Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Rusty Doves: Their Music & "The Van"

                                         photo by Aaron Ure of www.imagehouseproductions.com

I finally had the opportunity to catch The Rusty Doves, a group that I had missed on their previous visits to the Hampton Roads area.  I made up for lost time by seeing them on two consecutive nights, Friday Aug. 13th at the County Grill in Yorktown, VA and Saturday Aug. 14th at The Boot in Norfolk, VA.  I decided to play head games with myself by texting them if it might be alright to do a brief interview before the Friday night gig.  I'd only just noticed their local tour swing on Facebook the day before, so I thought I could 'force' myself into finally doing my first blog post by not giving myself too much time too think and thereby talk myself out of it.  On Friday morning, I received a return text that the interview was on. I thought to myself..."Crap! (or a close facsimile thereof)  No more excuses for this still empty blog that was created at the very beginning of this year."  Better late than never, I guess.

When I arrived early at the County Grill that Friday night, a manager and longtime friend, Reggie, let me know that The Rusty Doves were running on a tight schedule due to traffic. Being mildly relieved that I was probably off the hook for doing the interview, I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the fine selection of beers on tap at the County Grill.  But I was keeping one eye open for an yellow 1976 Volkswagen Westfalia Campmobile van to pull up in the parking lot.  My rubber necking at the bar in order to keep looking outside for 'the van' had to be worrisome to nearby patrons due to my frequent and lengthy head turning.  Why the heck does that dude keep staring out the front window?  Sip of pale ale, stare, sip, stare...rinse, lather and repeat.  I wanted to see "the van" that would announce their arrival!  It's just too cool.  I had stumbled upon a music video and pictures of it while researching The Rusty Doves the evening before.

The Rusty Doves from Aaron Ure on Vimeo.

Thanks to Image House Productions for this video and the photos of the band that they let me use in this post.  Thanks Aaron & Lindsay!  In spite of my efforts, I missed 'the van's' initial arrival as it pulled up on the side of the building.  Just my luck!  Seeing their equipment and instruments being brought in was my cue to take a final swig of ale and rush outside with the camera in order to snag some pictures and video of 'the van' before it was too dark.  Realizing that they were indeed tight on time, I introduced myself to them and asked if it was alright to move the interview to the following evening before their performance at The Boot in Norfolk.  So now my only task was to enjoy the music and shot some video.  And I did indeed enjoy their music!

The following evening, prior to their performance at The Boot, we were able to sit down at a table on the outside patio for a chat.  Steven, whom I'll introduce better later, made me laugh when he observed that my research and questions made this seem like a James Lipton interview.  James Lipton, I'm not, but exhaustive in research and rabbit trails...well, I try.  After that I momentarily thought maybe I should ask them, "What's your favorite curse word?"  The always unpredictable traffic of Hampton Roads and specifically that of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel had me running a little late.  That HRBT had me wanting to use my own favorite curse words, but all was good. As a result, there was no time for a videotaped interview.  I thankfully have a temporary reprieve on learning how to edit video.  I'm not looking forward to that brain pain.  A large dinner, courtesy of The Boot, was served after the chat.  I, of course, opted for a beverage to reinforce my relief and ready myself for another fun show.  During their show at the Boot, a group of Swing dancers added quite a bit of fun and nostalgia to The Rusty Doves performance.  The Boot is a bit on the dark side for my camcorder's ability and some other extraneous factors (like where I was relegated to shooting) left me with very little useful footage from that particular show.  Strewth!  Well, enough about my interviewing and camcorder noobness.  The Rusty Doves are much more interesting and polished than I am, so on to their story.

                                      photo by Aaron Ure of www.imagehouseproductions.com

An "eclectic mix of bluegrass and stripped-down jazz" is how they've been described on the too-soon-gone and now defunct Boxed City and as posted on The Rusty Doves ReverbNation page.   Their Facebook page lists their music as "Roots, Americana & Swing" and more specifically as "a progressive blend of swing, bluegrass, and folk, with musical selections from many genres, spanning every decade since 1900...a seamless blend of old and new."  Bear with me for more descriptions for a moment because I also read these descriptions out loud to them in order to illustrate a point.  The Utica Observer-Dispatch described one performance as "a heap of knee-slapping bluegrass, a syncopated mix of 1920s ragtime jazz and a barely there splash of Irish folk...The duo has arranged several alternative songs, R&B songs and even jazz standards to fit their unique blend of 'new grass', as they call it."  I personally kind of missed the Irish folk and 'newgrass' comparison, but it does illustrate an applicable point about their music.  Yes, everybody is bound to make comparisons and try to categorize a group's music.  That's just natural, and I understand that.  Those descriptions will obviously vary greatly from person to person.  But, I just love how some music and especially theirs sometimes defies typical categories and genre descriptions.  I got the impression that even they sometimes get mildly amused at some (including myself) who try to define or describe their music. It doesn't however seem to bother them though as they have a good grasp of who they are.  Alyssa chimed in with a good tag for their music that I really liked, "Progressive Americana".  On a CNYxposed video, Alyssa describes their music as "swing, bluegrass, and some indie all within the framework of an old-timey sort of roots band."

I said all that to say this.  I saw people from their twenties to sixties at both shows all very engaged and enjoying The Rusty Doves' music.  They seem to bridge the generational gaps by adding a modern twist to many old songs and adding their old-timey take on many new songs.  Probably my favorite cover was that of Jolie Holland's "Old Fashioned Morphine".  (Rabbit trail videos: here and here.)  Alyssa does some excellent be-bopping, and I absolutely love when she puts those lips together to imitate the saxophone.  It is so spot on that at first I didn't notice until quickly doing a double-take to notice that there was indeed no one up there playing the sax.  I'm quite certain there was initially a puzzled look upon my face.  When I finally wrapped my head around the fact that it was indeed her making a great saxophone impression, my puzzled look quickly turned to a big grin. I think this song was the one that won me over as a fan of The Rusty Doves style.

Take My Breath Away (below) and Hazy Shade of Winter are other examples of their old-timey take on the new.

Videos of other covers they performed that were among my favorites were the following: The Devil's Paintbrush Road, Shady Grove, Cold Rain and Snow, Darlin' Cory, The Cuckoo, Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, and Sister Kate.  Two covers that I haven't heard yet but would love to hear are Radiohead's "No Surprise" and Metallica's "The Unforgiven".  I have absolutely no ideal what I'd be in for because they uniquely twist covers to their style!  More about their original songs later.  They have some brilliant covers, but they are by no means a mere cover band.  They do however definitely entice and endear you with their unique take on covers.  With everyone else sure to compare them to somebody, I asked them to give me a few names of bands that they'd compare themselves with the full knowledge that comparisons can be so imperfect.  Christabel & the Jons and Crooked Still were among a few that were uttered.

                                   photo by Lindsay Mogle of www.imagehouseproductions.com

Alyssa Stock, Jerry Dischiavo (or Jerry Dee as he is better known) and Leslie Kubica met in October of 2007 at a vaudeville show playing at The Other Side in Utica, NY.  The next door Café Domenico also figured importantly into the happenings that formed The Rusty Doves.  Leslie later left to go back to school in NYC.  A fortuitous meeting in October where Jerry and Alyssa together played her song, "Oubliette", was the final impetus to get it all going.  One of the very first questions I asked them, as a result of noticing their Facebook, Myspace and ReverbNation pages, was regarding Leslie Kubica's role in the band.  She was not with them during the two shows I attended, so that peaked my curiosity.  Leslie later joined them halfway through this tour, flying down to Lexington, KY. Officially, Leslie joined the band in June of 2010; however, she has been playing with The Rusty Doves intermittently since the very beginning.  It was actually her idea to have the very first jam session where all three first ever played together.  Leslie and Alyssa have known each other since childhood.  Sort of hard to avoid when you parents are friends.  Their friendship developed throughout high school.  The magnetism of The Mohawk Valley bridged the distance brought on by attending different colleges and ultimately sent into motion the formative events of 2007.

I'm told that Leslie is an accomplished flute player.  However, her graduate degree from NYU in Musical Performance on flute even better attests to that fact.  Leslie also attended Ithaca College.  I'm eager to hear how her banjo skills complement the band as I'm personally a big fan of that instrument.  When I was younger, I had a hard time getting through "Cripple Creek" on the banjo...even with tablature.  I built upon that with failed attempts at the piano and a test in middle school that confirmed I was indeed hopeless and shouldn't even waste my time with trying the sax. My non-existent musical ability has not deterred my love for music.  Anyway, back to Leslie.   I'm hoping to catch her with the band on their next tour swing.  They did however have another friend join them for the two shows in Hampton Roads.  Steven Campbell, Alyssa's fellow State University of New York at Fredonia alumnus and current Director of Orchestras at a Chesapeake public school here in Virginia, joined them for these two nights to play drums and violin/fiddle.

                                       photo by Aaron Ure of www.imagehouseproductions.com 

Alyssa studied illustration at State University of New York at Fredonia.  That made a lot of sense to me already having noticed her love for reading and more specifically her love for graphic novels.  I wasn't the only one curious about how long she had played the mandolin.  A fellow patron at the County Grill asked me if I knew.  He was as impressed as I was.  At the time he asked, I could only reply, "I don't know but the question was high on my list for the next day's interview."  Alyssa has been playing the mandolin for 4 years and quite skilled.  She has however been singing for considerably longer than she has played the mandolin.   She relayed some early memories while as a very young child of taking over the stage at a pig roast.  When the other performers had taken a break, she thought it appropriate to keep the music going with her rendition of "Puff, the Magic Dragon".  Figuring prominently into her vocal development and influences was her part in a high school music trio with her French teacher, Suzanne Bladek, and...you guessed it...Leslie Kubica. The trio, Wanawaké, still performs together a few times a year.

                                       photo by Aaron Ure of www.imagehouseproductions.com 

I found Jerry Dee's diversity of studies quite intriguing.  He has studied ballet at the N.C. School of Arts and philosophy at Utica College.  I imagine the conversations with him at his favorite hangout, the Café Domenico, are quite interesting.  Word has it that he can be often found spending time as a loyal patron of the Café.  One of the first things of note in a Rusty Doves' performance is Jerry's energy and animation while playing the upright bass.  He seems to have found a wooden dance partner, and it's quite enjoyable to watch.  His start with the upright bass began in sixth grade and continued throughout high school.  He hadn't played it for quite some time prior to the Rusty Doves beginnings until some chance events got that instrument back in his arms.   He also spent some time playing keyboards with a reggae band called The Hot Steppers quite some time prior to the formation of The Rusty Doves.
As I said earlier, this is not merely a cover band, as unique and endearing as their covers are.  On their EP "Hollow Hills" recorded at Electric Wilburland Studios in Utica and released in May of 2009, four of the six songs are original pieces.  Jerry Dee wrote "Down Digger" and "Lonesome 'Neath The Sky".  Alyssa wrote "Oubliette" and the title track, "Hollow Hills".  The Mohawk Valley, the Rust Belt, Alyssa's growing up in Little Falls and Jerry's growing up in Utica are among the significant influences in their songwriting.  "Hollow Hills" specifically speaks to the rise and fall of the Rust Belt.

Another original song, "Little Sister" was written by Alyssa for a tough time her sister was going through.

"Can't Be Mine" is another original and is self-described as 1920-esque. Another original, "Cherry Won't Bloom", has yet to be publicly performed, but you may want to add that song to "the next EP" watch.

Having noticed it's been over a year since their first release, I asked them about their plans for the future.  They have tentative plans to record a 5 track EP/Demo this coming winter.  Don't get your hopes too high, but you may want to start the "click their website, scroll and do the new EP  rain-dance" starting in November-ish.  But I'd stay on the later side of the "-ish".  You know how that goes.  I love starting rumors in order to keep the "rip CD" tab on my media player on alert. More tentative plans include recording an album the following summer.  The regional theme is again sure to both permeate and exude from the proposed album.  The plans are to not only paint a picture of the region in which they live, but also convey their lives there during the past three years.   A local cemetery and the dead white tree play a large part in one song.   Two other songs plan to evoke the sound, style, and nostalgia of old ragtime and flapper era.  As Alyssa told me, "I'd say a lot of the material on it is our attempt to pastiche bluegrass, swing and folk styles through our highly eclectic and unorthodox lens."  Of tremendous interest to me and hopefully available in the future, as I'm eager to view it, is the audio and video of a performance at Unity Hall, originally built in 1896 and located in Barneveld, NY.  They have taken the stage and often quite regularly at some of the following events: Utica Music Festival, Mohawk Valley Bluegrass Association Festival, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and also recently at the Boilermaker Road Race.

                                       photo by Aaron Ure of www.imagehouseproductions.com               

Further evidence to the eclectic influences affecting both their music styles and listening preferences can be found by noting their eclectic group of musical friends, specifically on their myspace page. These friends and influences encompass more than just the americana, folk, bluegrass and swing that you would expect.  There is also anything from blues, jazz, hip-hop, jam band, reggae and southern rock.  A question on what artists may be found currently playing on their mp3 players brought out the following responses: For Alyssa, it was Aimee Mann and The SteelDrivers.  For Jerry, it was the Easy Star All-Stars and Lee "Scratch" Perry - Meets Bullwackie in Satan's Dub. The Lee "Scratch" Perry mention did give me pause to get up-to-date on some reggae history.

                                       photo by Aaron Ure of www.imagehouseproductions.com

There is also plenty to keep Alyssa and Jerry busy when they aren't performing.  As is the case with many indie artists, they have other employment that readily allows them the time and wherewithal to pursue, perform, and hone their craft.  Alyssa works as a graphic designer for Whims-n-Doodles in New Hartford, NY.  Jerry is a social worker for both adults and youths with disabilities.  That coupled with past work as a grade-school music teacher seems exemplary of someone who is obviously good with people.  Clearly expressed to me by the duo and very encouraging to hear was how well their employers have allowed them the ability to pursue their musical careers.  As a result, they seem to be developing a rather regular East Coast/Southeast touring itinerary since 2009.  I believe this was their third time through the Hampton Roads area.  I hope my area remains a constant part of that swing as I look forward to following them and their music.  Their touring also serves a dual purpose as they also make room for vacation time and catching up with friends in the North Carolina area.  As a result, past tours have allowed them to visit a favorite getaway spot of mine, the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  After this particular visit, they were quickly off to catch some vacation time in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and meet up with some friends as they were working their toward some other scheduled venues on their tour. The Westfalia Campmobile version of their Volkswagen van obviously comes in quite handy for this.

                                       photo by Aaron Ure of www.imagehouseproductions.com                                       

That brings me full circle to that wonderful yellow van.  I love it, just in case you somehow missed that earlier, so I was sad to see it drive off from The Boot in Norfolk that Saturday evening.  However, I knew others were soon to see what I had already thoroughly enjoyed.  I eagerly anticipate and will again await the arrival of that van at the parking lot of their next show here in the Hampton Roads area with hopes of getting my hands on their next new EP.

Speaking of "leaving", I'll sneak in a final video with Annabelle Chvostek's lyrics, "Live and die and gone". 

No, I didn't forget about trying to get you some info on how to purchase the "Hollow Hills" EP.  They aren't quite yet set up with an online store.  So other than keeping your eyes on their websites, I can only suggest that you shoot them an email at manager@therustydoves.com and see if you can work out a way for them to ship you a copy.  I'll be updating this blog later with the video playlist of their entire 34 song performance at the County Grill in the coming days.  Feel free to stop by my YouTube channel and subscribe if you want to keep up with those and other videos that that I'll be uploading in the future.  Again, I'd like to thank Image House Productions' Aaron Ure and Lindsay Mogle for the wonderful photos and the first video.  Image House Productions can also be found on Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, and Myspace.