It's a near riot in a dark, dank junkyard on the first day of the new year 2014, and the last time that Larry and His Flask played a show in Bend. The crowd—a few hundred enthusiastically shoving fans—stomp their boots and spill drinks as the band, a popular folk-punk five-piece, belts out songs; their twisting twangy banjo, chugging guitars and gritty, but polished harmonies fill the stage with the energy of a semitruck bearing down on the white knuckle crowd. The stage seems as if it might collapse any moment and swallow up the band into a spiraling inferno of banjo, cackling and middle fingers.
"Everybody, make a pyramid!" shouts Jamin Marshall, the band's drummer. Like Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats and Victor DeLorenzo of the Violent Femmes, Marshall is a member of a short list of drummers who stand behind their kit. It is a commanding presence.
Not surprisingly, a couple dozen in the crowd obey Marshall's request, and stack themselves like a black-clad cheerleading squad; six people high and slightly askew.
With his drumstick, Marshall points at the human pyramid and laughs maniacally.
"I can't believe that worked," he shouts into the microphone. The music goes on, but that proclamation hangs in the air—it could easily serve as the motto for the Central Oregon-based band.
Beggars Will Ride
In the past decade, the Bend-based roots band has evolved from busking on street corners, to playing sold out venues across the states alongside acts like Streetlight Manifesto, Reverend Horton Heat and Dropkick Murphys. Yet, in spite of their increasing popularity and nationwide fan base, the band members admit they often still busk before or after the show to gather enough funds just to get to the next gig. Fame, it seems, doesn't always mean fortune.
A 2011 slot on the Van's Warped Tour solidified their position as an up-and-coming band to watch on the national scale. A year later, they had a review in the New York Times and, a year after that, a mention on the Rolling Stone website.
But their rise to perceived success hasn't been like in the movies, and 33,000 Facebook likes doesn't pay the bills. One break doesn't translate to "making it," "blowing up," or even a pause from nose-to-the-grindstone touring. The band still struggles to make ends meet, crowd sourcing the last of the cash to finish 2013's By the Lamplight while simultaneously having the "luxury" of eating regular meals. But the struggle is what has made the band what wit is, the highs of playing to thousands and still having to unload their own trailer is just another day in the humble life of the band.
Ebb and Flow
As their beards have reached Grizzly Adams levels of unkempt grandiosity, and their frequent tours have grown to be worldwide affairs, the group's sound has evolved from straight up electric punk rock to leading the roots revival movement. Over the decade, the band has gained and lost members a dozen times over (at one point LAHF had 11 players; that is now whittled down to a solid team of five, Jamin and Jesse Marshall, Ian Cook, Dallin Buckley and Andrew Carew, after recently loosing their long-time mandolin player Kirk Skatvold).
"The in-between times can be rough," admitted Ian Cook, lead guitarist and singer. "When you're half way through a 15 hour drive, going bat-shit crazy in the back of the van, it's easy to say, 'Why am I here?'" He pauses before adding, "But just playing the music in general is always the most rewarding thing. Seeing the people sing and smile an be happy and dancing, that is food for the soul."
"A misconception is that we are rich rock stars or some horse shit like that," added Jamin Marshall. "We are as blue collar as it gets and we work very very hard for very little return, monetarily speaking. But we do it for the love of music and to make people happy."
That joy has sustained the brotherhood though arrests, 11-recorded releases (two in 2013), the full-length By the Lamplight and a split-album with Cobra Skulls, countless vehicle breakdowns (in total, they've had nine vans, including Old 99, an RV that "only lasted for, like, half of the Warped Tour and went to shit," but had bunks, a shower and a TV with an original Nintendo).
For every major tour, they've slept on the ratty floor of a stranger's house 10 times over. For every sold out gig, they've played an audience of ten. For every nod from the Huffington Post, they've been called punk kids or outright ignored.
They've driven on every U.S. interstate—both ways. They've seen the U.S. and Canada by way of dive bars, house parties, scummy venues and the road.
"I think we lucked out as far as a lot of bands with our personalities matching," said Cook "There's a lot of communication and there's not huge egos."
LAHF or Die
Don't ask which one is Larry. The name doesn't come from a member of a band but from a random drunken alter ego of Jamin Marshall that was the impetus for the group's unassuming beginnings on Halloween in 2003. Starting out as a loud and punk rock collective who admittedly were more focused on partying than playing, Jamin, brother Jeshua and friend Greg Jonson were quickly joined by guitarist Ian Cook and drummer Beau Batts. The crew wrote a few songs, and were playing shows for the developing angst-filled Central Oregon punk scene in no time. The band was started for one reason, the same one that has sustained them through a decade of hard touring.
"It looked like fun, a lot of fun. And the reason we stuck with it so long is because it is a lot of fun," said Jamin Marshall. "But, don't get me wrong, it's also very hard work and a dirty, exhausting life."
That incarnation of the Flask lasted a few years, playing shows in Bend and Redmond and doing several small-scale tours.
"At the time when we were booking, without computers, we really took the old school route and literally called these places and said, 'Can we play here for whatever, if not for free?'" explained Cook. "We just made it up as we went along."
When Batts left the band in 2008, there was a full throttle unplug (the band began to play entirely acoustic) and a conscious shift toward roots music. The additions of Andrew Carew's fast-picking banjo, Dallin Bulkley's rhythm guitar and tactful harmonies, and Kirk Scatfold's speed-freak mandolin turned the band in an entirely new direction, and with good timing. To understand the Flask's recent success look no further than the wave of roots revival acts from The Devil Makes Three to the Avett Brothers and beyond. Rather than a decidedly punk band, the Flask morphed into a hillbilly jamboree with elements of a barbershop quartet, stompgrass and ska, while still keeping the high energy and unbridled stage performance of young punk rockers. Starting with 2011's All That We Know, its recorded sound cleaned up and stripped down. The band quickly went from playing the breezeway in downtown Bend, to busking on street corners across the U.S. and Canada, and making music a full-time career.
Keeping their boots on the ground and their egos small has built the band a reputation for scathing live shows and an excellent arsenal of stories and exceptionally strange experiences, including being given a bag of weed by Bernie Goetz, the '80s "Subway Vigilante" in Union Square, and being the "Track of the Day" on Rolling Stone's website in 2012, when a rep for the magazine happened to catch them busking and approached their manager.
"[Busking] came out of not having a place to play," said Cook. "We could make more money on the street than we could make as a guarantee and we could do it without electricity. It was a way of getting us that gas money we absolutely needed, it we did it out of necessity."
Just Passing Through
There have been a few landmark moments for the band, one of the most successful to ever be borne out of the proverbial musical desert that is Central Oregon.
"When we did the tour with Dropkick, we moved up to actual touring band status. We were supporting a huge band that was incredible. They helped us out, they brought us to the next step," said Cook. "We felt the same way the first time we went to Europe. We are playing our music overseas. Every tour, it gets better and better."
Joined by its trusty sidekick and merchandise lady Randi Hobbs, who has been with the band from its humble beginnings slinging CDs and T-shirts, the band took on a daunting 230 shows around the world in 2012 and is on track to do as many this year, already taking on a full U.S. tour and a short European tour with another slated in May. Over the summer, the band's also headlining smaller festivals, including the Wildwood Americana and Roots Festival in Willamina. The Just Passing Through Tour (a truer tour name has never been coined) will wrap this week, bringing to an end a month-long run with Scott H. Biram and The Whiskey Shivers that saw packed houses in 17 states.
Despite its travels, and despite the trend of moving to the big city to pursue a musical career, the band still calls Central Oregon home.
"It didn't make a whole lot of sense. Why move to a city where a billion bands are trying to do the same thing we are? Why would we want to live in some shitty, big city and move away from all of our family? Bands go there and ultimately break up," said Cook, referring to places like Seattle and Portland.
And keeping roots in Central Oregon has influenced not only the band's longevity, but the music it plays.
"It echoes in our songs, attitudes, work ethic, and everything," said Jamin Marshall. "We are a part of Central Oregon, and it's a part of us."
That road goes both ways, the Flask has undoubtedly influenced the music scene in Bend, helping foster a culture of roots bands, sending their touring friends to venues like the late Horned Hand, and leading the way for the now defunct Harley Bourbon and Wild-Eye Revolver as punk-roots prima donnas.
"When we were kids playing around the area there was this really blooming punk rock scene. There was a ton going on, and then I feel like it dwindled," explained Cook. "It's now starting to pick up again."
Their busy schedule keeps them away from home most of the time, but when they make it back to Bend, as they will next week, they try to play shows and festivals to show its hometown crowd some love. When they do play in Central Oregon, there's a pure energy and unbridled enthusiasm for the return of the local act to their hometown stomping grounds.
"We don't play very many shows at home anymore unless it's New Year's or a festival. We want to start doing it more, playing and stimulating the local music scene," said Cook. "We've dropped off the face of Central Oregon map in a sense because we rarely ever play there."
Sweaty, smelly and spiraling out of control
In a 2011 review in the New York Times, the image of the Flask from an audience standpoint is spot-on, "six sweaty, tattooed, shirtless men often drinking, spitting (even if accidentally) crowd surfing," reads the recap of their Brooklyn show. Their passion for the music comes through on stage and, more physically, sweats through their shirts at almost every gig.
"Their live show is amazing," said Jesse Roberts, founder of the nonprofit Rise Up International, who used to let the band practice in his warehouse when they were starting out. "The first ever Flask show I saw was in a tiny bar in Bend, and Jesse Marshall jumped up on a table with his upright bass—knocked all the drinks off the table and proceeded to dive backwards into a crowd of 25 people with his instrument."
There's still a youthful abandon to the Flask's attitude (especially in Jesse's haphazard bass playing, which seems at any moment to go rocketing off into the crowd, Cook's penchant for rising high on his toes like he might fly off the stage as songs heat up, and Buckley's crazy-eyed, screaming harmonies), although some of the members are pushing 30. Jamin Marshall's signature is—and has been—having the crowd surf him back to the bar, slam a beer, and be carried back to the stage.
"They put on the best live show right now out of anyone, hands down," said Talia Miller, of the Brixton Agency who has done PR for the band since 2011. "I've never seen a band so fun to watch, and they come across onstage as the completely genuine, fun, funny people they truly are—none of it is an act, they're all that good! I think for all bands the true secret to longevity in this industry is building a loyal fan base over time, and the guys have been wonderful about doing that right—touring virtually non-stop for the past several years and having incredibly strong supporters all over the world."
Despite its rowdy and often unwashed appearance and performance, the band has worked its way into the hearts and dance floors, concrete parking lots, street corners and packed ballrooms of Central Oregon and now, the world.
"I think people would be surprised how serious we take ourselves. We do care a lot about our live show and performance, but at the same time, we're all learning still about professionalism," said Cook. "You've got to keep it balanced, but you still give a shit enough to put on a good show, but you're flying by the seat of your pants all the time."
"I hate to be cliché, but it's been one hell of a ride, and its not over yet."
Larry and His Flask
Fri. April 11
Spring Festival Main Stage, at the intersection of Mt. Washington Dr. and NW Crossing Dr.