The hard-gigging, honky-tonking country/rockabilly/Americana band will fire up Founders Brewing Thursday before heading back on the road and into the recording studio. (Story, podcast, video)THE BAND: Nathan Kalish & The Lastcallers
THE MUSIC: Country, Americana, rockabilly
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THE BAND: 8 tonight (Thursday) at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids
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Some might consider it a grueling, unrelenting road schedule, playing more than 250 gigs a year for the past few years – crisscrossing the country with his own band and The Deadstring Brothers, hitting packed clubs, sparsely populated dive bars and the occasional basement.
But West Michigan’s Nathan Kalish, who also managed to take a couple of days with standup bassist Eric Soules and The Lastcallers to record a new album in Nashville during this unending road-warrior stretch, views it as a creative way to bond with other musicians.
“We’ve been traveling a lot. We have a lot friends that we see three or four times a year that we stay with,” the guitarist and singer says, pointing to a keyboard player such as North Carolina’s Nathan Purifoy, of Americana/folk band Mike Blair & The Stonewalls, which opens for The Lastcallers at Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids on Thursday night.
“We’ve stayed with him three or four times this year and he’s got a room that me and him take turns using and he’s got a couch. We hang out with him a lot. It will be good to see him (Thursday) night. We have friends like that all over the country.”
Those pals also include Lastcallers’ guitarist and pedal-steel player Robbie Saunders of Dallas, a member of several different country-propelled outfits in Texas.
“It’s like camping with some brothers or something,” he says of being on the road with Kalish and Soules.
LOTS OF SHOWS, LOTS OF REWARDS AND A ‘LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE’
Adds Soules, a native of Lowell: “I think it’s not as grueling when you’re playing with someone you work well with. We started doing the honky-tonk thing and it developed into a more deliberate thing – writing songs together and arranging stuff. It’s been a pretty life-changing experience this last year. I feel like we’ve all grown as musicians, like a lot, and there’s a lot of rewards you don’t really think about because you’re having a good time.”
Those road experiences culminated in Nathan Kalish & The Lastcallers’ “How Am I Supposed to Get Back Home,” recorded at Woodland Studios B in East Nashville, which is owned by Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welsh.
“I wrote the album on the road entirely between my time with Deadstring Brothers (a honky-tonk/Americana outfit in which Kalish played drums), the Wildfire (Kalish’s old band) and the Lastcallers over the last three years,” Kalish says.
“We put a few covers on that we have been playing every night for the past year. They are original versions that have been, in various degrees, rewritten. This album is the products of its circumstances, so it’s an album tracked in the middle of a tour with a touring rhythm section and the songs are about an endless tour.”
That tour picks up musicians in different parts of the country depending on where the band is playing – a clarinetist on the East Coast, a fiddler or mandolin player elsewhere. Grand Rapids harmonica player Kevin Murphy will join The Lastcallers on stage during the band’s CD-release show Thursday at Founders.
Admission to the 9 p.m. show is free, with Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Benjamin Riley opening the evening, followed by Mike Blair & The Stonewalls at 10 p.m. and the Lastcallers at 11 p.m.
“We have a rotating cast of different country and bluegrass pickers, so that has shaped the sound and the ability to stay on the road at extreme length,” says Kalish. “A few of them appeared on the album.”
On Wednesday, Kalish, Soules and Saunders performed one of those new songs, “Let ‘Em Go,” on the air during Local Spins Live on News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW). Listen to the podcast of the entire show here, with a video of that performance below.
The new album resonates with what Kalish describes as a “rockabilly, country, Americana” vibe. “I always says it’s not like Texas or Tennessee country. It’s more of a Midwest kind of thing, more like John Prine or something like that.”
Saunders insists, however, that “this is one of the most country bands I play in, because the spirit is there, the energy. These dudes do it.”
For Kalish – who was born in Milwaukee and ended up in Sparta, Mich., where he really launched his musical journey – The Lastcallers represent the latest inspirational adventure after he released several solo albums and Wildfire projects.
That adventure continues with barely any interruption: Not long after unveiling the brand new album this week, the band will be back in the recording studio laying down tracks for the next one.
Saunders says The Lastcallers have been learning the new songs this week. “Then we’re just going to play the tar out of them for a month then record them in two days in Kansas City and then I’m flying back (to Dallas),” he says.
The new album is the first of two Lastcallers projects being recorded and released through a Kansas City-based indie honky-tonk/rockabilly label, Little Class Records.
Of course, more hours on the road loom ahead, along with the ups and downs of performing several nights a week.
“Usually the shows where you’re making lots of money are the shows that you hate your life more, where they make you turn down really, really low and nobody can hear you and then they pay you like $1,000 at the end of the night,” Kalish says.
“Then you play all these really cool shows in people’s basements and you make $20 for like two weeks after that to kind of even out your good night.”
And when does the band take a break?
“I think jail seems like a good time to take a break,” jokes Kalish. “Let me get some good jail time.”
VIDEO: Nathan Kalish & The Lastcallers, “Let ‘Em Go”
Copyright 2015, Spins on Music LLC