Water Tower Bucket Boys

We’ve featured several Bluegrass, country roots bands in the past – we really dig the hard to find genre. Hell, one of PEV’s favorite shows took place at Baltimore’s 8x10 with “alternative-bluegrass” band Reverend Peyton and his Big Damn Band last fall. And much like Reverend Peyton, there’s something more to our latest feature, Water Tower Bucket Boys and their psychedelic brand of bluegrass. Kenny, Cory and Josh aren’t just knocking on doors on the indy circuit (around the world), but they’re playing with some huge acts like Old Crow Medicine Show, Mumford and Sons, and Wilco. Obviously, we had to learn more about the trio.

The boys are based out of Portland, Oregon, apparently a hotbed for new and emerging sounds. They’ve created four records, and their latest one was recorded by a member of one of my favorite childhood punk acts – Mike Herrera of MXPX. The new album is called “Sole Kitchen” and Cory says fans “can expect to be surprised at the stylistic variety. It’s all rooted in the stringband sound but only some of it is straightforward in that way. There’s country songs, psych-folk, ballads, bluesy tunes and of course a few ragers in there too.” Now, I’m sure many of you are asking… what exactly is “psychedelic bluegrass”? Truth is – you’ll have to get your behind to a live show to figure it out for yourself. 

The Water Tower Bucket Boys will be releasing a vinyl record in the UK soon (like I said, they’re worldwide) where they tour often, but expect them playing on the west coast soon, as well as releasing a fifth record later this year. Go pick up “Sole Kitchen” and keep reading for all the answers to the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Water Tower Bucket Boys

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others in your genre?

Cory:  We have trouble with that sometimes because we can't really decide on a genre.  We like to rage on bluegrass-based songs, but one of our shows we'll also play a pop song, psychedelic folk songs, a punk rock song, indie singer-songwriter sorts of stuff, its all still rooted in the string band sound but its not defined by that anymore.  We've been more focused on songwriting lately and trying not to limit ourselves to one specific sort of sound, and being open to bringing in new ideas.

PEV:  Calling Portland, Oregon home, what kind of music where the members of the band into growing up? Do you remember your first concert?

Cory: I remember the first album that I ever got into was Sgt. Pepper, but back in high school I mostly listened to electronic or rock stuff, like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher or KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails, Polysics...  I was an angry kid for a while!  I was never exposed to much of that stuff going on in Portland for whatever reason so my first connection to the local music scene was really through old time and bluegrass music. The first show I remember going to on my own accord was at the Roseland.  I think the headliner was called Spineshank.  A crowdsurfer fell on my head.

Kenny:  I grew up in Singapore and Mexico City so I did not catch very much live local music around there.  I listened to Nofx, Korn, Rancid, Snoop Dogg, Bach, Infected Mushroom and everything in between.  When I was in Mexico City at the age of 14 I started going to shows but they were all shows that I was playing at with my punk rock band at the time. I did not see a real show until I was 16.  It was The Red Hot Chili Peppers at a huge arena.   I got small sticks of dynamite thrown at me by crazed fans in the audience.

PEV: With such a rich musical history in Portland, tell us your take on the music scene in your hometown and what was it like trying to break into it?

Cory: It seems like there’s a lot of cool stuff going on in town, but a lot of the bands you hear about being from Portland never actually play there.  That being said, there are awesome people playing all sorts great music all over town who are unsung and underappreciated on a wider scale.  The band really got its start playing in Eugene, so even though we grew up in Portland we were still kind of outsiders to the scene there.  We came to the music scene in Portland through old time and bluegrass music which is in some ways kind of separate from other stuff going on.  But we've been branching out a lot and making great friends and connections all over the place.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Water Tower Bucket Boys show?

Josh: Our live shows often include lots of surprises…Often articles of clothing are removed along with spontaneous performance actions. Our bass player Kyle likes to stand on top of his bass and play during the middle of a song. We also like to have guests come play on stage with us, for example in London last week we had our buddy Frank Turner come on stage and play a few songs with us. It was so much fun and the crowd was really diggin’ it.

PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage?

Kenny:  I think about how to help everyone in the room, including the band, the sound guy, the promoter, and the people working the bar, how to have the best possible time during the show.  I think of our shows as sort of a group therapy for everyone involved.

Kyle: The first thing I think of is I hope I don’t break my bass this show. And after we start playing all my thoughts are washed away feeling the groove of the music and the energy of the audience.

PEV: Having all been in other bands before how is playing with Water Tower Bucket Boys different then those other works?

Cory:  This is the first group I’ve played with that’s been really serious about doing the business end of things as well as the music. We have so much fun playing together but we also are all really organized and motivated about booking and promotion and stuff like that. I’d never really played in a touring band before either, so the travel benefits are pretty cool too!

Kenny:  This band is different for me in that it has lasted longer than other projects I have been in. One of the things I love about this band is that we do not travel with amps or drums right now. I can see that happening in the future though.

PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do get your best ideas for songs?

Kenny: Nature.

Cory:   Lyrically, usually real life experiences.  Musically, it’s hard to say.  Songs appear when I least expect it.

PEV: Thinking back to when you first started out do you ever look back at your career and think about your earlier days and how you’ve arrived where you are today?

Cory:  It’s kind of crazy to me actually.  If you told me 5 years ago that I would be playing banjo in a touring band I would have laughed in your face.  But here I am, in a van, in Scotland!

Kenny:  I always remember silly times we have had.  I just look back on everything as a great time and an amazing learning experience. I cannot believe we have come as far as we have.  What started out as a fun addiction with friends became my full-time job.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of Water Tower Bucket Boys?

Cory:  I got a black belt in Tae Kwon Do when I was 14.

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a goal for you?

Kenny:  I was drawn to it from as early as I can remember.  The defining moment for me was watching a friend play blues guitar in an open D tuning.  The guitar filled up with golden light and spilled out of the sound-hole and into the room.  From that moment on I realized that music was the only thing I wanted to do... forever.

Cory:  It’s kind of been the most constant interest of my whole life. I’ve been playing music since I was 8 or so, starting on piano and then woodwinds, electric guitar/bass, synthesizers and sequencers, and now acoustic instruments.  It kind of hit me over the head when I was in college trying to figure out what my major should be, and I realized that there wasn’t anything else I could study that was really going to interest me and be satisfying to learn.  I was almost a physics major! That and I don’t seem to do well at having a regular job.

Kyle: As soon as I started playing the double bass my whole life started being centered around playing music. Everyone needs a bassist and I have spent the last year and a half playing with lots of people.

PEV: Tell us about your forthcoming national release, "Sole Kitchen". What  can fans expect from this?

Cory:  I think they can expect to be surprised at the stylistic variety.  It’s all rooted in the stringband sound but only some of it is straightforward in that way. There’s country songs, psych-folk, ballads, bluesy tunes and of course a few ragers in there too.  The album was recorded in one day and was played pretty much entirely live, so it’s a good representation of how we sounded live at the time!

PEV: When you sit down to write this album, how was this creative process  different from your past three albums?

Cory:  Well it was our first album of all original songs, so the writing and arranging process was a little more involved.  With the first couple albums, it was almost entirely traditional tunes and bluegrass songs, and even the original songs we had on those albums were played in a trad style.  But with the EEL-P and now Sole Kitchen, we really focused on getting the most out of each of the songs and thinking the arrangements through more.

PEV: How is life on the road for you in the music world? Best and worst parts?

Cory:  Life on the road is going great for the moment.  It’s hard to maintain a life back home when you’re gone so much though.  That might be the worst part really.  Best part is travelling to new places, meeting cool people, and playing great music every night.

Kenny: Best part is that hour or 2 onstage.  Worst part is waking up in the morning.

Kyle: My favorite part is meeting all the awesome people and smiling faces. The worst part is how difficult it is to get a really good meal sometimes.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?

Cory:  My family is pretty used to it by now.  My brother is a classical bassoonist so they haven’t really had a choice but to accept it!  Our friends think its alright too although I’d like to imagine they miss us when we are gone.  When I’m home I am out playing gigs several nights a week so hometown gigs take the place of a social life for me. Its fun to play where your friends are!

Kenny: Everyone is so supportive and kind.  I love playing hometown gigs because everyone in the audience is family.

PEV: What can we find each of you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?

Kenny: I love to wander around the woods.

Cory:  Getting outside as much as possible, hiking or cycling.  Oregon is a pretty wet place during the winter, this year I’ve been playing Settlers of Catan when it’s too rainy to wander around, which is often. I’m gonna be taking some time after this UK tour we are on right now to go help out on my girlfriend’s farm and hang around my buddy’s banjo shop (www.vancebanjos.com).

PEV: Name one present and past artist or group that would be your dream collaboration? Why?

Kenny: Past artist would be The Doors.  I loved what they did with that song "Runnin' Blue" on The Soft Parade.  It had an old-timey feel about it..  Present artist would be Snoop Dogg.  I really think we would get along well with him.  I also think that we could make an amazing song together.

Cory:  Present artist for me would probably be the dudes from Animal Collective, their songwriting, musicality, and eagerness to genre-hop are really inspiring.  As far as past artists, I guess more than anything I would love a chance to play music with a lot of the older musicians who inspired me to start playing bluegrass and old time music like Tommy Jarrell or Bill Monroe.

PEV:  Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?

Cory:  Ladybird (from Eugene), Girl Band (from Santa Barbara), School of Imagination (from somewhere in England).  School of Imagination is one of my favorite unknown bands that we’ve shared a bill with so far. I listen to their album all the time.

Kenny:  Tumbledown.

PEV: If you weren’t playing music now what do you think each of you would be your career?

Cory:  I’d probably be trying to become a luthier or working on a farm or something.  Teaching music, definitely.  I’d be trying not to have a boss!

Kenny:  Teaching music.

PEV: So, what is next for Water Tower Bucket Boys?

Cory:  We’ve got our first vinyl release coming up in the UK on Evangelist Records, recorded direct to vinyl on some insanely vintage gear at Kitty, Daisy and Lewis’ studio.  We’re going into the studio next month to cut some tracks as a demo for the new album which may see a release this year.  We’ll be touring this summer on the west coast, possibly out to the Rockies, and back in the UK again at least once before the year is out.  Also continuing to work on writing and arranging new material.

Kenny: New genres.  New sounds.  New experiences.  New friends.

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