Interview with Erik Yates: Hot Buttered Rum on Tap

July 28, 2011
Interview By Amy Powell

Speaking with Erik Yates  of Hot Buttered Rum on July 28, 2011:  Music Festivals, Projects, Etc.

Amy Powell: In the last 10 years, Hot Buttered Rum (HBR) has played music festivals across the nation. At which festival do you feel most “at home,” and why (people, place, festival goal/mission)?

Erik Yates: I’ll say Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – it’s here, has most of the musicians I look up to and, hey, it’s free.

AP: What are two things you look forward to when getting ready for a tour?

EY: The people we’ll play for & the music we’ll play for ’em. I feel like I started into this business for the music, and that’ll always be its own reward, but I find myself also staying in it for the people, for the other players, for the friendships, for the fans I know and for the fans I don’t.

AP: During live sets, do you often visit tracks from your first studio album, “In These Parts?” and if so, which track(s)?

EY: 3.2 is one we pull out quite a bit. I mean, it’s a bluegrass song about cheap beer – what’s not to love? We got ‘In These Parts’ back up for a Colorado date last weekend, and I think we may put ‘Lighten Up Your Load’ back in the hopper, too.

AP: During festival season, you run into old music buddies (“Poor Man’s Whiskey,” and “Tea Leaf Green”), and you come across new artists. What band(s) have gotten your attention this year?

EY: We got the chance to hang out & pick with Mumford & Sons at Wakarusa, and I loved their set. It’s great to see a band with so much buzz be so fully deserving of it. They give it up; they play until they drop, onstage and off. That’s the glory of folk music – what you see onstage is always the tip of the twangy iceberg. Anyone I know who’s played tunes with Gillian Welch & David Rawlings (whose new album is amazing) is always amazed at how many country songs those two know together, with the harmonies to boot. They could play for days, but their set’s an hour long. So all that music’s standing behind them, giving the songs they do sing that much more power. I aspire to that. Another band I dig that’s rising through the ranks is Fruition, a group from Portland, OR. Right now, they’re young and hungry and stupidly talented and, like Mumford & the Avett Bros. & the Old Crow Medicine Show and some of the other new-timey banjo-picking groups that are kicking ass right now, they write well, sing big and lay it on the line.

AP: What is your plan of attack when preparing for a show in your hometown zone – the great San Francisco Bay?

EY: Motivate the inner circle, get on the radio and talk things up online. We’ll also print up flyers &/or CDs and have them handed out at other shows where fans would like our music.

AP: Since 2005, HBR has been cruising “green” in a tour bus powered by veggie oil. After 6 years in action, have you seen more “well-oiled machines” out there? And are you surprised that more bands haven’t followed suit by “greening” their rig?

EY: We haven’t seen too many. The veggie oil / biodiesel tradeoff is not always the easiest, since overproduction of mono-cropped corn and soy is no picnic, either. The only way to make truly green fuel is to use waste oil, and finding and rendering that useful simply requires more time than most touring acts have. When we used to dumpster-dive, we were in a phase of our lives when being on the road for weeks at a time made sense, and when an extra three-hour excursion was no big deal.

AP: You have had three members come and go since HBR’s conception in 2002, what makes the current five-man band unique?

EY: Our current drummer, Lucas Carlton, is a born rock star. Really. The band is grooving its ass off.

AP: You released an album in 2009 called, “Limbs Akimbo.” What have the members of HBR been focusing on (individually and as a band) since?

EY: Three of us, Lucas, Nat and Erik, went to Ghana where we dug in on rhythm & dance and recorded an album of Nat’s tunes, due out soon. Aaron recorded a solo album and has been playing with Bryan in his side project, Kinky Buddha. Erik stared a side project as well, the Pedal Thieves, and Nat continues to produce his yearly multimedia variety show, the Nat Keefe Concert Carnival.

AP: Some artists say they get inspiration for lyrics from fans, some say during late night conversation or adventure, and some say from being on tour. Where do you get your lyrical inspiration?

EY: Love and death. Impossible to get away from either, no matter how you try.

AP: If Fox Theater (Oakland) called you tomorrow, offered HBR a show date next month, but required that the band play one of your five albums in its entirety, which album would you pick?

EY: Limbs Akimbo. I’m partial to the new stuff.

AP: You are traveling the states this summer and fall, is there any talk of bringing HBR back to Europe (or beyond) in 2012?

EY: Nothing on the calendar right now, but some backstage conversation with John Butler at the All Good fest got us thinking about the Australian festival scene. It’d be nice to do summer festies in January.

AP: What is one instrument that you currently don’t know how to play, but would like to learn in the next five years?

EY: I think I’d like to rock the trombone. I’ve had dreams where I can do those dixieland slides. Maybe the harmonica’s more realistic, though . . .

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