The Grit Of A True American Band: Von Stomper

By Anthony Cross

There comes a time of night, when I step out of the living room, and take a pause from everything happening in my life. I would consider it a form of meditation or reflection, a break from the everyday turmoil that is ever present. During these times, I listen to music usually appropriate for this setting: twenties jazz, Father John Misty or Blue Scholars. More recently however, it has been a consistently interrupted by violently loud train horns, blaring minor seconds all the way down Riverside Avenue. Usually, this ruins the mood, and signals the time when I return to the inside to finish whatever Netflix show is on my queue.

Tonight the music I was listening to couldn’t have fit more perfectly with the backing track of my front porch, with every gap in the sirens filled by the sound of overdriven vocals planted firmly next to piercing guitars and sharp drums. Prompting me to turn the volume up, I suspect the conductor of that freight train now recognizes Von Stomper. These road warriors and full time musicians were kind enough to share an upcoming album with me (mostly for my listening pleasure), and sit down with me to talk about what is just over the hills and coming up next for their band.

AC: “You are on the road right now, somewhere in Montana as we speak. This lifestyle of touring seems to suit all of you quite well; has it always been that way? Is there any advice on pursuing this touring lifestyle that you could offer?

VS:
The touring lifestyle is certainly not for everyone. It takes a lot of comprise both at home and on the road. We live simply, we struggle for sanity at times, we don’t own nice things, and we sacrifice the comforts of regularity. This lifestyle is about sharing the song, and nothing else. Our only advice would be to think long and hard about what you want out of music. And, if it’s money, get a day job.

These monks of music will be touring extensively over the next few months, eventually finding their way back to Hodi’s to play a release party on September 19 for their new album, “Americado.”

AC: “What are some of the shows coming after the album comes is released?

VS:
Our upcoming tour schedule can be found at www.vonstomper.com If you want to see future and past dates you can go to http://www.bandsintown.com/VonStomper?came_from=203 We’re looking forward to our two shows with Turnpike Troubadour, probably the biggest band we’ve played with to date, and we will be direct support for a two night run in Lincoln, NE and Lawrence, KS. We’re looking forward getting back out to the West Coast again in October, but we’ve been well received while we’ve been out here for the first time. But we just go where the road and our music takes us.

AC: “Are there any tricks you have picked up for anyone setting up a DIY tour for themselves since it is something you have seem to have perfected?”

VS:
We haven’t perfected the DIY touring band, but we feel like we’ve gotten a better grip on it. It takes a lot of vigilance and preparation. We book three to four months out, so we need to be researching venues, checking their schedules, finding bands to play with either as support or to headline, working with promoters, radio stations, and street teams, getting posters in the right hands; all of this needs to happen to not only book a show, but also to have anybody show up. We think the only trick is hard work, persistence, and putting out good music. You need to put yourself out there, try and fail, then think about what you did wrong and do it differently the next time. You don’t need to think of it like a business, because that’s bullshit; you should just want to do it because in the end, more people will be listening to your music. We got advice from Adam Brown of Mosey West when we first started, and I would suggest other bands do the same type of thing: talk to someone who’s actually done it and then go out and do it. Old school style. No one’s going to work harder for you than yourself.

AC: “The first song on the album “Tumblin’ Weed” sounds straight out of the soundtrack for the new Tarantino movie. Is there a backstory to this track?”

“Tumblin’ Weed” is a song by Taylor Shuck, our bass player. (By the way, he’s stoked that you think it sounds like something Tarintino would use.) All of our songs are stories; this is where our folk/blues influence really comes through. They are stories that come from real experiences of our own, or stories that have been passed down to us. The album speaks to the many sides of Von Stomper; it jumps around to different times and places we as individuals have occupied. It is cohesive only in its origins; at times the themes fight each other, but in the end, you get a better sense of who we are. This is an American tradition to be constantly at odds with itself, and struggling for revelation. But in this struggle you find honesty and truth. “Tumblin’ Weed” is a song about this struggle.

Von Stomper
Von Stomper

Most musicians would tell you that digital albums are fantastic; however, physical sales still garner a decent chunk of revenue for most artists. Merch of any kind and more specifically album sales, have become more difficult to fund privately. In this case, crowdfunding is a very popular alternative that some would say is overplayed. Read Morrissey’s interview in which he compares it to “making your fans brush your own teeth.” Certainly less opinionated and possibly more insightful, Von Stomper had this to say on the subject :

VS:
Crowdfunding definitely was in the conversation in the early stages of making this record, but over the roughly five months of tracking the conversation changed in tone. We had a lot of reservations with the idea of asking friends, family, and fans for money to release this album, especially when they’ve already given so much. They’ve come out to shows, bought our first record, let us stay at their houses, sleep on their floors and in general have loaned a helping hand. We’ve worked really hard at coming up with the roughly $15,000 it has taken to record, mix, master, produce, and promote this album and we think that other bands should use this model as well. We certainly think crowdfunding can play a positive role in helping people who wouldn’t otherwise have the means of starting their project up, but for us it wasn’t the right direction. That and there are plenty of good humanitarian causes that need your money, so please go donate to them.

You read correctly: a new album with the total cost of 15,000 dollars with zero crowdfunding, all mainly through gigging. That is insane, given all of the conversations I have had with artists, who struggle to just break even on a tour, let alone turn a profit. On top of that bombshell, the presales will be going specifically to all future costs: vinyl, promotional budgets, and mechanical work on the band’s touring van. By all means, I have to say, that this band is one of the best run bands (financially) that I have seen in a long time. In a world where the budgets of bands are getting tighter every day, these crazy tour-a-holics have managed to rewrite the bylaws of fiscal responsibility when it comes to being musicians. I would say that alone is a good reason to wake your neighbors up at 2AM trying to compete with a train horn.
Von Stomper: Wolf Van Elfmand (Guitar, Vocals); Dane Mark (Drums); Taylor Shuck (Bass, Vocals); Mark Austin (Banjo, Harmonica, Vocals); Luke Callen (Guitar, Vocals). Cover and inset photos: Sabrina Zimmerman for Scene Magazine (2015).

Check out Von Stomper at Hodi’s for the release party of “Americado,” and see guests Tallgrass and Canyon Collected. 8 pm 9/19/15. Tickets and Info Here