Tumbleweed Wanderers Romance Lick and Then Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

At the recent Alumni Assembly on Friday, October 4, Lick-Wilmerding alumni Jeremy Lyon ’09 and Zak Mandel-Romann ’09 performed stripped down versions of their band’s songs for the school. Tumbleweed Wanderers is composed of five members total: Lyon (vocals/guitar), Mandel-Romann (vocals/bass/guitar), Rob Fidel (vocals/guitar/banjo), Patrick Glynn (keys/mandolin) and Daniel Blum (drums). Two days after the alumni event, TW played for their first time at Golden Gate Park’s annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. After busking outside the festival grounds for the last several years, the band was more than thrilled “to have an upgrade.”

Paper Tiger: How did the five members of Tumbleweed Wanderers meet?

Zak Mandel: Pat – keys – actually played with our band [The Audiophiles] once during an assembly in high school! I went to band camp with him in middle school and we’re neighbors.

Jeremy Lyon: I met Rob in Santa Cruz, we did open mics together when I was at school down there. And then Daniel I met while I was interning at a recording studio. He gave me his card, we set up an audition and he joined the TW.

PT How does your name – Tumbleweed Wanderers – influence your sound?

JL: I guess when we started out, we were a little more bluegrass, folk-oriented, kind of rootsy – which is really fitting for the name. Since we were busking a lot, that was kind of the sound that came out of that.

PT: How do you think your time at Lick has had an influence on your success?

ZM: We were in a band…pretty much the entire time at Lick (laughs), which I think helped a lot with working together and getting comfortable on stage.

PT: So you guys formed in early 2011… That’s pretty impressive to already be touring so consistently and playing this year at the HSB Fest; what factors do you think played a part in your success?

ZM: We went all out for it… When we [left school and] started playing music, we were working on the side, but then we just wanted to play music as much as we possibly could – before work, during the day, after work… we really, really wanted it and eventually put 100% into that.

JL: Yeah, in order to be a band in the sort of scene we’re in and trying to do what we’re doing you have to be constantly working at it… If you’re not touring you have to be focusing on your next record, really doing it full time.

PT: Other than busking, what are other ways you get your name out; do you use social media a lot?

JL: Oh yeah, we have an Instagram, Facebook and all that… our other vocalist/guitarist pretty much takes care of that.

ZM: (laughs) Yeah, Rob is heavily involved in our use of social media.

PT: Do you guys have a booking agent, publicist, manager?

JL: We started out booking our own tours, through this site called IndieOnTheMove.com, just sending out a ton of emails everyday…

ZM: We played at lots of empty bars.

JL: (also laughs) Right. We found our manager when we played at a café in Boulder; a guy came up, left his card and we followed up with him. He started bringing booking agents to our shows. We have a publicist sometimes… Like when we have a new record coming out or a music video we want to be launched… PR is a really tricky thing!

PT: I love that video Roll With the Times! Who does your guys’ music videos?

ZM: His name is Andrew Callaway… I met him when I was in high school – went to SOTA actually. He’s an awesome film guy, we became really good friends and had always talked about working together and now he’s done a ton of videos for us.

JL: He actually came on a tour with us and we did that video for, like, months – through the Southwest, in Golden Gate Park… really all over the place.

PT: Is the song writing process a collaborative thing, or more individual – how does that usually work?

JL: Someone usually comes in with an idea, no matter how fully fleshed out the idea is, sometimes they have a bridge and a chorus, or they’re just like, “hey I have this riff… let’s do something with it!” In general whoever is singing lead on the song is the primary songwriter or the song started out as their baby before the rest of the band fleshed it out.

PT: Who are your guys’ major musical influences?

ZM: In terms of, like, who we’re following most closely, bands that are touring and what not, I’d say My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog, Delta Spirit, Devendra Banhart, Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty –

JL: Ah – Father John Misty, I’m really trying to catch him later today…

PT: Leads right to my next question – Who are you guys most excited to see today/this weekend at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival?

ZM: My number one favorite band is playing at the exact same time as us on Sunday, so…

JL: …So Zak’s going to be there (laughs).

ZM: Yeah, I’m skipping our set and go see Shuffles and Rope… But, no, there are a lot of really great people out there, Father John Misty we’re definitely trying to catch, First Aid Kit.

PT: What is your ideal setting for playing music?

JL: I think it kind of depends on the vibe. I have a couple different favorites, like we played at this place Eddy’s Attic in Atlanta – like an open mic type of place, you can literally hear a pin drop, you know? I think that kind of intimacy brings out the song and you can hear every note and intricacy… It gets you to play with a lot more feeling.

ZM: Right, it’s not like you’re playing over a crowd of people talking.

JL: I also think like smallish festivals, around a couple of thousand people, are great. We played at the High Sierra Festival – that was a fun set for us, small enough for it to have it’s own vibe

PT: What is it like working for yourselves, in terms of time management and setting goals?

JL: Lately we’re just been on the road all the time, so our schedule has been very set in stone for us. But I think setting goals that may be a little beyond reach are helpful. When we started playing music really full time, I was like OK my goal is to make it in a year… and once you get into that it’s, like, not really possible, you reassess and you’re like well OK we made it halfway… I guess when you’re not where you want to be yet, but you know you’re on the right path – that’s good.

PT: So, what do some of those long-term goals look like now?

JL: Essentially, to be able to support ourselves through music… Like 5, 10, 20 years down the line, maybe have our own studio? We want to be the sort of band that has a long term staying power, to have a certain cycle… We make an album, tour it, then have some time to pursue other projects, you know? To have that freedom to do other creative things, I would like to get to that place sometime in my adult life.

PT: Is there anything else you guys would like the community at Lick to know?

JL: Well, the last time we were featured in the Paper Tiger… (laughs), our friend basically wrote “literotica” reviews of our live performances… it was a comedy piece. It’s kind of a trip being back at Lick and we really appreciate being taken seriously.

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