On the hot asphalt of our nation’s arena parking lots, the Warped Tour lives on. But as the festival has aged, the variety of the lineup has suffered. Band after band plays a similar brand of pop and punk and pop-punk tunes. But this summer, another sound poked through: a bluegrass sound filtered through the prism of punk that is Larry and his Flask.
As the group’s banjoist, Andrew Carew, explains, while few suburban youth came out to see the Flask, the band’s hooting-and-hollering and barn-storming live sets at least got their attention.
“It would start out with maybe 10 people watching and a bunch of people walking by,” says Carew. “And by the end of the 30-minute set, the crowd would’ve just grown exponentially. It was cool to see people opening up to our style and appreciating it.”
It wasn’t always this way. Larry and His Flask’s original sound could have gotten lost in the shuffle, as the group started as a traditional three-piece punk outfit in Bend, Ore. When the band’s first lineup fell apart in 2008, two of its members (brothers Jamin and Jeshua Marshall) weren’t ready to give up. To keep the music going, the brothers and a host of their friends began playing acoustic house shows.
“When we first started, there were originally, like, 10 or 11 people in the room playing,” says Carew. “We just started playing quieter music. Kinda went back to what we all grew up listening to, our parents’ music, and it evolved from there.”
The band’s bluegrass-based sound grew out of the intimacy of playing in living rooms and the guys’ love for the skill displayed in traditional bluegrass.
“I’ve always had an ear for bluegrass,” says Carew. “It’s kind of like an organic metal. The people are so good at their instruments that it’s pretty much like a metal solo; really fast alternate picking.”
While the core sound clicked immediately, it took a bit longer to hone their instrumental skills. In their previous band, Zombie Co-Pilot, Carew played drums. But because the band knew they needed it, Carew found himself on banjo duty.
He began with a simple, punk-rock approach, removing the short, high fifth string to make his lack of instrumental proficiency less glaring.
“That fifth string — it took me forever to learn it,” he says. “Later on, I realized how cool it could sound with that fifth string, so I put it back on and forced myself to get familiar with it.”
Once the band honed their sound in the safety of the living room, it was time to take their music to the streets. The Flask took to busking.
“We went to the more popular bars in Bend and quickly had a party going — 30 or 40 people just dancing and clapping in the street,” he says. “We’d actually get kicked off of the corners we were playing. … People were digging that, so we got amplifiers and started booking real shows.”
The band still busks frequently — they say they love the energy and spontaneity.
“I think it’s the fact that no one is expecting it. People are doing their own thing — on their laptops or playing chess or something,” Carew says. “The exciting part is just surprising them with rowdy, loud music and seeing what their reaction is.”
Things are looking up for the Flask. Earlier this year, they received a positive write-up in the New York Times, and the band is planning to release a new six-song EP in February, to coincide with their first direct support tour — opening for Reverend Horton Heat.
As long as the band continues to make every show a hootenanny, their momentum shows no signs of waning.
“It’s a pure exchange of energy from band to crowd,” Carew says. “And it almost never fails.”
Larry and His Flask play with Whiskey Dick Mountain and Third Seven (featuring members of the Flying Spiders) • Fri, Nov. 18, at 10 pm • Mootsy’s • 406 W. Sprague Ave. • $7 • 21 • 838-1570