Jam band Strum Theory (pictured) has been performing around Eugene in various incarnations for many years, but has only played a few gigs with their current lineup. Vocalist and primary songwriter Michael Domagala felt it would be best if I met him at south Eugenes post office and followed him to Strum Theorys practice space.
"The place is hard to find,” he emailed. Hes right. On the first truly summer-like day of the spring, we drive beyond Eugenes south hills, through a secured gate and past a dilapidated red barn, arriving at bassist Paul Shroders home. Im about to experience one of Strum Theorys biweekly rehearsals ã what they call their "Sunday church.”
Sitting in Shroders yard we talk about the influences and inspirations that got the Eugene four-piece playing music in the first place. Domagala grew up on the Beatles, and is influenced by jam bands like the Dave Matthews Band. Guitarist/trumpet player Jeff Hurt and drummer Tyler Tjernland come from jazz and blues backgrounds, and Shroder, who only started playing music in his 30s, has been heavily influenced by the hybrid funk-rock of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
We move inside the practice space. The band members kick off their shoes and begin their set with "Get Out Back,” a festival-ready tune that shows the musicians influences immediately. Domagalas spidery guitar lines recall Dave Matthews as he sings lyrics about getting outside and experiencing the beauty of the world in a tenor that is too light to be called Eddie Vedder-esque but definitely shares the Pearl Jam singers guttural growl. Hurt adds to the jazz flavor with hooky trumpet-lines, and Tjernlands percussion is solid, laying down the bouncy groove and stopping on a dime as "Get Out Back” swells to its climax. Hurt switches to guitar, and the band continues through their tight practice set.
The addition of Hurt as a multi-faceted instrumentalist has given the band a new wave of vigor. Talent-wise they are ready to tour and could rock any festival stage they want, and hard. But they know that music, now more than ever, is a tough business to survive in ã even for a band like Strum Theory, which places more emphasis on live performance than recording. "Its about bringing your music to the people,” Shroder says, and they will continue doing just that.
Strum Theory plays with Sol Riot and Ambush Party 9 pm Friday, June 17, at Luckeys; $5.
ã William Kennedy
Deliver Us from Banjo
"Dueling Banjos” has become synonymous with the image of terrifyingly inbred yokels with phenomenal banjo skills. OK, and probably the most chilling scene in cinematic history comes to mind as well. The first few twangy notes of that song will forever be associated with men forced to squeal like pigs in Deliverance. The Banjo Killers are here to combat that image. The only terrifying thing about this duo is the almost inhuman speed at which their fingers fly across fretboards and strings.
Award-winning banjo player Tony Furtado mans the banjo half of the Banjo Killers, while Scott Law tackles the guitar. The majority of their sound centers around the twangy banjo, naturally, and Furtados skillfull mastery of the instrument deserves every showcase it gets. But the sound would be incomplete without Laws guitar to fill out the inescapable tin of the banjo.
Both men have been playing their respective instruments practically since infancy, and it shows. Furtado and Law complement each other wonderfully. They blend when they need to blend and take turns stepping out of the spotlight for each other. The guitar and banjo pas de deux is perfectly in step, at times sounding like one instrument. Its the kind of music that should accompany an indie Manic Pixie Dream Girl as she frolics through a sunny wheat field.
Most of their songs focus strongly on instrumentals, but when the Banjo Killers introduce singing they go Southern with it, as demonstrated by their cover of Muddy Waters "Trouble No More.” The otherwise smooth vocals are punctuated with upswings and breaks that add depth rather than the impression of a sticky, affected Southern accent.
The Banjo Killers marry guitar and banjo seamlessly, and manage to sidestep cliche country crooning. Their live shows are sprinkled with anecdotes and generate plenty of down-home charm. So if its a laid-back, bluegrass kind of night and you're looking for something upbeat to while away the hours, check out the Banjo Killers.
The Banjo Killers play 8:30 pm Saturday, June 25, at the Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove; $10. ã Natalie Horner