by: Thomas D. Mooney
El Paso five-piece outfit, The Lusitania will be playing GlassyAlley this Friday (March 30) along with Whiskey Folk Ramblers and Ivory & Ash. We recently caught up with keyboardist Adi Kanlic to discuss the band’s new album, the West Texas sound, and their unfortunate car wreck while out on tour a few months back.
If the Gaslight Anthem was from West Texas, they’d sound like The Lusitania. Their first album “Rain and Rivers” was a collection of sad bastard drinking ballads in the same vein as Deer Tick, Old 97’s, and present day Hank Williams. While Kanlic says that they’ve expanded their songwriting on their yet-to-be-titled sophomore album, I expect them to still have that attitude and atmosphere as their first. I’m sure they’re still chain-smoking and beer drinking worthy ramblers.
New Slang: It’s been a while since you guys last played here. How’s it been since your last visit to Lubbock?
Adi Kanlic: Well–I’m trying to remember the last time we were there. I don’t know if the last time we were there was with Lucero. I think that was too long ago. We’ve been pretty busy. Travelling here and there. We had a pretty bad car accident on our last tour. [Had to] Cut it short. We were only on the road for about four days and then–I believe we were in Oregon–and we hit a sheet of ice and flipped our Suburban and totalled it. So we had to cut the tour off and had to come back home and kind of re-cooperate and raise money to get a new car. So during that time, we started recording as well. And we finished the record maybe about a week ago. The record right now is getting mixed and mastered. We had a couple of benefit shows to raise money. And we actually got enough money to buy a new vehicle, so we’ll be able to buy that pretty soon and hit the road hopefully in May for a couple of weeks. I think we’re starting in mid-May through the end of May and I think a little bit into June. That’s basically it. Right now, we’re just trying to get the album done. We figured we would do a couple of one-off shows. You know, play Lubbock and Austin and we’re doing Dallas as well.
NS: Yeah, I had heard about the car wreck. I was actually going to ask about it. How much of your equipment was destroyed? And was it kind of like starting all over again? Like how did you guys handle such a setback?
AK: It was devastating, to say the least. First off, it was a miracle that none of us died. I was in the back seat with Blake and Charles. We were going about 70 MPH and none of us were wearing seatbelts because we had been driving about nine or 10 hours at that point and were about half asleep. And the next thing we know, the car is going sideways and then you’re upside down. Like I said, we’re lucky that none of us had our necks broken or really hurt or anything. That’s the first thing. We were all safe. Honestly, like an act of God or something. The second thing was, we usually try and tour with a trailer that our friend Jim loans to us. But Jim was on tour as well for solo or Sparta, or Sleepercar. I don’t remember what exactly, but he was using it I think. So we found a way to pack drums, all of the amps, mics, keyboards, everything in the back of our Suburban. And it was packed in so tight, that nothing moved. Nothing moved. The only thing that moved was a guitar fell out of the car, but when we checked it later, it was still in tune. That’s how tightly packed everything was in there. So the gear survived, which is obviously super important. But the car didn’t. We basically, out of the kindness of strangers, got rides from this little town called North Powder, Ore. to Boise, Idaho. It took us like two days to get there.
NS: You mentioned that you guys just finished recording your second album. First off, do you guys have a title yet?
AK: So far, no title yet–at least, if there is one, I haven’t been told [laughs]. So far, this is the second record we’ve recorded at Clap of Thunder Studios. We put out a 7″ with a band one time, put out our own little eight-track record, and then, you know, we did “Rain and Rivers” last year. And this year, we finished this album in a much shorter amount of time. It took a year to record “Rain and Rivers” because everybody’s schedule was so busy. This time it only took us a couple of months. And we had all the songs written for it. By the time we had released our first record, for the second record, we already had all the songs. It’s been ready to go for a while, but we figured we’d let the first record breathe a little bit.
NS: Where do you think you’ve grown as far as that first record to this new one?
AK: The main differences you’re going to hear between the first one and the second one is, it’s not stripped down, but–well in the first record, we had like strings and we had like horn sections from like the UTEP symphony. We had tons and tons of stuff on it that we kind of thought would be cool to have this here and that there. This time, we kind of scaled that back. We have a new guitar player. Our guitar player, Will, he wasn’t on the first record and his guitar playing is definitely going to be very present probably. So that’s going to be a difference too. But I think overall, it’s just scaled back as far as all those other instruments go. And it’s more of a bare bones rock’n’roll record. The songwriting has definitely changed. It’s a little bit more powerful. There’s not as many of the country-ish ballads like “Another Bar in Texas” or anything like that. That’s a big difference too. The record is more Replacements rock than alt. country.
NS: You said it’s more scaled back. Would you say it’s just a better representation of you guys live?
AK: Definitely. I think what we did on the first record was that, before you know, we did everything ourselves. We never even had the option if we wanted to, to do horns or strings or anything. So I guess we took advantage of that. And while we were writing this one, we were just kind of like “you know, we don’t really need any of that shit.” It sounds better when it’s just two guitars, drums, keyboards, and vocals. It’s pretty much like that. I think it’s a little more ballsy than the first record.
NS: One of my big things, is I think landscapes and environments really effect the way bands sound. Now, it may just be that I’m primarily focused on bands from West Texas, but I think bands from around here sound so much more like their setting than others from other parts of the country. With you being from El Paso, how has that influenced the band’s sound?
AK: I think lyrically, it’s in there. Mike likes to right about things that he knows. And Mike knows a lot about literature and he’s got a Master’s degree and he teaches up at the university for that kind of stuff. And we also happen to be living in West Texas, surrounded by desert. It can be so beautiful and influential. Obviously that atmosphere of where you live, is going to lend itself into your songwriting. I lived in North Carolina for a year, and living there, you can kind of hear artists from there, you can hear their references to the state. And I think here in West Texas, bands like One Wolf, Thrift Store Cowboys–bands like that, you can definitely hear it in their songs. And I think for us, when all you know is desert, country music, and rock’n’roll, that kind of thing, and you’re just surrounded by it all the time, you write about what you’re comfortable with.
NS: Has Cormac McCarthy had a major influence, him being from El Paso?
AK: Michael, we’ve never gone on tour where he’s not had a copy of “Blood Meridian.” He always has a damn copy of that book in the car [laughs]. Yeah, that’s his favorite writer, from what I know. American fiction is big in all our songwriting. McCarthy is definitely Mike’s boy. And it’s definitely showcased in some of the lyrics.