Interview With The Storytellers: Scott Diehl and Lance Frantzich
An Interview with Scott Diehl and Lance Frantzich of The Storytellers
The Storytellers is a Los Angeles-based progressive bluegrass band, performing on stages throughout California. They draw from the rich canon of traditional bluegrass, country blues, old-time, and folk music as a basis for inspired improvisations and intrepid vocal harmonies.
Festy GoNuts first encountered The Storytellers while covering Huck Finn Jubilee, where they performed as the winners of the “Valleygrass” title in the Battle of the Bands competition.
The Storytellers head into the studio in May 2021 to begin work on their new album titled “Howling in the Hills,” comprised of originals and bluegrass classics.
Images in this article courtesy of Bob Vitti Photography
Interview: Scott Diehl and Lance Frantzich
How are you guys holding up during the pandemic?
Scott: The band is holding up well. We’ve been able to do some virtual performing in some online festivals. The June Lake Jam Fest and the OC Music Festival, to name a couple. We were quick out the gate and fortunate enough to find a large, outdoor, and relatively undiscovered venue in Irvine where we could play to a socially distanced audience. We perform our “Bluegrass-Ish Brunch” there every third Sunday. I think it’s important to stay purposeful, to set goals and have something to look forward to.
Lance: Not that it’s been easy, though. The band was heading in a great direction at the time things shut down. We had all sorts of premium gigs booked and we had a lot of momentum going. Having the brakes get slammed on was jarring. I mean, nobody went through the windshield, but we had to work through all the confusion and fear and all of that before we decided to come together to make music again. The bands’ relationships are very important, very loving, very close. We want to create music, but more importantly, we want to create it together.
How has the pandemic affected your musical schedule?
Lance: When the shutdown first happened, we didn’t see each other for about five months. Pretty much after that, we began where we left off, with full band rehearsals on Sundays and vocal rehearsals on Wednesday nights. We wore masks and socially distanced for a long time. Fortunately, we have a very large rehearsal space. Nowadays, with our residency, we’re back at it full swing.
Has there been resistance to your band performing live shows during the pandemic?
Scott: Not really. Pretty much the entire band had wanted to get out and play live if we could do it safely, and we have done it safely. People in the Storytellers community were asking us to find a big property to perform at so they could get out and dance in the sun. That’s just people trying to see to their own emotional wellbeing. We have to do what we do for our own wellbeing as creative people trying to spread some joy around. At the same time, we don’t want to be responsible for some super spreader event.
Lance: One of the strange things about having a community form around the band is that at some point it becomes bigger than the band. We’re already at that point. So after more than a few people asked us to play live, we thought we should.
Scott: There’s that. There’s the fact that people who are responsible and mindful and healthy still want to go out and dance and experience live music. The entire bluegrass and acoustic music scene work better outside anyway. At our shows, we ask people to socially distance from people they aren’t close with and to wear masks, which they mostly do, but we don’t police the crowd. We’re far too ornery ourselves to take on that role. Occasionally our Manager refers to the band as an “outlaw” band. I think we all have a greater appreciation of what that means in terms of our music and our image and who we are as people and musicians. We’re not mainstream. Our music isn’t mainstream. Our audience isn’t mainstream.
Lance: Seriously. Look at all the pictures of the people who come to our shows on our social media. Dudes with long hair, women who aren’t made up, wearing super colorful clothing and happier-looking and freer than most audiences I’ve seen. They’re awake and they’re responsible and they’re beautiful. We trust our audience to be aware and make good decisions and take good care of themselves and each other.
The Storytellers head into the studio in May 2021 to begin work on their new album titled “Howling in the Hills”. The album will be comprised of originals and bluegrass classics.
The CD will be recorded and engineered by Kevin Jarvis at the Sonic Boom Room in Venice, CA.
There are a lot of artists performing live streams during quarantine. What are your thoughts on virtual live stream shows? Are there any you’ve checked out? Have you performed any?
Lance: We were fortunate to do one of the first steaming festivals, the OC Music Festival. The guy who runs that, Ted Tesoriero, was very visionary about what was to come. He has a production company – staging, sound, lights – and he put together a compelling online festival back in May. It was well-viewed, the performances were amazing. But as time has passed, everyone is doing streaming performances and it seems the novelty has worn off. It’s asking a lot to have people pay to watch their computer screen. But then again, they pay to watch cable. Janet Hunt, who runs the June Lake Jam Fest, made her festival free, just soliciting donations to offset the costs of producing the festival and still had money left to donate to kids’ music programs. We had a blast doing that one.
Scott: As far as staging live streams like from our studio and soliciting donations, no, we don’t do that for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we don’t have to do it. Nobody in the band relies on Storytellers income to survive. We’re fortunate that way and we have a lot of compassion for the musicians who do rely on their performance income. It’s got to be tough. Secondly, there are enough live streams happening and bands are stepping all over each other.
Lance: Totally. I mean, there’s always the danger of announcing some event and spending time and money to promote it, only to have Bob Weir announce he’s doing something on the same night. His music may have slowed down, but he hasn’t!
Scott: Having said all of that, we are staging our first live stream soon. It’s called “The Ballad of Bob Stane and Other Stories” so we can premier a song we wrote about Bob Stane, the legendary folk music promoter. He’s been our friend and mentor. A lovely man. We want him to hear the song and he’s been sheltering, trying to stay safe. So we’ll play the song, “The Ballad of Bob Stane”, and a few other songs just to show him we love him.
Lance: More than ever we find rehearsals to be very edifying. As long as we can play together, at least for now, that’s been enough. It’s good to see how the technology has improved to pull off these online shows for those bands that rely on it.
What record did you recently get that everybody needs to go and check out right now?
Scott: We got the remastered copy of Old & In the Way’s “Boarding House” CD. Four sets of soulful and sublime live bluegrass music from Jerry Garcia and Dave Grisman and Peter Rowan and Vassar Clements. It’s a revelation. It seems like this album is responsible for more people being turned on to bluegrass music than any other. Not just members of our band, mind you. We have people coming up to us on our breaks and telling us how much they love certain songs because of its connection to Old & In the Way. It’s up there with Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds.
Have you guys been writing?
Lance: Yes! We have! During the shutdown we started writing our own material. Lyrics and music. We’re currently learning and arranging these songs, about a dozen of them, for an album planned for this Spring. We plan to head into the studio to start recording in May.
Scott: Yes, and I’ve been struck by just how important writing these songs and recording them has become to me, to all of us. This COVID thing has been one of the strangest things to happen to us. In many ways, it’s forced us all to grow as individuals and as band members and as a band as a whole. It’s forced us to confront issues of mortality. So it’s become important to have a record of this strange and wonderful time, and who we all were and what we were all thinking and what our conception of music was.
Lance: That must be why albums were called records? More than just recordings, as you just said, they’re also records of where people are, creatively speaking, at the time of the recording.
What at-home listening are you vibing on nowadays?
Scott: Nothing much. Part of these crazy times is how fast time is moving. What little downtime we have, we’re trying to be creative and trying to be healthy, and pursuing health and creativity take time. So we’re really not consuming art as much as trying to focus on creating it. That’s pretty much why this band got started. It was an experiment to see which was a richer life. Creating? Consuming? Some of this? Some of that?
Lance: It literally is how and why this band started. From a Terence McKenna lecture posing the question Scott just shared. What’s richer? Which is a higher quality life? I started playing bass in order to answer that question. Everyone in the band listens to some music for inspiration, but not as much as we play. I do have to have my daily dose of Jackson Browne while I’m making my morning smoothie!
Scott: And to go back to the health part I mentioned a minute ago, nobody should have been able to experience these times of COVID without reflecting deeply on their physical health. I think that’s the lesson to learn from a pandemic. Health and nutrition are vital, and we’ve found that investing time in exercising and moving around getting our bodies strong and healthy is a good policy. Quality art lies in the small details and health works on the same principle. It’s all about priority. Listening to other people create music is lower on the list these days.
But you hope it’s high on the list for those who you want to purchase your music and listen to it, right?
Lance: We do hope people will come to our shows and listen to our music for sure. But we also believe that, generally speaking, we need more people creating because being creative is what makes life rich. That’s how it’s been for us at least.
Scott: Right. The experiment ended. The results are in. Creating is richer than consuming.
Lance: If people stopped coming to our shows and we found out they were painting watercolors instead, or learning to play the ukulele, or studying voice or writing stories, we’d be thrilled for them. And for us. We know for sure that that condition is better for society. A bunch of people who are fulfilled by doing their own art. That’s the sign of a healthy culture. Now if they’re home watching “Cobra Kai” instead of grooving at our show, well, we’ll have a bone to pick with them!
Scott: And if our audience dried up under those conditions or any other conditions, there’s still the creating itself, even if we never played in front of an audience again. Performance and creativity and the discipline of learning a craft are very closely related, but surely not the same thing.
Let’s talk gear. What are you guys into? What do you record with? Play live with?
Scott: Our rehearsal sound setup and our studio recording setup and our live show setup are all the same. Bose towers. We use Sennheiser vocal microphones, as well as their in-ear monitors and quarter inch wireless system for our instruments. We use LR Baggs for the solo instruments.
Lance: The in-ear mics are really the secret to our live harmonies. We do three and sometimes four part singing live, on stage. Our system allows all the vocalists to have their own mix in their ears. Those were game-changers as far as singing live. You have to be able to hear yourself when you’re singing. I think that’s been our best equipment upgrade.
Where can people keep up with you during quarantine?
Lance: They can always see what we’re doing on our website, StorytellersBand.com. We have a pretty vibrant presence on Instagram and a growing community of almost 6 thousand on Facebook. As we’ve discussed, we are doing socially distanced live shows already, so we have dates on our website. Our Bluegrass-Ish Brunch shows in Irvine will be going on all year. We’re already building up the momentum again, so we’ll have a lot going on. We’re doing five shows at the Orange County Fair on their second largest stage! Facebook is probably the best way to stay in touch.
In your opinion, what’s the best thing people can do to support the arts during these times?
Scott: One way is to support their artist friends like they do the big stars. It’s bizarre that people will drive 400 miles to see their favorite big acts but won’t drive 30 minutes to support an artist friend who is performing. It’s part of this celebrity-worshiping culture we’re all living in. Celebrities are great, but the mid-level and even entry level artists need support too. The Storytellers have only thrived because of that support. But we could always use more. But it must be something more than thinking, “Oh, I need to go support my friends,” which is fine too. The idea might be, “Oh, I can go have fun and dance to music that isn’t being played by a celebrity.” Live artists do need an audience, and the odds of the artist and audience having a transformative, memorable experience increases exponentially if people are there and giving themselves to the experience so that they’re moved by the art. That’s what art is for.
Lance: After our last show, someone said to me, “Boy you sure do praise the audience a lot”. I do. And why shouldn’t I? They came. They made the effort. Their singing and dancing and smiles and the love they beam to us is what makes the show. It super charges the experience. And that right there is the important story happening. All of us creating this moment together now. As it’s happening. We’re The Storytellers and we’re relating these stories about robbers and heroes and grifters, and that’s enjoyable, but it’s not nearly as profound as the story being played out by us and our audience.
Scott: Really. That’s what makes our live shows so unique. We’ve never referred to our community as “fans”. It’s not giving them enough credit for their contributions. They’re Storytellers, too!
Do you have a message for musicians and artists on the search for creative inspiration?
Scott: I don’t think inspiration is something that comes to us. We come to inspiration. I think inspiration is the connection to the source and it’s ever present. It’s a vibration, like music is a vibration, and when we connect with inspiration, it’s because we’re vibrating in harmony with it. Then we’re able to download whatever we’re trying to bring down from the ether. So how do we become sensitive enough to be aware of it? To me, whether I’m playing guitar or writing a poem, I don’t want to be distracted or be a victim of anyone’s diversion plan. Distracted in the sense that I don’t want to be thinking about politics or Kanye West’s divorce or the latest, greatest thing to buy. I want to be present and clear and trying to cultivate the state that makes inspiration easier to recognize. It’s like our manager always tells us, “The odds of finding something increase exponentially when you’re looking for it.”
Lance: It becomes another question of what we’re consuming, what we’re filling our head with. We want to try to be present in the moment, quiet and contemplative, listening for that unmistakable voice of inspiration giving you the ideas, the chords, the story or the melody. It’s an important responsibility to maintain that consciousness because if we don’t – we, meaning the artists, the painters, the poets, the musicians, the luthiers – then all the beauty stays hidden in what Scott just called “the ether”. The inspired, the connected, they can really bring it down and the rest of us get to experience whatever it is through their inspiration. That’s how these people become celebrities and celebrated because they’re gifted and talented. But we should still make lots of room for the rest of us still trying to figure it out!
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