photo by Blake Goodmacher; featured image by Yasamine June
“Sure, sure…fersherrsure,” the boys of North Pacific String Band mumbled enthusiastically when asked to play some more tunes on my show, Pickin on the Porch with Auntie Em, a few weeks back.
The five-piece string band consists of Steven Stubblefield on mandolin and vocals, Jeff Wilson on banjo, Alex Bice on upright bass and vocals, Evan Penza on guitar and vocals, and Jan Purat on fiddle and vocals. All these boys live locally within Santa Cruz County and have played many houseshows, on-campus shows at the UC, and gigs at local music venues. This summer, they packed up and headed out to tour throughout Northern California and Oregon. When they came back to release their debut album “Steak & Eggs” on August 22, I asked them to come hang out on KZSC’s own bluegrass show.
In the times between being gratefully serenaded by the band in the studio, I asked a few questions about the recording & production process and the tour.
All thirteen original tracks were recorded live with two microphones in the Corralitos Grange Hall. This specific place was acceptable to bassist Alex after clapping his hands a bit and recognizing its “sweet wood tones.” And the central coast of California in general provides as North Pacific’s key source of inspiration–what they like to call “central coast ramblin'” with all its trees and ocean and big blue skies.
When I asked about their favorite show played while on tour, I remembered that the best gigs aren’t always planned. They all agreed on a scenic overlook at a truck stop near Manzanita, Oregon. The crowd’s energy was on cue; everyone was feeling NPSB’s impromptu busking. After seeing these boys play more than a few times, I can attest that a spontaneous, outdoor setting that revolves around nature’s beauty is precisely where they flourish most.
Of course, North Pacific String Band did not forget to mention the lasting relationships made and incredible musicianship witnessed at the Northwest String Summit festival put on by Yonder Mountain String Band in Oregon. One can only imagine the plethora of amazing stringy sounds heard that weekend in August. And get this–NPSB played music on top of the Further tour bus. Cool?! I’d say these boys have their priorities set straight.
Back in the air-room at KZSC, North Pacific played a few songs they worked on while on the road called “Goin’ to the West” and “Big South Skies.” Then they got down to their song “Murphy” (track 2 on “Steak & Eggs”) with more elongated notes and gritty, bluesy chops. They slowed it down to the point where it sounded like their instruments were talking to each other (which I’ve noticed these boys do a lot–they work together beautifully). They built up the tension little by little then picked it up again with some groovin’ guitar slaps, sweet harmonic fiddle/banjo duo, delicate mando chopping, and finished it off with Alex’s heavy bass punctuation.
Stevee, Jeff, Alex, Jan, and Evan have been playing together for a while, have had time to experience lasting memories, and are individually pretty damn funny characters themselves. North Pacific String Band incorporates a “prograssive” sound to their bluegrass–and sometimes jazzy–roots, making sure to give each member solo time to shine, while keeping a youthful humor that the audience utilizes in its own stomp and clap. Their sound is coherent, tight, and undeniably heartfelt; you can really hear the feeling in the melodies and accompanying harmonies.
Check out North Pacific String Band for more information, merch, and show dates at northpacificcompany.org!