After listening to Roselit Bone’s second album, Blister Steel, you would expect Joshua McCaslin to sound a little more whiskey-soaked or weathered, but instead, the Oregonian is as cool and laid-back as an old friend.
He gets that a lot, he admits, but once he’s on stage or in the studio, the transformation begins and he and his bandmates deliver a brand of music that actually lives up to its description as Gothic Americana. If that conjures up some unique visuals, that’s a good thing.
“Some of the songs are very visual and impressionistic and I think there’s another side as well, because it’s important to me that they’re very psychological and pretty fear-based,” McCaslin said. “I think a lot about the book Crime and Punishment, and that’s an example of the kind of dread I try to convey sometimes.”
It’s nice to hear someone drop Dostoyevsky as an influence in a world where some artists never got past the picture book part of their reading development. Yet while McCaslin appreciates the written word, he also knows that today, songwriting is a better vehicle to get his thoughts out to the world.
“I’ve always considered myself a writer,” he said. “A lot of the songs I write start off as poems and not a lot of people read new poetry, so I see songwriting as one of the last mediums that people really pay attention to as far as new content goes. There are exceptions, but I write what I consider poetry, then fit it into a song and try to make it more powerful.”
This is a brave new world out there, and McCaslin has learned to navigate it creatively. That does come with some detours along the way, though, key among them the evolution of Roselit Bone from a duo with drummer Ben Dahmes into their current nine-piece (and sometimes ten-piece) form.
“I used to just play with Ben,” he said. “We did that for about a year, and a lot of the songs, because my guitar playing style comes from kind of a Delta Blues, Ragtime kind of style, there was always just me carrying the bass and the melody on the guitar lines. But we started to hear more coming in and an expansion of the sound, so we had our friend play trumpet at a couple shows and we brought in a bassist and we slowly added more members. And part of it is as I add a new member, it becomes a super important part of the sound and I write lines for that member, and they can’t always be there, so I have to bring in someone else that can cover their stuff while that person’s not there. Then I wind up needing both of them, so I have nine people.”
He laughs, but insists that while this philosophy could conceivably keep the band growing and growing, he’s got a limit.
“I think the cap is gonna be ten,” McCaslin said. “We do have ten-person shows sometimes, but it (touring with that many people) is not too bad. We have a school bus that we tour in. Finding places to crash can be hard because no one wants ten people taking showers at their house. (Laughs) But it’s all right.”
And when the ensemble hits the stage, it’s all worth it. But just like McCaslin’s voice from record to real life, expect the unexpected.
“I see the album as its own art form that’s separate from the live performance,” he said. “When I play live, there are a lot of variables that I don’t have control over. I grew up listening to a lot of LA punk bands, and I admire bands like Fear and Suicide who would intentionally throw themselves into bad situations and feed off that and use that violence to create the art in that situation. I definitely feel compelled to play more aggressive stuff than what comes out on the album. You’re trying to get and hold people’s attention.”
Roselit Bone plays Hill Country in NYC tonight, July 13. For more information, click here
For more information on Roselit Bone, click here