of people don’t realize touring and making music is your full-time job. It’s hard-core playing and booking shows from the start.
We’re all very free people conceptually, but what is preventing us all from doing what we want to do?
Mxp: What’s the hardest part of being on the road?
Lyon: You’re sitting in a van a lot. There’s no way around that. Driving down the 5 to L.A. more and more.
Fidel: The hardest part for me is knowing all the shows and vibes within the shows will be inconsistent. A show in San Francisco will be 100 people stoked to see us, a show in Denver might be 12 people. It’s tough being able to keep that same energy to a sold-out large room and a small intimate crowd.
Lyon: Measuring that energy – there’s times I’ll catch myself standing still on stage. I’ll have to tell myself, “Just fucking move!” It’s like I’m not doing my job or something.
Mxp: Freedom is another theme that seems largely apparent in your music, is there a specific impetus for that?
Fidel: It’s trying to figure out what freedom means. We’re all very free people conceptually, but what is preventing us all from doing what we want to do? It’s a mental personal freedom we’re talking about.
Lyon: Your subconscious – guilt, failure.
Fidel: It’s more mental than anything. Freedom to me is like living in your ideal world.
Lyon: Music is an escape for people – finding something freeing about and within life.
Mxp: You mentioned earlier My Morning Jacket. What other artists do you most admire? Are there any that helped shape your sound?
Fidel: The vibe and messages of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zero’s first record – that purging sense of doing what you want with an album.
Lyon: Wilco, The Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket.
Fidel: Personally I’m a big Jack White fan in any project. He puts on such a great performance and you can tell he cares about the craft.
Lyon: Really any artist that promotes a good live show and has good messages.
Mxp: What’s next, musically?
Lyon: Our next album should be out in the fall. Right now we’re devoting most of our energy into that.
Fidel: We’re all really excited about this record. It’s almost like it’s an all-new band – it feels a lot different. We’ve all developed a lot more and we’re all on the same page.
Lyon: When you tour together to all the same venues, meet all the same people, listen to the same music, find the same experiences, each person nonetheless processes it differently. We try and find the same ground to work together.
Mxp: What’s it like knowing that Outside Lands in an upcoming tour date?
Fidel: We did 15-17 festivals last year so we’ve gotten experience in the festival circuit. Outside Lands in particular is really special because it’s a huge hometown accomplishment for us.
Lyon: We played an unofficial stage at Outside Lands two years ago. It’s nice to be on the actual lineup. It’s also nice to know the vibe of the festival beforehand, to be on the same wavelength of the fans.
Mxp: Any final words for the folks coming to any of your upcoming shows?
Fidel: We’re playing a lot of new music and we’re excited about playing old tunes as well. Look forward to a lot of new experiences.
Born and raised on classic rock and oldies, Jake Tully consumed music voraciously growing up in Central California. He has his wonderful grandparents to thank for his love of music, as well as the amazing luck to have seen hundreds of concerts in his lifetime. He considers himself an eclectic consumer of all media, and further reading can be found at his blog.