Dynamic Duo. That is exactly what this next Badass Band is. They may be the most well-known band out of California’s Central Valley, and with damn good reason. Two insanely talented guys who make enough sweet noise to put 4-5 person bands to shame. Meet Badass Band 97, Strange Vine.
I’ve known Strange Vine for a long time, I used to live in their hometown of Fresno and it was there at a local hotspot, Fulton 55, that I first saw this epic duo. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was seeing at first, the setup was simple, two guys, drums (surprisingly parked right up against a Rhodes) and guitar. Then they started to play, and I got it. Ian rocks drums and plays the fucking keys at the SAME TIME. He also contributes vocals. Talk about a multi-tasker. Then you have Toby wailing away on guitar and spouting off lyrics. The combination of what I was seeing and what I was hearing was absolutely incredible. Their tunes encompass a mix of psychedelic, blues, and just good ol’ rock n roll. Strange Vine currently has a seven song EP out, titled Ghosts, and some of my favorite tracks are:
- “Ghosts” a six-minute epic. It starts with the Rhodes as the star, but then those quick drum beats come in and then that slide guitar, and you just start movin’. And just as they get you moving, they bring you deep into something more spacey and mellow. The marriage of these transitions through the journey of this track, while Toby wails lines like, “We’re just lonely ships, sinking slow in the night. Through the thick and thin, tryin’ to find wrong from right.” is absolutely engaging and rad as hell.
- “Sleepwalker” a bluesy tune, with rough rootsy vocals and deep harmonies. The guys draw you in with the line, “Wake up, wake up, you must be talking in your sleep, why else would you say those things to me?” and won’t let you go for the next 4:30. The lengthy instrumental breakdown at the climax is crafted to fit the title of this tune just perfectly with slower, drawn out notes that rip into your soul.
The EP as a whole is great and each song warrants you taking the time to put your ears on it, I promise. Recently the gents were in LA playing with French Style Furs and they were kind enough to make some time to talk to BBB, so read on to find out how they met, how a mix CD helped them decide on their name, and how Ian came to play drums and keys simultaneously.
When and why did each of you start playing music?
Ian: We both grew up in musical families, so music was just there. As long as I can remember there were instruments being played. It was something I didn’t know I was going to try and do but it was always there.
Toby: Same thing pretty much.
How did you two meet?
Toby: No, eHarmony.
Ian: Nah, how we really met is cooler than that. We met at a High School party and he was the one guy at the party that everyone was like, “Man, that guy needs to go home. Someone needs to help him and take him home.” So that was the first time I met him.
So are you the one that took him home?
Ian: No, No, but I was like dude, this guy is outta control.
How did you end up playing music together?
Ian: Not long after that I figured out that he played guitar and he found out I played drums. So we got together and started playing music in high school.
Both of you play multiple instruments. What was your first one?
Toby: Guitar first, and he had broken his hand at one point, and he had a roommate that had an Organ and stuff…what happened then? Well, he can tell his own story.
Ian: Drums was first, and yeah, I lived with a guy who had a Hammond Organ in his house and I would set up my drums right next to the organ and hold chords with my left hand and play drums. That started the idea of a cool way to do a two-piece band and incorporate the keys along with guitar and drums.
Why the name Strange Vine?
Ian: That actually started when I burned Toby a mix CD of a bunch of music and one of the songs was “Strange Vine” by Delta Spirit. It’s kind of funny because he didn’t know that was the songs name at the time but he really loved it. He was living in Japan at the time and I sent it to him and he said, “If we start a band, we need to call it Strange Vine. It’s a really good song, the lyrics are really meaningful.” Once we started he realized that was the actual name of the song, and he was unsure if we should do it, but it was too late already.
When people ask you what your band sounds like, what do you say?
Toby: I say it sounds like Kat Stevens and Tanya Harding’s first kiss.
Ian: I am really bad at describing music, even bands I really love. Two-piece blues based, psych rock band. I don’t know if we are psych-y enough or bluesy enough, but there it is.
How does your creative process typically work?
Toby: It depends song to song. Sometimes I will have a riff and we will build it out around a riff. Or he will have a riff.
Ian: A lot of our stuff comes from jamming. That’s how we started and it seems like the blood stream of the band is riff-based jamming and then making it into a song. Some times we start with something, like tonight, that we just figured out two days ago that has a cool feel, so we play with it and it will turn into a song at some point.
Toby: Yeah, I don’t think we have ever come to practice with a whole song and just said you do this, I’ll do that. It usually is different from whatever you hear in your head.
Talk about the Fresno music scene, it has changed a lot in the last few years.
Ian: I first started playing in Fresno in a punk band when I was twelve. I lived in the mountains, we both grew up in the mountains, and I remember because it was a big city compared to where I lived, so I thought it was an amazing music scene. That was my first experience. We have both seen a lot of change in the last 3-4 years since we have been a band as Strange Vine. It has gone through all these bands doing things and travelling to no bands at all. Now there are some really cool up and coming bands. It’s always evolving. Every month is different, stuff will be happening some months, then others not at all. It’s a mid-sized town with a small town mentality. People always think there are less people there than there really are. I feel like there are some kids in a garage somewhere who are like going to come out with some amazing stuff in the near future. The valley breeds that, it’s cheap to live there and you can practice in your own garage, most places you can’t do that. That is how we started, playing at our parents houses.
What is coming up for Strange Vine over the next few months?
Toby: Diaper changes.
Ian: Yeah, Toby just had another baby, so it’s back to baby land for a little while. We have a little run up North coming, we are trying to focus on getting a full-length album out. Hopefully in the next four months or so that will be done, so we have been chipping away at that.
One song you never get tired of listening to?
Ian: Are you gonna say that Etta James song?
Toby: Yeah, “I’d rather go Blind.”
Ian: I’ve been listening to a lot of Otis Redding. I don’t have a particular song.
Toby: We go through our stages with music, right now its Motown, which is one of the best stages to go through.
Best live show you’ve ever gone to?
Ian: We both went to the first Coachella ever, we don’t know it was like, a thing, because it had never happened, it was the first fest like that out there. We saw Pavement then Ben Harper played right after that, then Rage Against The Machine, and then Tool after that. I felt bad because during Ben Harper’s set there are however many thousands of people there to see Rage and they are watching once guy play and acoustic guitar and they’re yelling, “Rage! Rage! Rage!” But it was cool because Maynard came out during “Know Your Enemy”, then halfway through Tool’s set Maynard was like, “Rage kicked your ass didn’t they?!” because everyone was just dead. We’ve seen a lot of good shows. We saw an Andrew Bird show a long time ago, that was awesome.
Toby: The first time I saw We Are Barbarians it was just nuts. Seeing what a three piece can do, that has always been one of my favorite setups. It was a whole new take on the three piece because it wasn’t bluesy. It blew my mind completely.
Favorite things to do not musically related?
Toby: Clean diapers. I love being a dad. It’s the best thing ever. Two kids, same mom, doing good.
Ian: I like skateboarding.
If you ran BBB, what are some bands you would feature?
Le Wolves, Goodnight Texas, and The Cling.
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