FOLKY BANDS GO TO LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE: INTERVIEW WITH TOMMY SANTEE KLAWS & HERBERT BAIL ORCHESTRA
This week, thousands of people will perch tents next to Lake Skinner in the desert to dance, play, and party for four expansive days. Lightning In A Bottle is a festival of expressive nuance, bringing together creative forces from every nook and niche, with music of all sorts spread out on a variety of stages both massive and quaint. I am excited, today, to interview two bands that will perform at the Lumi Lounge, curated with an “Americana folk roots rock” line up, showing off some of L.A.’s favorite folky-esque talent such as The Dustbowl Revival, Restavrant, The Downtown Train, Them Howling Bones, Sadie and the Blue Eyed Devils, Blackwater Jukebox, to name a few, and, interviewed below, the curators of Lumi Lounge, The Herbert Bail Orchestra, and the band whose songs I can belt out every word, Tommy Santee Klaws. Interview by Beth Breen
What is the differences between playing your own show, playing a festival, playing around a campfire, and playing in a living room? What changes and what remains the same?
Anthony Frattolillo (Herbert Bail Orchestra): You really get absorbed in the big sounds coming out of huge speakers shooting across a festival field, and that’s very different from a campfire performance in the backyard, or where a song might start in your bedroom alone or jamming with friends in a living room or studio. But you always just gotta’ play to the space. Everything’s relative. Herbert Bail has been learning what that means a lot lately. For instance, we were invited to play at a KROCK DJ’s Valentines Day Party at a private home in the hills, and three of us showed up (guitar, accordion, trumpet) and put on an acoustic performance unplugged that was just as much fun and engaging as a show at a bigger venue might be—because it was more appropriate for the space. And then, recently Herbert Bail went to Frydome Fry Music Festival & Gathering (a private “underground” event) in Joshua Tree to celebrate the Summer Solstice, and performed as 8 strong players in a 50-foot wooden geodesic dome in the middle of the desert. That was cool with more players and a bigger sound. And Herbert Bail will be 10 or 11 strong at LIB. So it’s all relative. Not to say that we need a bigger band for bigger venues, but Herbert Bail is trying to live up to having the word orchestra in the band name. So whether it’s for one person or one hundred, Herbert Bail wants to paint pictures with different layers of sounds. Not sure if that answered your question. In terms of what literally changes—the type of sound changes and players change. What remains the same—the feeling.
Tommy Santee (Tommy Santee Klaws): Well, if it’s a smaller, more intimate space, we will perform all-acoustic, which is our favorite way to play because we all play acoustic instruments and half of us sing so there’s a natural balance. BUT, we also love playing in bigger spaces so we can be loud! Having our sound controlled by a sound person can be hit or miss, but we’ve had mostly positive experiences in amplified situations.
Have you attended Lightning in A Bottle before?
AF: YES! Last year was Herbert Bail’s first LIB.
What do you know about the gathering?
AF: If Burning Man and Coachella had a love child it would be called Lighting In A Bottle. If sound is touch from a distance, LIB Music Fest is synesthesia up close. It’s like a beautiful sensory overload that melts your face off and opens your mind up.
TS: I don’t know too much about it. Our friend Ido has been many times and loves it. My impression is that it’s a love fest.
Anthony, I read that you’ll be bringing “anthemic action” to the “electric heavy” festival. I like that idea a lot. What does an anthem feel and sound like? How do you create one?
AF: Herbert Bail doesn’t sit down and say let’s write an anthem or a folk song or a rock n’ roll number, we are in the business of telling stories with sounds. A song becomes an anthem after it is identified with a particular audience. The audience makes a song an anthem when they start singing the chorus with you, shouting it along with you at the top of their lungs. And maybe it also matters that an “anthemic” song has an important message or meaning and a good drumbeat that moves along with people’s heartbeat. Our anthems are created together within Herbert Bail and with the audience.
Tommy, there are a number of you in your band. Where did you come from? How did you create the band?
TS: The beginning of Tommy Santee Klaws’ current line-up began with my wife Donna and brother Sam who both do percussion and sing. We met Tom Paige (upright bass) at Robin’s Sculpture Garden in Venice. Our buddy Jason Boles (mandolin/voice) would come to our shows and sing along, so we asked him to join us. We also met Chrysanthe Tan (violin) via Robin’s Sculpture Garden. Jon Soucy (guitar) used to play with us in a previous configuration called A&A, and after a 5-year stint in New England, has joined us once again. Our newest member is Heather Cano (contrabassoon) who we met playing in our friend’s band. We’ve had other friends join us, but this is usually what you’ll get.
What are three things you love about Los Angeles?
AF: 1) The name and the story and history behind the name Los Angeles. 2) How you’re always finding a new neighborhood, or creative hub, or warehouse space, or abandoned building where different kinds of artists are creating and collaborating. 3) The misunderstanding about what and where real L.A. culture is beyond the Star path, star maps and Hollywood Blvd. It’s in the L.A. River, in the mountains, in Mariscos joints, empty cracked sidewalks with a tree’s roots breaking through cement, faded murals in Boyle Heights, etc. Someone once told me, if people stopped landscaping LA—Los Angeles would be overgrown with greenery in a decade. Vines going up all the buildings Downtown. Mid-city covered in greenery. That’s probably my favorite thing about L.A. The possibility of what it could be (or what it might return to), and what it isn’t. And what we can contribute to its brief history, and help define it—because this land is old but this town’s a child.
TS: All the delicious foods (Little Ethiopia, Thai Town, San Gabriel, etc.), Forest Lawn in Glendale for its beauty and art, and Almighty OPP in Koreatown.
If you looked up right now, what is the first thing you see?
AF: A ceiling fan with dust and spider webs.
TS: A smoke detector.
If you looked down?
AF: Scratched and stained wood panel floor.
TS: My belly.
What were you like when you were eleven years old?
AF: Curious. Introverted. Dark, but happy.
TS: I was a happy-go-lucky 11-year-old who loved the movie Dick Tracy and playing the drum kit.
On December 21 in Machu Picchu, Peruvian drummers crossed a hill playing Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight,” what were you doing?
AF: Herbert Bail was performing a release show in Hollywood at Harvard & Stone on the day the world was supposed to end. And then we woke up the next morning and everything was the same, but also different.
TS: Fixing up our new rental, which then caught on fire a few weeks later.
How do you think about the future? Do you prepare for the future in any ways?
AF:The lessons of the past lay the foundation for the future. We imagine the past and remember the future. There are definitely many futures, just as there are many stories and many different points of view. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
TS: I mostly think the future is bleak, but then I see a little white fluffy poodle and think the future is really bright, and then you wanna live it up.
What does today have in store for you?
AF: Herbert Bail is hibernating, waiting for the next show to come out and play. Anthony Frattolillo is awake. Made a coffee. Gonna’ read the paper. Write some words and play some guitar. Smoke some herb. Sit in the sun. Toil in the garden. Plant some seeds. Build a new chicken coop. Dinner with the family. Wine. Sleep. Dream. Get up Monday and go to work.
TS: The day is almost done. I have some work to finish, then get a cuddle in with my wife.
LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE‘S LUMI LOUNGE WILL FEATURE LIVE MUSIC BEFORE AND AFTER MIDNIGHT, SO EXPECT “SOME REAL LATE NIGHT EARLY MORNING HOOTENANNYS.” VISIT THE EXTENSIVE LINEUP FOR THE FESTIVAL. JULY 11-15. LAKE SKINNER, TEMECULA, CA.