Think Bob Dylan and Joan Baez – free-spirited, threadbare, dazed. This is what I encountered when I met with Zak Mandel-Roman, lead guitarist of Oakland, California’s Tumbleweed Wanderers. Since seeing him in high school (as he was two years my senior at Lick Wilmerding in San Francisco), his hair had grown shaggy and unkempt and he had inexplicably lost the ability to wear a shirt beneath his denim vest. Nevertheless, it was a happy reunion and a great opportunity to catch up with an old friend who is achieving his musical dream.
After dropping out of college in 2011, Mandel-Roman and guitarist Jeremy Lyon formed the band’s zygote, playing on streets and in small venues throughout the Bay Area. Eventually, they were able to establish a following and develop a characteristic sound: soul, funk, and rock and roll. Their songs weave these genres together seamlessly, skillfully shepherding the listener between dark chaotic banjo-rock, intimate acoustic harmonies, and energetic explosions of soul.
Following the release of their debut record, “So Long,” in 2011, the band has plans to release their newest EP (“Worn Down Welcome”) in the Spring of 2013. Whether it be busking on your street corner or playing in a major venue in your town, Tumbleweed Wanderers is certainly a force that won’t be stopping any time soon.
You can stream and download their music at their bandcamp page, here: http://tumbleweedwanderers.bandcamp.com/.
Post by Chloe Lula. Check out her interview with The Tumbleweed Wanderers here: http://www.wrct.org/?p=3811
Could you introduce yourself and your band?
I’m Zak with the Tumbleweed Wanderers here at SXSW. We formed two years ago, we started in the Bay Area, me and Jeremy. We got two other guys to play with us since then. We were working then at the time and then we dropped out of school. Then we just stopped working and went full-time. We’ve been touring since December of 2011 off an on and we recorded an album that we released in July and we’re about to release an EP. We play a lot of soul- and folk-influenced rock and roll.
What projects specifically have you been working on recently?
Well the EP we’re coming out with has been our most recent recording project, it’s called Born Down Welcome. It’s got four songs on it. We just wanted to release some singles that would catch on in the media world. We’re just kind of rolling with it, touring a lot. We just got off a tour opening for Tea Leaf Green, which is kind of a jam band from the 90s. We just did our first tour through the South on our way here, Snowball Festival, we’ve got a lot more festivals coming up this summer.
Could describe how your band evolved and how you all met each other? I know you and Jeremy went to high school together – how did you meet everyone else?
Yeah, so me and Jeremy went to high school together and then, at the very beginning of 2011 I dropped out of school and was kind of working and doing some other stuff like biking around. Then the next quarter – I was at UC Santa Barbara and he was at UC Santa Cruz – he dropped out of school and he wanted to play music so I was like, ‘yeah, let’s play music together.’ So that’s when we started the band. It was initially just the two of us and we would play on the street. But we got our first gig at a little place in Alameda called Roosters Roadhouse and we needed some other people to play with us so we got Daniel, who’s our drummer, and Pat, who’s our keyboard player. We initially just got them for the gig but then it went so well so we just kept them. Since then it’s just been…playing a lot of music (laughs).
Do you have any plans for the future? Do you know where you want your band to go yet?
I mean, we’re kind of working towards just keeping playing music and touring a lot. Obviously we’re always trying to reach more fans. Just keep playing, I guess. It’s going well.
Who are your greatest influences? Do you write all of your own music?
Well we do covers every once in a while but we’re mostly all original music. Jeremy, Rob and I are the main songwriters, but recently it’s been a very collaborative process in terms of the way song writing goes. Modern bands we would compare ourselves to would be, like, My Morning Jacket, Delta Spirit, Dawes, all those bands we’ve been able to see in the past couple of days. Jim James we saw last night. Other bands like Dr. Dog, Edward Sharpe. Those are the current bands I would compare ourselves to. But we have a lot of older influences, like a lot of soul music, blue grass, rock and roll, all that stuff.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
We’re releasing our new EP on April 26th at The Independent in San Francisco, so we’re really excited for that.
Interview by Chloe Lula.
This year, WRCT had the chance to sit down with The Black Lips for a short interview. Check it out below and find more info on the band at their website: black-lips.com.
How many times have you been to SXSW? How are you liking being here this year and is it different from other years that you’ve been here?
We’ve been here five or six times, probably. Maybe more. But I think around five or six. We do it about every other year. In 2007, The New York Times called us the hardest-working band at SXSW. We’re gonna play two shows today, two tomorrow, and then we’re out. Unfortunately we don’t have anything new to promote, but we’re always here to promote ourselves (laughs).
I understand that your most recent album release, Arabia Mountain, is the first album where you’ve collaborated with a producer. Has this changed the sound at all? Have you been happy with the result and would you continue to collaborate on future releases?
I’d say we’re all very happy with the results. I think Mark Ronson did a really great job producing. We probably will entertain the idea of working with producers in the future since it’s always good to get an outside perspective. It hasn’t really changed our sound, it just kind of put a little twist on it.
I know you also collaborated recently with Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox on the Ghetto Cross project. Could you talk more about it? Where do you think it will go?
Honestly we’ve been playing for five years and we’ve only put out, like, two songs on the internet so it’s really just been for fun. Maybe one day in the future we’ll put out a commercial release or something.
My personal favorite album of yours is Good Bad Not Evil – “Bad Kids” has been my ringtone since high school and, in my mind, an epitome of your music. It seems like your sound has departed from raw, lo-fi punk rock to a more polished and pop-y sound in your latest album. Can you characterize the way your sound has changed?
I wouldn’t actually say that it’s changed all that much – even if you go back to our first album, you’ll see pop songs, punk songs, country songs, a whole variety. Maybe we’ve gotten better. Maybe there were a bit more pop songs on Arabia Mountain than on Good Bad Not Evil. But overall I don’t think it’s changed all that much. Outside of the fact that it’s probably gotten tighter. We’ve been able to play our instruments better over the years (laughs). I don’t think we’ve ever made a conscious decision to do anything musically. We’ve never had a band meeting before and decided to sound a certain way or go in a certain direction. Song writing’s tough, so whatever song pops in there you want to work your hardest to make it good.
Does being from a southern state have an impact on your style? Songs like “Fad” from your first album seem to have some definite country influences.
Absolutely. Yeah, I think definitely being a Southern band kind of defines us, in a sense. Not completely, but that’s a big chunk of it. All modern music or pop music comes from the South, so, in a way, everyone’s influenced by it. Country, jazz, rock and roll, they all find their roots here in the South. And also just being around people talking with a Southern accent is nice. It’s tonal, and maybe the consonants aren’t all there, but the way people pronounce stuff – it’s very pleasant to the ear. I think growing up in a conservative culture also creates something else. It’s real easy to be bad (laughs). Kind of made you want to be.
Who do you plan on seeing while you’re here at the festival?
I want to see my friends The Spits. We saw Natural Child last night, they’re really good. They’re from Nashville. I figure making plans here is kind of pointless so I’ll just find myself seeing something, I’m not gonna try and make any arrangements because it’s too much of a letdown if you can’t make it.
How does touring in the U.S. compare to touring elsewhere? I know you’ve toured in the Middle East and Europe extensively in the past.
Europe isn’t that much different than the United States, there’s kind of a universal appeal. Maybe there’s more hospitality in Europe. Built into your agreement is definitely dinner and definitely a place to stay. In the U.S., the music market is a lot more difficult. You kind of have to fend for yourself. The main differences are amenities, I’d say. Touring in the U.S. is much more comfortable because everything is open 24 hours since it’s such a convenience culture. In Europe, you can forget about eating after 11 or doing laundry or doing anything on Sunday. America and Australia and especially Japan are more set up for touring.
Is there anything you’d like to add and let your fans know?
As a band, we’re strong enough for a man but definitely pH balanced for a woman. We’re working on a new record too, we’re kind of here trying to build up our presence. Dave Groll expressed some interest in coming to hear some of our new stuff so we’re gonna see what he thinks. And our Middle East tour documentary is almost finished, hopefully we’ll be able to see it soon. It should be good, it’s supposed to premiere about a week and a half from now. And our new album should hopefully be done by the Fall. We’ve been doing a lot of pre-production…like actually writing the songs before we get to the studio (laughs). So hopefully it’ll be good. Actually, there’s no hopefully. It will be.
Interview by Chloe Lula.