For Limbeck vocalist/guitarist Robb MacLean, the experience of seeing young kids and teens embracing (intentionally or not) the music of their parents’ generation is miles away from his own experiences as a teenage punk. “At sixteen, Screeching Weasel taught me that Led Zeppelin sucks. I found out later that they were wrong.”
The fruits of this newfound knowledge are evident on their 2007 self-titled album. Tracks like “Let’s Get Crazy” have enough honey-sweet harmonies and bouncy rhythms to draw in the young kids, but enough Southern guitar grit to appeal not just to the Casbah crowd, but their parents as well. As guitarist Patrick Carrie notes, it’s a crowd that’s become increasingly responsive to a classic rock-influenced sound that had abandoned the all-ages touring circuit to the makeup-sporting hordes of the emo scene for a generation.
“We feel like we’re a weird band because we can play at the Casbah (a 21+ venue) and it’s fine, but we tend to do well on tours with younger kids. I feel it’s surprising because we grew up going to punk shows.” Hearkening back to his youth listening to Mr. T Experience and the Muffs, he posits his own reaction to their current influences. “If someone had come up to me then and told me about Tom Petty, I think I would have totally written them off.” According to Carrie, the kids are alright. “I think we were so closed minded as high schoolers, but very into music–pop punk. Now a lot of the kids are more accepting of the past and a lot more knowledgeable.”
Limbeck is in the midst of an extended tour in support of the Format, a tour that’s already witnessed the death of one equipment trailer and a vintage Fender amplifier–whose death, incidentally, pushes back our interview until the sun begins receding into Point Loma’s seaside hills. We sip cold Stellas (on loan from the headliners, who tour in a bus and thus roll with their own refrigeration) in SOMA’s parking lot while I peruse their van’s impressive ceiling collage. It expands on the standard punk rock patchwork of flyers and stickers from friends’ bands to include notes-to-self regarding the out-of-the-way locations of swimming holes, favorite diners and old pals from their myriad tours. While cold beers may be a perk of life on a tour bus, Patrick notes that it doesn’t jibe with Limbeck’s approach to touring, which emphasizes diversity of places and experiences.
“A lot bands, when you get to touring in a bus, it gets pretty routine: going from show to show, playing, packing up and driving through the night,” he says. “For us, it’s ‘where are we going tomorrow? If we wake up at eight we can make it to this lake and go swimming, we can hit this restaurant we really like, we can go to the house of a friend we haven’t seen in a while.’ I guess we’re really trying to preach that.”
Though clearly not as much as in the past. Their early records had the feel of long summer vacation travelogues–sort of a How I spent my Summer Vacation penned by four broke Eagles fans. “The first record we did with Doghouse, Hi, Everything’s Great, definitely became sort of a people and places record, which was an unintentional theme. I guess that sort of writing got comfortable, just because we travel so much. There’s a song called ‘Albatross and Ivy,’ and it’s about an intersection that’s just a mile away where you can sit and watch the planes land.” In contrast, their self-titled disc was written during long spells in their respective hometowns in Orange County. “We had a couple of big blocks at home–more than usual. We’ve been steady on the road for I don’t know how many years. Patrick got married a while back, which merited a long stay at home while he honeymooned.” The stays, which ranged from six weeks to two months, initially produced some boredom and writer’s block. Going from spending your days staring out the window of an Econoline, where the only permanence is impermanence, to days spent staring at a television can dull the senses. Robb used his fresh-from-tour lack of funds–and his listlessness–to inspire the lyrics to “Big Drag,” a song “about being broke and trying not to leave the house.”
“I just felt that we had a couple things happen during our stays at home over the last year or two that were really songworthy, ” says Robb. “It’s fun to come home when you job is to be away from home. It’s strange though. You realize your circle of friends used to be this big,” he says, making a large circle with his arms before drawing his hands together. “And now you realize it’s this big.”
The same gesticulation could represent the commercial prospects of most bands these days, a point of which Limbeck are keenly aware. “It’s insane,” says Patrick. “Labels have no idea what to do and they’re dropping bands. These days it happens to everybody. It happened to the Format. They had a record come out, they had a lot of promise. The record comes out on Elektra the same time as Jet (first record), so they get this backseat, and the record didn’t do as well as [Elektra] thought. So it’s ‘OK, let’s move on.'”
Robb argues goes further, contending that the ones that survive the first round may not do so well in the second. “A lot of the bands that do well so that the label can pay for all the ‘flops’ are so young and immature that I think it’ll be hard for them to back it up with another record that people love.”
“The bands that can do that are development bands,” adds Patrick, “who had the infrastructure and help to be successful, looking at each record as part of a bigger picture, and working with smaller budgets and making the projects work rather than saying, ‘well, this didn’t sell, so drop the band, fire the A&R guy, restaff, start over.'”
Thus defined, the current climate could be perceived as a threat to a band like Limbeck, who aren’t easily boiled down to one or two standout tracks. But while they may not be on a vertigo-inducing ride up the Billboard Heatseekers charts, their maturation into a narrative-based rock and roll band has rewarded their fans with music that benefits from increased insight along the way. Says Robb, readying himself to hop out the van door, “There’s just so much to learn. I’m really glad we weren’t force fed to anyone at an early stage.”
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