Off Track Events is bringing the gypsy punk country grumble boogie band Dirtfoot to town for the Pedaler’s Jamboree on May 26th and 27th. The word on the street and the trail is that this is the one band not to miss. They expect audience interaction, even handing out homemade bean cans to round out the band members’ guitar, banjo, bass, saxophone, drums and miscellaneous percussion instruments.
Dirtfoot is winning awards left and right. They will be playing two shows at the Jamboree, and I plan to get there early to get my bean can.
Dirtfoot’s J Bratlie spoke with me from Shreveport, Lousiana:
Gypsy punk country grumble boogie? It sounds like all the odd people in my high school class got together and formed a cult.
Gypsy Punk Country Grumble Boogie was coined by a local writer who did one of our first reviews. He managed to sum up our sound so well that it stuck, and we’ve been running with it ever since. It’s not an intentional sound; we don’t try to write for a certain genre. It just comes out purely primal, from the gut. Everyone says we sound familiar, but not like any other band or any style. We’ve been called Alt Country, Swamp Rock…hell, Les Claypool said we sound like a Southern version of Gogol Bordello, but not so Eastern European.
The story goes that God brought the first two band members together with one of His acts on one of His special days. Do you feel like you would be letting Him down if you didn’t continue to make music?
We do feel that a tornado, which brought myself and Matt together, is a fitting backdrop for the beginnings of the band. We formed on the same front porch of the reconstructed house, with numerous musicians sitting in and playing. Cool thing was, we weren’t trying to form a band, we just liked jamming, and if we really liked what somebody brought, they became permanent.
Was the house rebuilt while the band was forming?
The house was rebuilt by Matt and his family. They came out from west TX, and in a few weekends the house was better than ever. This happened in April 2000. Matt and I met right after the storm and basically started jamming immediately. The banjo I ended up playing was actually sitting in the corner of his house, and I saw it for the first time while examining the damage.
What’s with the bean cans?
The bean cans were a happy accident. We had a junk percussion player before we had a drummer, and homemade shakers were part of the rig. It seems like every show we were passing out the percussion to the folks, and it just kinda stuck. Now it really does help the crowd become the 7th member of the band.
Speaking of unusual instruments, how does one play a rubber chicken?
Ah, the rubber chicken… It is but one of our many accents that our percussionist, Daniel Breithaupt, has at his disposal. It was heavily featured in our song “Break My Bones” until, unfortunately, the chicken lost its voice a year or so ago. We’ve also had squealing pigs, horns, sirens and other fun things to make the necessary noises.
Is Dirtfoot acoustic or plugged in?
We are mostly acoustic. Our bassist plays his upright through an amp and does alternate with an electric bass. Matt and I both run our instruments through pedals to “play” with the sounds. Matt has also added an electric guitar recently, so you never know how it will morph and change.
You shot your video for “Cast My Plans” at the Wade Correctional Facility in Homer, LA, and it is fantastic! How did that project come about?
Well, that actually started with a music video. We were approached by Jonathan Rothell, a film editor from California who wanted to make a music video of our song “Cast My Plans.” He had the whole basic concept of the video: we are all thugs and you see us committing our crimes and getting caught. At the end of the video, the band forms in prison and we play in front of the inmates.
It seemed easier to actually go to a prison for the filming rather than attempting to build sets, costumes, etc, so we contacted the local prisons for help. Wade Correctional was very interested. We quickly decided that if we are going to go to a real prison and shoot ourselves in front of real inmates, then we should actually play a show. And if we’re going to play a show and we have cameras available, we should record that.
Then we reached out to our friend William Sadler, who we met playing a wrap party for the movie The Mist, to play our warden. At this point the buzz began to build about the project, and we had a whole crew of people who actually work for the movie industry in Shreveport volunteering for our video.
We then had a documentary crew put together to film the whole process, making the video, recording the live performance and put it all together in a sweet documentary “Making of the Cast My Plans Video.” Of course the project had ballooned out of our small budget quickly. We decided to use a 35mm film camera to shoot the video to give it that “look,” which of course meant the extra expense of film processing. We also had to get Mr Sadler from New York to Louisiana for the shooting. We decided we had to come up with a way to fund this project, so we set up a Kickstarter campaign.
We set out to raise $10,000 in 30 days and spread the word mainly online: facebook, website, etc. Well, we were very surprised by the quick response and actually hit our goal in 20 days. So, after a little prodding from some of our die hards, we decided to up our goal. If we hit $15,000, we would print a special run of vinyl as well. On day 30, we had raised $16,200 and were blown away by the response. So, needless to say, we spent all the money on making the best album, DVD and vinyl that we could. We have at least 175 people to thank for that one!
I’ve read that your audiences should expect an “aerobic workout of their bodies and ears” at every show. You sound like the perfect band for bicyclists. Have you ever played a bicycling event?
The Pedaler’s Jamboree is our first bicycling event. We’ve played many shows with folks riding around on bikes, but never for a bike-specific event. We are really looking forward to the shows, and we have good friends in Columbia too. It’ll be like a mini vacation.
If Dirtfoot were a meal, what dish would each member be?
Hmm…not sure what meal we’d be. Being from Louisiana, a lot of folks compare us to a gumbo: lots of different flavors blended together to make something new.
I guess individual members:
Daniel – Spice. He definitely gives the music some zing.
Scotty – The sauce.
Nathan – Mystery spice. He gives that flavor that can’t be identified but rides underneath everything else.
Lane – Vegetables, good and hearty.
J – Some type of meat, like crawfish and sausage.
Matt – Meat. With a little gristle.
**Photographs curtesy of Dirtfoot.