The Band to Know and the Place to Be

It’s one thing to be in a band. It’s another to be in three (or is it four?). But that’s how Brian Laidlaw likes it. The poet/songwriter got a grant from the Jerome Fellowship last summer to traverse the ghost towns of California’s Gold Country and write about it, song style. The result: Whiskey with Goliath, the debut EP of Brian Laidlaw & The Family Trade, the band Laidlaw heads. The other members include Tim Harlan-Marks (bass), Ashley Hanson (ukulele), Greg Byers (cello), Bex Gaunt (violin), and Sean Geraty (drums). Together, the six also are the members of such Twin Cities bands as Very Small Animal, Dusty Porch Sisters, and BGGBz. They’re one big family; they’re folk-y, but in a softer, more melodic way; they very well may be the next big thing.

Colin Kopp Photography

How’d you end up in Minnesota?

Brian Laidlaw: I grew up in San Francisco and got into songwriting through poetry. I was an English major at Stanford, and while I was there I started putting my poems to music and playing guitar in a couple bands. After I graduated, I toured around the Sierra’s playing before moving to Minneapolis in 2008 to get my MFA at the U of M. That’s where I met and started playing with the members of Yes!Lets Collective.

What/who exactly is Yes!Lets Collective?

BL: We’re a group of songwriters who get together and jam. At first, it sounded pretty sloppy and messy and was just for fun, but then we started sounding good enough to call ourselves a band. We’re actually several bands with shared members: Very Small Animal, Dusty Porch Sisters, The Family Trade. The concept is sort of like Doomtree, but folk and Americana. Each band has a different lead songwriter, and we stagger releases and support each other.

Do the bands all sound the same, since they have a lot of the same members?

BL: Not at all. Since each has a different writer, they each sound different and have different listeners. The more we play, the better we all get—each band becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

How did Whiskey With Goliath come about?

BL: After I got the grant, I set out in the Sierra Nevada mountains—by myself for sections of it, and with a couple musician/writer friends in California for moral support and safety for other parts. We were in some pretty weird territory, driving for hours and hours on dirt roads or no road; hiking to these abandoned towns. It was pretty crazy. 

Why did you choose to focus on ghost towns?

BL: I grew up learning about the gold rush—it’s at the root of California’s identity. Even now the echoes of the gold rush are so much a part of what it is to live in California. People still go there to strike it rich and make it big. It’s the same spirit and cycle with booms and busts. The recent recession following the boom of the ’90s? That was totally foretold by the gold rush.

Is there something in particular about the gold rush that draws you?

BL: The tall tales and the self-mythologizing; the lies and nonsense and misinformation. That’s an important part of songwriting, lying.

What are you looking forward to about your show this Friday?

BL: The most special thing about our band is the energy of our live shows. It’s tremendously exuberant and joyful and it often reminds me of what it’s like to sing songs around a campfire—earnest and playful. Each show ends up being a really special emotional experience. The audience can feel that, too. We’re having a great time, and are generous with our spirit. The tunes are a little different each time we play them. This EP release is a celebration, and we are going to be uncommonly celebratory in spirit.

Brian Laidlaw & The Family Trade EP Release Party, along with Chastity Brown and Bomba De Luz
Friday, January 25
10 p.m.
Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls.