Wednesday, September 1, 2010
San Diego favorites the 7th Day Buskers have a new name and a new album. We'll talk to Shawn Rohlf and The Buskers and they'll play for us in the KPBS studio.
Shawn Rohlf and The Buskers are releasing their latest full-length album "Tiny Xs" on Friday, September 3rd at the Whistle Stop in South Park.
ALISON ST. JOHN (Host): You’re listening to These Days on KPBS in San Diego. I’m Alison St John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Well, are you ready for a good time? If you’ve ever been down to the Hillcrest Farmers Market of a Sunday, you will surely have heard the band that we have in studio with us now. Known until very recently as the 7th Day Buskers, they've been around San Diego for more than a dozen years. They’re led by talented singer/songwriter Shawn Rohlf, which is why they are now known as Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers. We'll get the low down on the name change and their new CD but first let's hear a song. It's called “Lonelier Times.”
(audio of Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers performing “Lonelier Times”)
ST JOHN: That’s Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers with a song off their latest album which is called “Tiny Xs.” Shawn, so tell us about that song, “Lonelier Times.” It was not too down. That was an up song for “Lonelier Times.” But tell us a bit about what was behind your titles.
SHAWN ROHLF (Founder, Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers): It’s kind of a travelogue, I guess. It’s kind of our – We start the album with that and it’s kind of a traveling song, I think. That’s it.
ST JOHN: Okay, well, you got any particular traveling in mind?
ROHLF: I guess, you know, songs kind of end up becoming a collection of experiences over the years and I – when I wrote that song, it just kind of fell out and I looked back at a lot of different experiences, touring and traveling around, playing music, and it just kind of – Yeah, it’s kind of – kind of hit me that way.
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm. Because you’ve been around San Diego for a long time. You’ve been together for a long time but you’ve got that root. You like being rooted in one place in some ways?
ROHLF: Yeah, well, I – before I lived here, I actually lived in Minneapolis, San Francisco, Amsterdam. I kind of moved all over the place and wasn’t actually planning on staying in San Diego when I came here. I was going to move back to the Bay Area but kind of got sucked in. I was waiting for winter to arrive, I was going to leave in the winter, and it’s never quite shown up so I’m still here.
ST JOHN: Yeah. So many of our listeners know you as the 7th Day Buskers. That’s certainly how I remember you. And you’ve been around for a while. Why did you change the name?
ROHLF: Well, the original Buskers that used to come in here and do the Lounge back in the day with you and Dirk Sutro…
ST JOHN: That’s right.
ROHLF: …kind of scattered all over the place. The bass player went to Broadway. He’s in “Jersey Boys.” And the fiddle player married him and went with him. The mandolin player went to Nashville. And so it kind of – at that point it sort of disbanded and I was doing a lot of side work with Tim Flannery and Steve Poltz and people like that and doing solo performing. And one by one, these guys started showing up at the farmers market where I’ve been busking for the last 13 years, and it just kind of organically came together as another version of the band. We tried to call it something else. We called it Gunplay Maxwell for awhile.
ST JOHN: Hmm…
ROHLF: And – But no one quite accepted that and kept calling us either the 7th Day Buskers or The Buskers or Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers. And so we just kind of let our fans decide and realized we were just going to stick with that because we are still busking at the farmers market and we’re still doing basically the same music, mostly my originals and a variety of covers. So just kind of became…
ST JOHN: It suits you, Buskers, yeah.
ROHLF: Yeah, it became more of an institution or something at that point.
ST JOHN: Well, speaking of these guys, let’s introduce the rest of the band here. We’ve got Alex Watts on guitar and vocals, Jef Kmak on upright bass, Richard “T-Bone” Larson on drums, and Dave Berzansky on pedal steel. So this is the group that’s been together for how long now?
ROHLF: I guess about two years total, I think? Yeah. Two years. We did our first gig actually here at SDSU. We opened for Malcolm Jamal Warner. That was our first gig with Dave, and so that officially started this band. It was in September of two years ago.
ST JOHN: Okay, so now you’ve got this CD that’s just about to come out. This has…
ST JOHN: …been a long time a’coming. A lot of your fans, I think, have been waiting for it. You hit some roadblocks.
ROHLF: Yeah, yeah, we had a tough time getting this one going. You know, when the band came together we were all excited. It was sounding better and better and we went into a studio and recorded a first run at it and it was like a little rough, you know, so we were like, let’s do it again. We had issues with scheduling and getting it together. Finally we got it together to go in the studio and went in the studio in El Cajon, and we were playing. After a couple hours it just wasn’t feeling right, and then kind of came to a head when we saw the engineer running back into the control room waving his hands to stop in the middle of a take. And we thought, well, what’s wrong? Is this really a bad take? And the next thing we knew there was smoke pouring out of the control room door. The 2” tape machine caught on fire and he was – dove beneath the desk and was trying to put it out, and there was no fire extinguisher anywhere to be seen.
ST JOHN: Oh my.
ROHLF: I had a bottle of water I was going to maybe throw on it. But at that point, I think Alex turned to me and said, I think this project’s cursed. And I was like let’s just do this at my studio and do it, you know, all ourselves. And we went in and just slammed out 20 songs in two days and it just felt right and…
ST JOHN: Wow.
ROHLF: …so we did it all ourselves. And it was great, worked really well.
ST JOHN: Neat. Yeah, so you didn’t need that outside studio after all.
ROHLF: No, yeah, we felt comfortable in our own space and the vibe was right and so we recruited Alan Sanderson, a guy who’s worked with the Rolling Stones and Weezer and people like that to come in and help us with the bed tracks. And then I did the overdubs and mixed it and now we have it and we’re happy with it. Sounds good.
ST JOHN: But then you had a friend, who you’ve already mentioned, who broke his hand. Tell us about that.
ROHLF: Yeah, well, we recorded the bed tracks in January and we planned on putting it out in April, so sometime around the end of January I was actually in the studio doing the overdubs and the phone rang and it was Steve Poltz and he said, hey, man, I’m in Canada. I just broke my hand skiing. I need you to learn all my guitar parts and all my guitar parts in the Rugburns for his big sold out show at the Belly Up, his…
ST JOHN: His 50th birthday bash.
ROHLF: Yeah. I’m like, okay, when is it? He said, a week and a half. So I basically went in and turned off the gear and I was like I gotta get to work. So…
ST JOHN: Well, that’s quite an honor that he would ask you to be his – Was it his left hand, I guess, that got broke?
ROHLF: Yeah, he…
ST JOHN: Yeah.
ROHLF: I was totally honored and, I mean, Steve’s a great guitar player so it was like, you know, it was a great challenge and I was honored that he picked me. I had to learn his style, basically.
ST JOHN: Yeah.
ROHLF: I mean, he’s really, you know…
ST JOHN: I saw a picture of that on the web and there’s you with your left hand framing the chords…
ST JOHN: …and Steve Poltz with his arm over your shoulder actually playing the guitar – keying the guitar.
ROHLF: Yeah, somewhere in Austin he – I started doing my Rambo impressions of “First Blood.” I could recite a lot of these scenes and he was like, oh, you gotta do that onstage. So we ended up doing a mock-up on “You Were Meant For Me,” of all songs where I’d play the left hand and he played the right hand. And then he’d make me do these scenes from Rambo, played a – played a…
ST JOHN: So that was sort of a hiatus for awhile from your CD.
ROHLF: Yeah. Yeah, and we just kind of – You know, I went on the road with him for about a month and…
ST JOHN: Yeah.
ROHLF: …got back and we just decided to release it in the fall rather than the spring and…
ST JOHN: And now it’s coming out this…
ROHLF: Yep, we’re going to be releasing it at the Whistle Stop on Friday Night in South Park.
ST JOHN: So tell us a little bit about this new album. How’s it different from your previous work?
ROHLF: Well, the sound of the band is still Americana. We still have the same influences, you know, the folk, old country, bluegrass, rock, Irish. But we’ve added drums. We’ve got Richard “T-Bone” Larson back here on the drums. And the pedal steel, those are the main differences. And minus the fiddle. We don’t have a fiddle player. We have a guy who sits in with us once in a while, John Mailander. But there’s still a lot of banjo and mandolin on the record and a lot of the same style, you know.
ST JOHN: Okay, so the title track is “Tiny Xs.”
ROHLF: That’s right.
ST JOHN: It’s kind of an interesting picture on the cover. Tell us about that.
ROHLF: The picture?
ST JOHN: The – No, the – Well, I guess about what inspired this track.
ROHLF: Oh, well, this track was kind of inspired, I guess I had a little medical incident that happened a couple of years back that made kind of – kind of a big scene here. I ate a plate of bad Mexican food before a gig, ended up with really bad food poisoning, which led to a bacterial infection that eventually gave me a heart attack after five days. And so I had a heart attack of all things.
ST JOHN: I’ve never heard of that. A heart attack from food poisoning.
ROHLF: Yeah, it was pretty weird.
ST JOHN: Boy.
ROHLF: You know, by the fifth day of high fever and flu-like symptoms I called the doctor. It was a Sunday and so the doctor wasn’t open but I called the doctor on call and she was like, well, sounds like you have E. coli poisoning or salmonella and I’m like, well, why am I having chest pains? And she is like, well, it couldn’t be a heart attack, you’re too young to have a heart attack. And that night I had a heart attack in my bed and was going, well, this can’t be a heart attack because I’m too young to have a heart attack. And I was like writhing around in pain and passed out, woke up drooling on my pillow. And went to the doctor the next day thinking they better figure out what’s wrong because I don’t want to deal with that.
ST JOHN: Scary.
ROHLF: She took labs, called me that night. She said, I’ll call you in the morning and let you know what happened. She called me that night and said, write these numbers down. And they were my heart enzymes. And she said, now, get to the ER immediately. Don’t pack or anything. You’re in danger of having a massive heart attack at any second, which will give you a heart attack just hearing that.
ST JOHN: And this is some kind of inspiration to this song “Tiny Xs?”
ROHLF: Yeah. So I was passed out, you know, after they did all these tests and for a week and a half I just slept. And when I finally woke up, I grabbed my mandolin and the song sort of fell out. I think it’s one of those results of kind of wanting to be somewhere else. And as far as I could tell, I must’ve wanted to be in Central Park on a hot summer day or something because this is kind of how this song turned out.
ST JOHN: All right, let’s hear it. This is Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers performing “Tiny Xs.”
(audio of Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers performing “Tiny Xs,” the title track from their new CD)
ST JOHN: All right. Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers performing the title track of their new CD, “Tiny Xs.” We need to take a break but when we come back, we’ll have more music and conversation with Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers.
ST JOHN: We’re back with Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers, formerly known as the 7th Day Buskers. Members of the band are Shawn Rohlf on guitar and vocals, Alex Watts on guitar, Jef Kmak on upright bass, Richard “T-Bone” Larson on drums and Dave Berzansky on pedal steel. And during the break, we played a little of your cover song, of a Prince song, which is also on the new album. Tell us about the covers that you chose to include on this album, Shawn.
ROHLF: Well, the Prince song – At the Hillcrest Farmers Market we end up just throwing out covers all the time and it’s kind of fun. We’ll just, you know, sometimes if no one’s ever heard them or whatever. We keep things fresh. Prince, I actually started playing music in Minneapolis in the mid-late-eighties, and I cut my teeth on that whole scene, which at the time was thriving with replacements Hoosker Doo, Jayhawk, Soul Asylum, and then there was this whole other thing going on with Prince and The Tyme and Jimmy Jam and Jerry – Terry Lewis. And so it was a big influence on me over the years, Prince was. And one day I just pulled that one out at the farmers market and it stuck.
ST JOHN: And then there’s another one that you often play, the Dead Milkmen cover?
ROHLF: Yeah, “Punk Rock Girl,” and that was T-Bone one day said to me, do you know “Punk Rock Girl?” And I was like, yeah, as a matter of fact, I do. And we did it and people went crazy about that song. And every time we play it, people are just like – I don’t know, it just brings back a lot of nostalgia, I guess, or…
ST JOHN: That’s the benefit of playing at the farmers market, right? You can really tell which songs work.
ROHLF: Yeah. And we do covers that range from, you know, Irish stuff that’s hundreds of years old to last week we did a Frank Black song. So…
ST JOHN: It works.
ROHLF: …we really played it.
ST JOHN: The rest of the songs on your album are all originals. Are they all written by yourself?
ROHLF: Yes, that’s true.
ST JOHN: Okay, so tell us a bit about some of the musicians that have influenced your music.
ROHLF: Well, the big ones are probably Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle are probably my three biggest. But I go back with a lot of different styles, Hank Williams and Bill Monroe, to like I said, the old Irish stuff, a lot of blues, punk. I’ve played in punk bands.
ST JOHN: Quite a cross section there.
ST JOHN: You – you can hear it in the music. So bring us another song. And the next one you’re going to perform is called “Hardy and Hellish.”
ST JOHN: A quick story on that.
ROHLF: Well, this is actually going to the Irish thing. I’ve written a few Irish songs over the years, toured through Ireland quite a bit. And this is a kind of a tribute to the Clancy Brothers and Sweeney’s Men and groups like that.
ST JOHN: Okay, here we go. Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers with “Hardy and Hellish.”
(audio of Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers performing “Hardy and Hellish”)
ST JOHN: Okay, Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers playing “Hardy and Hellish.” I heard a bit about leprechauns in there. So, Shawn, you’ve played in some of – all of you, everyone in the band, actually, has kind of played with some of San Diego’s most recognizable bands, Lady Dottie and the Diamonds, the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, the Beat Farmers.
ST JOHN: So how did you get all these musicians to sign up to Buskers?
ROHLF: Well, I sat down with them and told them that I was Elvis’s grandson. And somehow mentioning the King draws people in. I don’t know what it was.
ST JOHN: Okay.
ROHLF: And they bought it. No, I don’t know. Why did you guys start playing with me?
JEF KMAK (Musician): Because you asked.
UNIDENTIFIED: You wouldn’t leave me alone, guy.
ST JOHN: Because you asked. So, Shawn, you’ve got yourself a bit of cred, street cred…
ROHLF: Amazing, so…
ST JOHN: …out there with musicians on the street, yeah.
ST JOHN: So, Jef, you’re pretty happy to be part of the band at this point?
KMAK: Yeah, I love this band. It’s really fun to play.
ST JOHN: Umm-hmm. Yeah, it sounds fun. How do you think that the music scene has changed, the San Diego music scene has changed since you all started playing, you know, more than a decade ago?
ROHLF: Well, Jef, you’ve been in the scene for – and Alex, too.
KMAK: I’ve been here since late sixties, yeah, it’s – One thing I notice that there’s not as much live music. You used to – used to hire bands for almost everything, now they hire deejays or nothing, you know. So – and a lot of the places that you used to be able to play at, you can’t play anymore. So…
ST JOHN: Okay, so not such a good thing. Any sort of good trends that you’ve observed?
ROHLF: Well, I mean, I noticed like when I moved here that, you know, the whole folk scene was really thriving here with Jewel and Jason Mraz and Steve Poltz and Gregory Page, people like that. And I think one of the reasons I stuck around, well, also the musical theatre scene is big here and I’ve done a lot of that. The scene here’s really welcoming. People are nice. They’re…
ROHLF: …way more than any other scene I’ve been in, they support each other. There’s not this kind of cutthroat vibe you get in a lot of other music scenes. I noticed, I definitely – when the Buskers first started out, there was a big spike with the “O Brother Where Art Thou” phenomenon, which has kind of died down a bit now. But…
ST JOHN: And, Jef, have you played in a lot of other towns and see a difference about the San Diego scene for musicians?
KMAK: No, I agree with him. I’ve played, you know, I’ve been – I’ve toured and been in different cities and stuff and it’s – this is – it’s really friendly here. It’s really nice. And people, you know, people help each other and that doesn’t happen a lot of other places.
ST JOHN: More supportive than competitive.
ST JOHN: Yeah. So, Shawn, you were talking about the music – the theatre scene that was a big part of why you’re staying here and I think you’re going to perform another song called “Boxcar.” Tell us about that one.
ROHLF: Yeah, I’ve done a number of, you know, a lot of different theatres – pieces around town as an actor, as a singer, a musician, as a musical director. A couple years back a director over at SDSU, Nick Reid, hired me to come in and do his final show before he retired, which he was going to do “The Grapes of Wrath.” He wanted to do an original version of it and have me write all the music, so I did and it was a great experience. I had a great time doing it. And I was real impressed with SDSU theatre program. I mean, they’re – the kids were great, they had a great set. So I did these songs. We did them originally as guitar-mandolin-fiddle, and a couple of them I brought to the band for this record and they just – I threw them at them and they threw them back at me better than I could’ve ever imagined. So I was stoked to hear the treatment this band gave them. And “Boxcar” is a scene from “The Grapes of Wrath” toward the end where they’re in the boxcar.
ST JOHN: Great. Let’s hear it. “Boxcar” by Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers.
(audio of Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers performing “Boxcar”)
ST JOHN: Ah, that was fun. Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers singing – playing “Boxcar.” I love that steel pedal. That was – pedal steel, rather. That was fun, yeah. So, guys, that was a great hour we’ve had with you here and we’re wanting to wish you luck at the opening of your – the launch of your new album, “Tiny Xs,” coming up on Friday, September the third at the Whistle Stop in South Park. So if you like what you heard today, go on down to the Whistle Stop and hear them.
ROHLF: Yeah, why not? With a – excuse me. I just want to say thanks a lot for having us here today and…
KMAK: Yes, thank you.
ROHLF: …we love KPBS. Listen to it all the time. It’s my number one source for the news.
ST JOHN: All right. Good. Good taste. So that’s Shawn Rohlf on guitar, Alex Watts on guitar, Jef Kmak on upright bass, Jeff (sic) “T-Bone” Larson on drums, and Dave Berzansky on pedal steel. Have a great time on Friday night.
ROHLF: Thanks a lot, Alison.
KMAK: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFED: Thank you.
(audio of Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers performing)