On the Road with: Terraplane Sun
Terraplane Sun, a five-piece blues/folk rock band out of Venice, CA, are making a name for themselves in Hollywood with songs featured on various hit TV shows. We caught up with Ben and Johnny to talk about their favorite tour memory in Amsterdam, airlines as a source for discovering new music, and the value of deodorant.
How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you before?
Johnny: We switch up so many different instruments and styles that it’s hard to stick us into one category. But definitely like folk, blues, hints of country, and vintage rock kind of stuff.
Ben: We could just keep it simple and call it rock n’ roll.
Collectively, how many instruments can the band play?
B: I don’t know if we’ve ever actually put a number on it, but definitely north of ten.
J: One guy alone in the band I think plays five. So that boosts our median number.
If you could have written any song in music history, what would it be?
J: Wow. I wish I could have written the verse from “Dirty Work” by Steely Dan, the hook from “Kind Woman” by Buffalo Springfield, and maybe the bridge from…uh…
B: I think I’m just going to have to settle on “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, written by Brian Wilson. That’s probably the most spectacular song I’ve ever heard.
J: “Pet Sounds” is a major influence so I can definitely second Ben on “God Only Knows”
Your music has had a lot of success on television with songs featured on “Nurse Jackie,” “Damages,” and “The League,” as well as your song “Trouble” being chosen as the theme song for A&E show, “Relapse.” What’s it like being a developing band in Hollywood?
J: A little fish in a big pond. Every night there are four or five bands playing at every gig across L.A. You can sometimes feel lost, but there are so many different avenues for a small band to break through.
B: I feel like with any city or any era there is always kind of a sound that becomes the norm. And like Johnny said, there will be five bands playing in any given area, but four of them probably fall into the sound that’s hot right now. I guess we like to pride ourselves on hopefully having a sound that’s unique.
It is very interesting times. Like you said, there are so many ways a band can take things into their own hands and traditional avenues have kind of taken a backseat.
J: You have to be super creative now. People aren’t buying CDs so you can cross that off the list. You can make a YouTube video on a bunch of treadmills and the next thing you know you can headline a national tour.
You released your second album “Coyote” in January. How does it differ from your first album?
B: It’s night and day. The first record was more or less me just kind of blabbering with a producer. And “Coyote” was kind of like the rebirth of Terraplane Sun as we know it today. We went into the studio after a year of playing with nine songs and within three days we layed it down.
You guys come from all over the U.S., but have settle in Venice Beach. What appeals to you about Venice?
J: Venice has such an amazing vibe to it. It’s more gritty, and not as polished as Santa Monica and other parts of L.A. You have a lot more freedom to do certain things because there’s less judgment. It’s like an artist colony and it makes you feel like you can do as you please. Creatively, it’s just an inspiring spot.
B: I’ve never known another beach town quite like it. It’s aware of the beach and it’s proximity, but it’s kind of like when the city meets the beach, so it’s like this kind of edgy, artistic little nugget that cool stuff comes out of.
You play a lot in Southern California and Vegas, and recently went to Amsterdam. What has been your favorite tour memory so far?
J: I don’t really want the world to know…
B: Amsterdam for me. That will be a trip I’ll remember for the rest of my life. As far as one moment in Amsterdam…
J: Oh ya! We met a pub owner on one of the first nights we got there. He was eyeing us up and down and claimed to be a blues aficionado. At first I thought he was going to fight me, but he ended up taking us in as like his adopted American children, and invited us to play at his pub the next day. So while we were setting up outside the pub the following day this woman drives by on a bike with a cello strapped to her back. I went after her and asked if she wanted to play with us and she said yes. We sat down and I began to tell her what the chord changes were, but she just said “No, don’t worry about it.” So we laid into the song and she made it one of the most beautiful performances I’ve ever heard in my life. She never heard the song once and she nailed every change plus improvised a cello solo. It was just one of those things where all the pieces came together. It was incredible.
What are you listening to while you’re on the road?
J: Ben, who’s that sick guitar player that we listened to on the way up? I’m going to butcher his name if I try to say it.
B: The west African guy? I’m a huge fan of Ali Farka Toure. It’s like the best road music in my mind.
I actually discovered him on an airline music channel.
B:It’s funny, airlines are really becoming the source for discovering new music. I’ve actually just discovered a couple new bands on JetBlue.
If you were going on tour and could only take three things with you, not including your instruments, what would they be?
J: When I was a kid we had a huge fire that came by my house and I did kind of the same thing, where I actually could only take what I could carry. I still get made fun of this till this day because my priorities were deodorant, my guitar, toothbrush, underwear, and that was it. I left all my toys and like…
B: But why deodorant?
J: Well think about this- my house burns down, I’m homeless, and I have to get a job so I have to smell good. So i’d probably still go with deodorant on the road.
B: That’s a no brainer.
You were wearing deodorant at 11?
J: I was a hairy child. I’m just kidding. I was trying to be a little older than I actually was.
Favorite place you’ve ever played?
B: We were just at the Belly Up in San Diego. I think that’s my favorite place. I love that place. It’s one of the best sounding venues. The Cosmopolitan in Vegas is pretty cool too.
J: Ya, the Cosmopolitan is my favorite.
If you could choose any place to perform where would it be?
B: Hollywood Bowl, baby!
J: I would love to play the House of Blues on the strip. I grew up going there as a kid, and it has been a life goal to get up there. I don’t think it’s too far out of reach at this point, which is really exciting.
What do you like most about playing live?
B: The relationship between the band and the crowd.
J: It’s a rush like no other. When the crowd is really vibing off you…that energy is something you can’t replicate in any other medium. But also, the musicianship in this band is incredible, and I love being able to improvise. Those freedoms really elevate our playing and that’s just an amazing feeling.
What is your favorite song to play live?
B: Probably “Tell Me I’m Wrong.” Johnny probably agrees too, ya?
J: That’s definitely the one.
B: No matter what kind of night we’re having, as far as if we have the crowd or not, we can always rely on that song.
J: Without fail that trombone solo will put a smile on my face every single night.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far?
J: I think the record has been the greatest achievement because it took so many chance occurrences and events to even get this formation of the band together and get us all on the same page.
B: Ya, just the band in general. After I finished the first record I played with several musicians, and I’m sure you know musicians tend to be crazy. Finding guys to collaborate with where there are no egos is difficult. So I was more or less ready to not even continue, but then I met them and we got really lucky. From where I am now to where I was then, it’s amazing we’ve gotten this far.
What’s next for Terraplane Sun?
B: We’re currently sitting on our best material so we’re working feverishly to try to get into the studio and find a producer to make our third record, a record that will validate us in the music world.
J: We should be dropping an EP within the next month and a half, so we’re super excited about that. We’ve got an amazing bunch of new tracks, so stay tuned!