“‘Runaway’ is about a certain type of wanderlust, that eternal restless feeling that many of us in bands find ourselves in after a decade traveling the world, where we never quite feel at home anywhere.
The song came from a simple mandolin part that we recorded a crude demo of on our phones in Brooklyn during a snow storm years ago. There was a lonesome ache to the rhythm, like the character in the song was far away and was thinking maybe I should change my whole life, move to sunny Morocco or historic Jerusalem, or northern Spain, or southern Alaska (all places I’ve been at one time or another and loved) but then I always realize I’m never going to be comfortable. I’m always going to be looking for the next place, the next adventure, the next place to escape to. I was amazed and thankful that our producer Sam Kassirer saw the potential in that tinny phone demo and helped us
expand the song with a choir, symphonic brass and piano. It feels like a movie song now – big and lush and searching – and I love that.” Z. Lupetin (DUSTBOWL REVIVAL)
Los Angeles based Dustbowl Revival have spent a decade pushing the boundaries of American roots music, creating uplifting songs that fuse folk, funk and soul and performing transcendent live shows that have seen the L.A. Weekly newspaper crown them the city’s ‘Best Live Band’. Produced by Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Lake Street Dive, David Ramirez) and engineered by Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Local Natives, Sufjan Stevens), their upcoming new album ‘Is It You, Is It Me’ represents the latest stage in the development of a band that never ceases to evolve.
Written in a two week flash of intense creativity, the majority of the songs were layered and composed in the studio. Built like a nimble rock orchestra, each member played multiple instruments, bringing in new musicians on symphonic brass and local friends to create a spur of the moment choir. This process exposed fear, doubt and tension, but also brought out a new courage in the band to dig deeper than ever. The result is both a sonic revelation and a reckoning, certainly on relationships between the members of the group and their significant others, who may have begun to question their partner’s choice to always be away from home and have subsequently become strangers.
Perhaps ‘Is It You, Is It Me’ captures a conversation that hasn’t happened yet between people on both sides of a divide who simply don’t know how to talk to each other. Many songs are like plays unfolding verse by verse via the yin-yang conversational harmony that is the speciality of bandco-founder Z. Lupetin and co-lead singing dynamo Liz Beebe. With the big brass-and-strings band building sets around them, ‘Is It You, Is It Me’ isn’t afraid to explore artistic, personal and political tension that the group may have previously shied away from.
“I feel like we grew up for real on this record,” states Lupetin, “both as musicians who have come of age on the road together and as collaborators making music that even we don’t know how to describe or pin down. It’s exciting and a bit terrifying.”
Emotional and self-reflective, ‘Is It You, Is It Me’ tackles uneasy topics, often where the political feels,personal such as in the defiant ‘Get Rid of You’, which was inspired by the student activists who emerged from the Parkland High School shooting in Florida. The ominous driving brass groove of,’Enemy’, powerfully sung by Beebe, hones in on a painful generational split between a daughter and her parents, who may have voted in a tyrant and have become strangers to her after struggling to find common ground.
Elsewhere, there is the New Orleans second line feel of ‘Nobody Knows (Is It You)’, about a character who runs for president and accidentally wins, then gives it up on a whim when he discovers a greater good; the catchy pop bounce of ‘Ghost’, about a mysterious lover who disappears without a trace; heart-on-sleeve love songs like ‘I Wake Up’, and the first-kiss electric guitar and percussion nostalgia of ‘Penelope’, which harks back to huge band influences like early Paul Simon and Van Morrison.
The group’s co-lead vocalists star on the album opener ‘Dreaming’, which tackles the deep
vulnerability of revealing your soul every night in front of an audience, while the band chart a new course on lushly cinematic, orchestrated set pieces like ‘Mirror’, new single ‘Runaway’ and most notably current fan favourite and live showstopper ‘Sonic Boom’, which is about the struggle to reveal who you really are in the rose-tinted world of social media. There is a widescreen expansiveness to these songs that would not seem out of place in a packed arena.
However, perhaps the number that encapsulates the group’s raison d’etre is ‘Just One Song’, an emotional, acoustic track that might not have made it to the album without the encouragement of producer Kassirer. It is about a performer realising that, despite the doubt and struggle all around us, the music itself is always the most important thing. “Maybe we don’t know where this journey will take us or how long it will last,” acknowledges Lupetin. “That’s my take on the importance of what we try to do. Music elevates us, lifts us up, makes us change our minds, takes us out of our comfort zones. If just one person can be moved by just one song, that’s enough.”
Dustbowl Revival has taken the past and present and made it their own, turning it into something new. ‘Is It You, Is It Me’ represents another massive leap forward for the group and follows their acclaimed self-titled 2017 album which took them from a “roots dance party band” that thrived on the festival circuit to a more nuanced group embracing darker, more soulful territory. It hit the top spot on Amazon’s Americana chart and contained the introspective folk number ‘Got Over’, which has racked up almost 7 million Spotify spins. That album can now be seen as a direct bridge to their newest work.
Z. Lupetin – lead vocals, acoustic guitar
Liz Beebe – lead vocals, ukelele
Connor Vance – fiddle
Josh Heffernan – drums, percussion
Matt Rubin – trumpet
Ulf Bjorlin – trombone
[Medium Expectations/Thirty Tigers]
from the forthcoming album
IS IT YOU, IS IT ME