20 Watt Tombstone: One-on-One
Interview Conducted in April 2016
By Coren McLeod
"Left Lane Cruiser" (Fort Wayne based Blues/Rock Duo) has been making music for ten years. Signed to Alive Records in 2006, they have produced eight full-length albums on the former "Black Keys" Label.
After discussing it for several years, "Left Lane" finally decided, in 2015, to record a split record with friends "20 Watt Tombstone" from Wausau, Wisconsin. The groups met at 7711 Studios in Belgium, WI to record something in the vein of an old punk rock record split, short and abrasive, like an old Ramones record.
What resulted were six songs of fuzzed-out Blues/Rock that feels like the best material produced by either band previously. Each side features three songs. Side A is Left Lane Cruiser; Side B is 20 Watt. The title, "Death Blues vs. The Dirty Spliff" embodies 20 Watt's style and Left Lane's affection for herbal supplements (as well as the title from their last album, "Dirty Spliff Blues"). The work is short at 23 minutes and 27 seconds; it definitely feels fast and raw.
The songs showcased here by Left Lane Cruiser have much of their earlier record's sound (when Brenn Beck was still drumming). The feel is raw; and bits of "Bring Yo Ass To The Table" and "All You Can Eat" are definitely present. This is not the Left Lane we heard on their last two records.
20 Watt Tombstone's songs are just different enough to fit well with Left Lane, but they still fit the overall flow of the album. The trashy, stoner rock - mixed with Blues and doom - was affectionately dubbed "Death Blues" by Left Lane's Freddie J IV. The description fits.
Street release and online distribution of the CD is scheduled for May 2. The vinyl release will be later in the Fall. Pre-orders are available through 20 Watt Tombstone. Their web site will offer, at a later date, limited edition, colored vinyl.
Side A Left Lane Cruiser
1 - Laid to the Bone
2 - Slow Grind
3 - Special Delivery
Side B - 20 Watt Tombstone
1 - Your Man's a Jerk
2 - Lair of the Swamp Witch
3 - Whiskey in my Brain
Coren E. McLeod: First off, tell me the history of your band and how the two of you got together?
Tom: I was in another band (a three piece) and our old drummer was starting to be able to play less and less due to family. As a result we had Mitch come in and fill the shows the regular drummer could not make, he played more and more until he was playing ALL the shows. Eventually the bass player had a the same problems with time and being able to tour so we started a duo. Originally it was just a joke, we called ourselves the Goddamns and never intended for it to be a serious band, just something fun and free of any of the bullshit that most bands have to abide by. When it got more serious we decided to trademark our name and were told we could not. Apparently, according to the U.S. Trademark Office anything offensive in nature like a "Curse word" is illegal to trademark.
Obviously we were not prepared for this and had no idea what to call ourselves, so we went to our fans on Facebook and asked for suggestions, after roughly a month we narrowed it down to five names and gave them to our management and said "Here, you guys pick, because we have no idea!" The rest is, as they say...History! Ha!
Coren: So, when I was out in the audience, I seriously had to ask my friends, "Are there really only two guys playing?" Why is there only two of you?
Tom: We get that alot (laughing)! People are always amazed at the amount of volume and substance we can create using just guitar and drums. There is no secret really, there are no Octave pedals, loopers or backing tracks. I get asked all the time how we do it, and I really don't have an answer. It just comes naturally for us I guess.
We made the conscious decision to be a two piece. It wasn't due to not having enough people interested in playing with us. We liked the sound that bands like "Left Lane Cruiser, The Black Keys (older stuff), White stripes, Jucifer, and the Black Diamond Heavies were creating.Witha duo there's more air in the music, more space. you can usually tell its a duo by how the band plays. That space and distinct sound attracted us. I am a huge old school blues fan, guys like RL Burnside and the older hill country guys like him usually didn't have a bass guitar, they had that little bit of "emptiness" to their sound that made it raw, the "air" I mentioned before. That really is what we are trying to create. Also it makes touring and getting paid alot better too!
Coren: I typically cover bands in the Chicagoland area ... (Illinois....) Since I am new to the Wisconsin scene, what can I expect out here?
Tom: Wisconsin is really a great place for bands to play, it is saturated in some markets but a band can easily play 2-3 shows on tour in Wisconsin and have a good crowd, sell merch and get a guarantee. I think it's the stat is starting to finally stand out for like music again. I truly believe Wisconsin fans are seriously under rated, they are hungry and devoted and are some of the coolest people to have follow your band. We know lots of bands from other states that tell us all the time how much they love playing Wisconsin.
Coren: I see a new album is on the horizon, coming out May 2. Very excited. What can your fans expect from this album?
Tom: We are very excited too! This record is a split with "Left Lane Cruiser" from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, We met them several years ago opening for them and became fast friends. We believe in the "Ramones style" punk rock record. Short and sweet, so this record and our first record are both roughly 30 minutes long. The New album contains six tracks, 3 from left lane cruiser and 3 from us. The idea was to make it like an old punk rock split on vinyl (coming October) with one band on one side, and a band on the other. Our tracks on this record are more of a departure from the last record. It definitely had a little more of a blues "Feel" than this one. This one is a Rock record all the way. We are pretty happy with it, and I think fans will be too!
Coren: Tom, how do you and Mitch come together to write songs and collaborate on your albums?
Tom: A lot of it is stuff that happens at shows, I will play something different live and we will both be like "hey that's cool, don't forget that" or I'll write a riff in my head, then we will sit down and develop it. Usually music comes first, and then I write lyrics over the musical idea and make subtle changes here and there til they both fiteach other. This record was a bit different than the last, we actually finished these songs in the studio the day we recorded them, whereas on the last record; most of it was written before hand.
Coren: Ok, so of course when I see a two piece band, I automatically think of Local H. Yet, you guys are way harder than that. What are some of your influences?
Tom: Man, so many to name...I will try though (laughing)! Left lane Cruiser, RL Burnside, The Black Diamond Heavies, Black Sabbath, Prince, Hank 3, Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy, P-Funk, The Misfits, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Fugazi, The Stooges, The MC5, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Lamb of God, Cattle Decapitation, Robert Johnson, Motorhead, Clutch, The Sword, Orange Goblin, ELectric Wizard, Weedeater, Fu Manchu, Justin Timberlake, Al Green, Miles Davis, The Beastie Boys, Kyuss, Sleep, High on Fire, N.W.A., The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Johnny Winter, ZZ Top, Tv on the Radio, Tom Waits, Ray Lamontagne, Cory Chisel, Shaky Graves, Scott H. Biram.... I could go on and on...we aren't like other bands, we draw influence from so many places, and that might be why we are such a strange genre mix.
Coren: So, for the each of you: When did you start to learn to play the guitar/drums?
Tom: Mitch has been playing drums for about 11 years and I have been playing guitar for around 27 years. Together in this band we have been playing for four years.
Coren: Looks like you are going to have a pretty busy summer. Where are you guys heading to and where are you most excited to play?
Tom: We leave May 6th for another South-East tour. Heading to Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, etc. We love the south for the most part, it's been very good to us. Georgia is by far our favorite place to play, There's an all Ages Venue in Brunswick, GA called HBGB's that has been amazing every time for us and it has become one of our favorite stops. This run we are playing the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta too so we are stoked about that!
Coren: Finally question: Give me some dirt. I want to hear what annoys you about the other person?
Tom: We actually get along incredibly well, we are kind of exact opposites but it works well. The only time we have had legitimate fights and arguments really, is when 'alcohol' has been involved. Our differences often compliment each other and make us more effective in most cases.
Thanks for answering these questions for me. And to be honest, I was highly impressed with your show at Rt 20 Outhouse opening for Royal Bliss.