By Nick Brothers
Hailing from Shreveport, La. Dirtfoot started as a group in 2001, and getting paid as a band in 2003, the band has grown and changed quite a bit since releasing their first album in 2006.
The grizzly guys of Dirtfoot have been playing Chompdown, the free word-of-mouth communal breakfast at Wakarusa, for free since the event’s inception in 2007. They were contacted by the originator of Chompdown, Jon Cabrera, on Myspace to play an acoustic set at their gathering at Wakarusa. They obliged, and since then they’ve played at every Chompdown, both at Wakarusa and Yonder Harvest Festival; totalling 15.
The band recently had a successful kickstarter campaign where they raised $20,290 for the recording of their fourth album, “Coming Up for Air,” produced by Brady Blade and featuring Papa Mali and Rebirth Brass Band
Dirtfoot consists of Matt Hazelton (lead vocals, guitar) J Bratlie, (Banjo, vocals) Scott Gerardy (saxophone, vocals) Sam Apperson (lead guitar, vocals), Garret Brolund (bass, vocals) and Derek Russel (drums, vocals). The band’s ecclectic mix of instruments and improvisational approach to their music makes for quite the interesting sound.
Here’s our interview:
Q: What keeps you guys playing at Chompdown each year?
GERARDY: It’s better than playing the main stage. It’s so much more intimate. The people are right there and everyone’s breaking bread together.
HAZELTON: We’re literally rolling out of bed and playing music, which is weird. It’s a beautiful thing what happens, man.
RUSSEL: It’s that little bit of adrenaline you get when you’re tired and going off a little sleep. That adrenaline just drives you to play a show at nine in the morning. It’s crazy how it happens, but it’s fun.
HAZELTON: As soon as it’s over you can right back to sleep. (laughs) We normally play to 9 a.m.
Q: You guys are essentially for-lack-of-a-better-word veterans of Wakarusa now. With all of your experience, what does Wakarusa mean to you?
HAZELTON: Man, it’s a good time. It’s place for us to be able to cut loose and show people what we’re doing and interact with people.
GERARDY: Me personally, I look at it as a family reunion. All of these people we’re doing the Chompdown with, and all of these friends we’ve made over the last eight years doing this, they’re all family.
BRATLIE: We get to come here and play and hang out with friends, but we also get to be dumb fans. There’s always a few bands on the list we haven’t seen, or can’t wait to see again. We get to go out and meet heroes and make new friends. We’re players, we’re fans, we’re family. This is our eighth year, so we know the crew, we know the same security guards, all the behind the scenes and production guys, everyone’s like “Hey Dirtfoot!” We’ve been here long enough we feel comfortable. When you’re comfortable, you play so much better. You play wetter. (laughs)
HAZELTON: The typical gig we play out there, y’know, we go and set up, we play and we leave. At this, we go and set up, we play and we hang out for days. We’re actually getting to know these people and making friends.
Q (To Russel and Apperson): What was it like being a festival goer and then coming back and playing the main stage with these guys at Harvest Fest?
RUSSEL: It was incredible. Going to those festivals and then playing them, it’s a whole new experience. You get to be a fanboy and run up to other artists. You get paid to go to a festival, I mean come on! It’s awesome.
APPERSON: Coming from Shreveport, I’ve known about these guys since I was in high school. My brother was like, “Hey, check out Dirtfoot.” I want you guys to know, it’s kind of an honor (laughs), y’know, it is! Knowing y’alls songs before and then playing…I feel like I’m a part of something. It’s wonderful.
HAZELTON: Awww, c’mere man! (Hazelton reaches out to Apperson to give him a hug. The band awws in response.)
Q: So at the press conference you described your sound as front porch whiskey stompin’ gypsy country punk grumble boogie. Does a sound like that come from the instruments available? Or is it kind of a vision, like this is what Dirtfoot needs to sound like.
HAZELTON: We’ve added more since then. There’s a new sound to the band with the new guys.
APPERSON: Crunchy boogie rock.
BRATLIE: All the songs are still about sex and death, it’s just a little heavier and darker. More cojones.
RUSSEL: Matt said it perfectly. When you sit down and write a song, you just write a song. It doesn’t have to be any particular genre. Some people start writing a song and it’s like “Ah, it’s a punk rock tune.” We just sit down and write a song and it turns out to be whatever it is, taking on a sound in itself.
BRATLIE: We have never had a discussion where we’ve said “I want this song to sound like…this.” It might be hey, can you play this line this way? We’ve never had a discussion about the sound of a song. Matt comes in and starts playing something, and starts “Rruh dah dah dah,” doing some kind of lyric, and then I’ll start picking something on the banjo and he’d go, “What was that?” Then the drums comes in, then some horns and the next thing you know, a song is happening. With Matt though, there’s something different about the way he writes.
HAZELTON: It’s the devil.
Q: Sex and death, right? Maybe some Voodoo?
HAZELTON: (laughs) As far as lyrics goes, I write about stuff that is around me. Just kinda telling stories about what I see. Just thoughts and ideas. Sex and death come up a lot because maybe I think about sex and death an awful lot (laughs). I dunno. I’m just a man. We do change some lyrics if we’re playing a festival where children would be there. Then it just turns the song into something different. I think Dirtfoot is kind of ever changing. It is whatever it is, kind of like the weather.
Q: What are looking forward to with your upcoming set tonight?
HAZELTON: Just tearing it up. We might have some guest appearances, we’ll see what happens.