-Published in Central Oregon Magazine in Spring of 2012 by Laurel Brauns
It might come as a surprise that the nationally famous, Warped-touring band of acoustic punk rockers from Redmond, Larry & His Flask, used to have a hard time getting a gig in Bend. They were too loud, too crazy or just too electric for this laid-back, bluegrass-loving mountain town.
Shunned by most major venues in Central Oregon, they took to the streets—literally—and set up impromptu stages on street corners, often drawing droves of patrons out on the sidewalk in front of the very venues that wouldn’t give them the time of day. Sometimes they’d even march through pubs and bars, play on table tops for a song or two, and rally on to the next place to stir up the crowd.
There was just one problem: they were a punk band, and this whole busking thing required acoustic instruments and someone that could sing loud… real loud.
“We couldn’t plug in, so if we needed volume, we’d just double up the instruments. At one time we had four guitars and twelve people that would play with us on a given night,” said drummer Jamin Marshall, who along with his brother Jesse, founded the band eight years ago.
Jamin had always been the lead singer, and his gritty vocals complimented the band’s beer-before-breakfast sound. But guitarist Ian Cook had the ability to really project over the crowds that would often gather to witness the Flask’s sidewalk mayhem, and with that in mind, he was newly elected lead vocalist.
Cook’s voice and musical inclinations tended towards more of a country/Americana sound, and as he performed the songs that had been in the band’s punk repertoire for years, they were transformed into something altogether entirely. Excited by this new direction, and dedicated to making it work, the boys holed up in a closed-for-the-season lakeside resort in British Columbia for the winter, which was owned by a family member, and woodshedded their new songs and sound.
Enter Dallin Bulkey (guitars), Kirk Skatvold (mandolin) and Andrew Carew (banjo), the diaspora of the then defunct Central Oregon band Zombie Co-Pilot, former Flask touring mates. Equipped with a keen knowledge of crafting three part harmonies, and an empathy for the punk rock scene and sound, the new members hopped in the back of a yellow short bus for a three-and-half-month tour around the U.S. and Canada… and never looked back.
The result was a marriage of bluegrass/Celtic/country instrumentation with the raucous energy of the Flask’s punk-as-hell live shows. One must see it to believe it, but start by imagining a bunch of bearded guys in suits, throwing their fros around to drunken sailor songs and running circles around each other with mandolin, banjo and guitar solos. If it gets too hot, Jamin flings off his shirt. If it’s a particularly fast song, Jesse leaps back and forth across the entire length of the stage like Peter Pan, miraculously taking his upright bass with him, and never missing a note.
Gigs eventually got booked in Central Oregon, and word around town spread that the Flask’s shows were not to be missed. And then the magic finally happened: long-time advocate and promoter Bret Grier of Random Presents got the boys a slot opening for Dropkick Murphy’s, a internationally touring Celtic punk band from Boston. The Dropkick’s merchandise manager was blown away by the sheer energy the Flask brought with them on stage, and got them on a national tour with the Boston powerhouse. This led to many music industry connections, and eventually a spot on the main stage on the Warped Tour this past summer.
In the middle of their crazy touring schedule, the band also managed to release a full-length record in 2011, which made a number of top ten lists both regionally and nationally. “All That We Know” gleams with studio polish and combines Mumford & Sons –esque vocals with explosive drums and banjo riffs. Americana gems like “Slow it Down” place them on par with the Avett Brothers, and has the potential to bring their high-desert thrashgrass to a whole new audience.
With months of touring ahead of them, right now the band is happy to be back in Central Oregon, the place they proudly call home.
“We’re country boys,” Jamin said. “Jesse and I were actually born in Baker City, and I think most of the band just feels more comfortable here.”
“Being on tour so much has also made me really appreciate this place,” he added. “Most of America is badlands and plains, dirt and nothingness. Here, there are mountains all around us… Smith Rock. Sometimes when I’m out in the middle of Kansas or something… I just want to see a tree, or a rock or a stream.”