Interview: The Dirty Pennies on Developing Their Own Style of Blues

The Dirty Pennies play a mean twelve bar blues. However, they don’t box themselves into the genre. They use the blues as a springboard to launch into other musical directions.

Their debut album Kick Out The Rocks demonstrates this versatility – from the boogie-woogie title track to the alt rock “Explosions” and the folk ballad “Man on a Wire.” The Dirty Pennies started as a duo five years ago, with Ryan Klem on vocals and lead guitar and Lucas Howe on drums. Last year, bassist Joe Mungo joined the group. NYS Music sat down with the trio at Boulder Coffee Co. in their hometown of Rochester to discuss the evolution of the band and their sound.

Lucas Howe, Joe Mungo, Ryan Klem

Paula Cummings: Ryan and Lucas, you started as a duo about 5 years ago. How did you meet & decide to start a band?

Lucas Howe: We played in another band before that wasn’t really our cup of tea, you could say, and then we both decided to jam and start our own thing.

Ryan Klem: I remember when we were playing in the band, but we both had different writing styles. I came from the singer-songwriter style. We came up with a happy medium of sound, bringing in that twelve-bar blues like The White Stripes, The Black Keys.

PC: Tell me about how you became a trio.

Joe Mungo: When I moved out here three years ago, I started working with Ryan. The first weekend out here I saw them play a show. So I approached him a couple days later at work and said, “Hey, man, if you ever want to jam or anything sometime, I’d be interested in playing with you guys.” The first time we played collectively, after practice they were like, “Okay, you’re in. Let’s do this.”

RK: We had someone working with us from Cleveland for a while who said, “You guys should get a bassist.” We also had enough people coming up to us after shows saying “You guys sound like the Black Keys” or “You guys sound like the White Stripes.” I don’t want to sound just like The Black Keys and The White Stripes, so bringing in another element has been able to…

LH: It opens up a lot more.

RK: What we were doing was straightforward, what we were able to do. There was a big margin where we could write what we wanted, but there was only so much we could do with a guitar and drums. With a bass now, we can touch indie rock, we can touch country… we can touch lots of different things.

PC: You’ve been a live band for so long, what was it like when you finally got into the studio?

RK: It’s strange because people think of us as a live band, but we did an EP that took the course of three years. I was up at school, living in the Adirondacks, and I would come back and just play a show every once in a while, not really knowing where all of this was going. But what I will say is Kick Out The Rocks was the first time I’ve felt like going into the studio and hammering something out.

JM: For me it was return-to-my-roots. When I lived in Geneva, my hometown, I was in another band, my friend and I, and we were setting up a studio. It was a very grassroots thing in a basement. I think we played four shows total, so all the time we were playing it was in the studio setting. So it was nice to go back to that. But it was a completely different experience because Blue Brick Recordings is a legitimate studio with different rooms and things set up. It was really fun to have the professional setting.

LH: I still think I like that people look at us as a live band. You hear the songs on the record, but I think you don’t get the same experience… I like to go nuts.

RK: Right, live is different.

JM: Recording in the studio, one thing that trips me up a bit is “Okay, I need to nail it this time.”

LH: It’s really stressful.

JM: It gets really frustrating if you can’t get it after a few tries. You get frustrated and you just want to move on for the day. But live, it doesn’t have to be the same every time.

PC: The album has strong blues overtones, but also blends a wide range of sounds. Who are some of the bands that inspire you?

RK: I like Wilco.

LH: Deer Tick is pretty sweet.

JM: If I had to name a band that’s currently out, I’d say Houndmouth has a similar sound to us.

RK: I feel like we’re always listening. It’s harder now to find your style. If you’re someone who really grasps onto music – you want to listen to music, you want to play music – there’s just so much of it out there.

JM: The more cool stuff you hear, it’s like, “Let’s do something like that.”

RK: And then it will change and I’ll be like, “Why do I like so much reggae stuff now?”

PC: What is your favorite comment by someone who reviewed your album?

JM: Frank DeBlase (City Newspaper) gave me my best one. He said my bass was “sassy and precarious.” I really liked that comment, sassy and precarious.

LH: I mainly liked that it seems like everyone that wrote about us said you can’t find one song that’s not catchy, that you can’t tap your foot to. We always hear that it’s catchy music.

RK: The thing is that you get a little of everything. That’s what we’re trying to do, a little of everything.

LH: That’s important to do, to split up the album – not just have it all grunge garage blues the whole time.

RK: I think we touch on all of our strengths on the album, which is nice. We all have different backgrounds in music. In the twelve songs we have, I can name one song in particular in each of our styles where we really honed in on that track specifically. And it’s very cool we all got to do that. We compromise in a sense but we also stay unique through it, which is really hard to do sometimes.

PC: What’s on the horizon for The Dirty Pennies?

LH: We’re touring in mid-August.

RK: Other than that, we’re writing new stuff.

JM: I think that’s the focus right now – new music.

RK: I love our record, but I’m ready for new stuff already.

LH: We have been playing some new songs in practice that we haven’t really played live or are obviously not on the record.

JM: We’ve got three or four new ones that are almost there.

LH: It’s always nice to write new stuff. It’s nice to go in other directions.

PC: What else would you like our readers to know about you?

RK: We’re high-energy. We like to put on a fun live performance.

Their next show on July 15 is at the BASIC BRAND (skate board / apparel company) Launch Party at Kashong Creek Craft Cider in Geneva, NY. For updates on shows and events, check their website or follow them on Facebook.

Kick Out The Rocks is available through SpotifyBandcamp and  iTunes.

Photos of interview by Corinne Cummings

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