The world may not have known the joy of The Dustbowl Revival’s infectious sound if founder Zach Lupetin had continued down the musical path he started when he was young.

“I was one of those kids that played classical violin for 10 years, playing orchestra and chamber music. Then I caught the rock ’n’ roll bug when I was about 13 or so.” Lupetin told Pollstar. “My folks were probably the opposite of many parents. They were like ‘We’re rock ’n’ roll people, too! Let me help you sell that violin.’ [laughs]

“They were totally on board and they’re fun. My dad plays blues harmonica with us in the band sometimes when we’re playing in Chicago.

Lupetin proceeded to play electric bass in rock and alternative blues bands growing up in Chicago and continued to play while he was going to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“I had a couple of groups there, the main one being The Midnight Specials,” Lupetin said. “We did CCR kind of blues-rock, rowdy, messy stuff ... at frat parties and bars.

“It actually didn’t dawn on me until senior year that anyone would pay us to play! We played some sort of alumni party and they handed us $500! I thought, ‘Wait! This is a thing?’”

Despite that revelation, playing music for a living wasn’t the reason Lupetin moved to Los Angeles.

“It’s definitely not something I thought I would be doing full-time. I went to school for writing and film. I did a lot of plays and theater and wrote movie scripts,” he explained. “I came out to L.A. with a former lady [friend] who got into UCLA law school. I was like, ‘I’m going to be a screenwriter!’ as people do when they’re young.

“I worked in advertising for five years. Then I started the band from a Craigslist ad. It was sort of a series of happy accidents.”

Since forming in 2007, the lineup of Lupetin on guitar and vocals, Liz Beebe on vocals and ukulele, Joshlyn Heffernan on drums, James Klopfleisch on double bass, Ulf Björlin on trombone, Matt Rubin on trumpet, Daniel Mark on mandolin and Connor Vance on fiddle has been making a name for itself playing its own blend of Americana, soul, funk, roots, rock and jazz.    

The band is touring behind its fourth album, The Dustbowl Revival, released earlier this year.

Lupetin and the band had a rare day off when he talked to Pollstar about putting together the eight-piece group, his thoughts on what makes the band successful and what his vision is for Dustbowl Revival down the line.


Photo: Benjamin Wallen

The Dustbowl Revival

How did the concept for The Dustbowl Revival come about?

The end of college was sort of like the seed of Dustbowl. I put together a group called The Royal Family, which was a series of people from different groups in college like the jazz kids and the rock ’n’ roll kids. We all did this acoustic harmony, folk-rock thing. We recorded this little record and played one show, then we graduated and never saw each other again. [I thought] that would be cool to do again somehow. So, when I put the Craigslist ad up, it was like, “Hey, if you like Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen and Ella Fitzgerald, let me know. And if you play any one of these 20 instruments, let me know.” I was open to whatever.    

It started off as a group of people who had day jobs who were meeting up and playing in local bars. Then it caught on a bit and we just stuck with it.

What attracted you to combining so many different styles with folk?

I’ve always had a schizophrenic love of all types of music. I equally loved early jazz like Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller and big band stuff as I did Wilco, R.E.M. and Nirvana. It was sort of like where is the middle ground? Where can all these things come together in some strange fashion? At that time, I think there was a renewed appreciation for acoustic folk traditions. Bruce Springsteen had put together that Seeger Sessions Band.

And I remember the old Virgin Records store in downtown Chicago, rest in peace. They used to have a row of Top 20 albums. I remember going down there and seeing the Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack was the No. 1 album in the country. And I was like, ‘People like this stuff!’ That was kind of a cool, enlightening moment where I [thought] maybe I can contribute to this tradition in some way.

How competitive was the club scene at the time when booking gigs for Dustbowl Revival?

I was the person booking everything for a while. I would sometimes pretend to be the band’s manager and put on this tone of false importance. But honestly, back then you had to go in to some of the bars and say, “Hey, give us a shot.” Some places were very old school. I remember this bar in Culver City, one of the first places we played. The only way you got a show there was if you got Rod, the bartender, to write the band’s name on the board.     

I think L.A. gets a bad rap in that it’s this cold, soulless industry town. Honestly, the encouragement and warmth from the audiences is what encouraged us to keep going. People gave us a shot all over the place! I found that it can be harsh when no one shows up, obviously, [but] it wasn’t any worse than having your scripts rejected and never hearing from anyone again. Five years ago, someplace like the Troubadour would laugh at you when you sent them your stuff. And then a couple years later, you’ve sold out the Troubadour.

Did the band hit the road regionally as well?

Yeah. We started sort of branching out. San Francisco has always been a second home base for us. It may be that our biggest fan base is in the Bay Area. We started going more full-time around 2012. We got an agent and we would do the Pacific Northwest and sometimes the Midwest since some of us have a base in Chicago. We would do these little regional runs and we got lucky getting on some festivals, and that opened some things up.

Is that when the band decided to look into management?

We got busy enough that we were touring full-time and we all had our own jobs in the band. I was getting overwhelmed. The creative part of me starts getting hampered when I have to do all this behind-the-scenes stuff, too. I think certain things within the band were just never able to happen, like trying to get a publishing deal, to where you could actually make some passive income and not be killing yourself on the road all the time. We realized we couldn’t do it ourselves anymore and it would be good to have a team with us. To be honest, it’s a pretty tough financial balance to make an eight-piece band work.

Jeff [DeLia of 72 Music Management] is young but he had that spark of “I’m going to work really hard for you” and he wasn’t jaded by the industry as I think some older folks were. We’re all still learning, and he could learn and grow with us. And he agreed to co-manage with Ivory Daniel [of The Regime]. Ivory was sort of the guy who sealed the deal. He came in and said, “I can be the hammer.” Sometimes you need someone like Ivory that’s been around the block. He’s a really cool, artistically tuned-in guy. That was something that appealed to me personally.

We also changed booking agents a few months ago, which was a big deal for us. It wasn’t like we were looking to move. We loved the booking agent we had. We’d been with her for four years. She was really responsible for a lot of what we became. She did a lot of stuff beyond what an agent does – the dirty work that a manager would do. It was like a break-up.

But the one thing that was appealing about [The] Kurland [Agency] when we were presented with that choice was that they’re international. We’ve gotten our first tastes of Europe the last couple of years and we think we can do well over there. We haven’t really done a full run there. It’s one of those things where the band, as a voting body, decided we were ready to make a change. 

How heavily did the band tour prior to putting the team together?

When you’re starting out, starting to gain an audience, and getting into bigger venues, you don’t want to say ‘No.’ We took a lot of things – some of the things maybe we shouldn’t have [laughs] –  so we were booking at least 150 dates a year and traveling all over the place. Now we’re starting to realize that maybe we could tone it down a little bit but we’re still not quite at the place where we can pick and choose everywhere we go. There are whole parts of the country that we’re very new in. We just played in Idaho for the first time and it was a crazy, awesome show!

And speaking of that, how did the band’s tour of China come to pass?

It was a very odd and fascinating trip. It was through this grant program, a cultural exchange program through the State Department and the Chinese cultural department. They’ve been doing this as a goodwill thing since World War II.

We had played a show with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in L.A. – it was a big show – and the guy who brings the talent to the government took a shine to us. He said he was going to submit us [for the exchange] and see what happens. They accepted us, so we went over there and brought dancers and a whole crew with us. We were there for about three-and-a-half weeks. Let’s just say it wasn’t a vacation. They’re really about hard work and this sort of austere Communist work ethic that they have. They put us in all these different places. We played at basketball stadiums, ping pong arenas, factories and theme parks. And most of the people were so friendly and so warm. A lot of them hadn’t seen a band play live with instruments [like us]. A lot of the people over there either play the very old, traditional wooden instruments or it’s electronic, DJ-type of stuff. So bringing them this sort of rock ’n’ roll, Western swing mashup type of thing definitely blew their minds a bit.


Photo: Talley Media

The Dustbowl Revival

How was the audience response?

We played to a lot of younger people at colleges and high schools, and every once in a while we’d play at a local Communist Party hall. The people had to be held back at times, they were so excited. Our fiddle player especially almost needed a security detail because of the girls. [laughs] It definitely made us want to explore other cultures more.

What is The Dustbowl Revival’s formula for keeping the fans coming?

It’s all about good songs for me. It’s not about genre or trying to be one thing or another thing. When you have a good song and it speaks to people and moves people, that’s what’s important.

Our shows will change each night depending on the energy of the room. You can tell sometimes people are ready to rock and have a good time. And sometimes, especially in seated, quieter shows, we can tell some darker stories and bring it back up.

It’s going to be a challenge for this next record. The band is starting to collaborate more, and Liz is writing some lyrics of her own now. She wrote the song, “If You Could See Me Now,” so there’s definitely some more chefs in the kitchen. We all have different stories in our past and musical history where we can add our own flavors to songs.

With all that The Dustbowl Revival has accomplished so far, what would you say is your vision for the band down the line?

That’s a good question. I think that the band would love to be able to play some bigger shows with people we really admire. I think that’s something that’s been hard for the band to get partially because we’re a big, loud group. Being able to connect with some of the artists you really respect, like we were able to play some shows with Lake Street Dive. It was a really good learning [experience] for us.

[So,] just getting on bigger festivals and bigger venues and building that fan base. We can really only go as far as people support us.