Jon and Ryan Knudson know backwoods country. Wisconsin backwoods, that is.
Influenced by farm life and bands such as The Flying Burrito Brothers, Little Feat and Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Driveway Thriftdwellers sound like a meld of classic bluegrass country fusion and garage music from the 60s and 70s.
Jon and Ryan Knudson (vocals/guitar and Pedal Steel/Vocals respectively) joined with fellow veteran musicians Kyle Rightley (Lead Guitar/Vocals), Aaron Collins (Bass/Vocals) and Jon Storey (Drums/Vocals) to create a musical experience that is as unique as it is reminiscent of small town farm living. The violins on the song “Michigan Wind” tell the story themselves, while “Long Long Winter” captures the lament enduring Wisconsin’s harsh season, while calling for folks to not waste their life away. And, with the song “Northern Accent”, the band wanted to make a tune with a more “modern appeal”. Regardless of which of the eleven tracks on their debut album “Cutover Country” you listen to, you’ll hear a real story inside every one.
MI: What did a day living as a kid in the North Woods look like?
Ryan: We grew up on a defunct 16-acre dairy farm about 10 miles outside of Medford, about an hour northwest of Wausau. Half of our neighbors were Amish. Most of our friends were rural farm kids, too. At one time or another we had a horse, chickens, rabbits, ducks, apple trees. We made maple syrup from our own trees. Our dad worked in the woods and sawed his own lumber. As kids, we had to help with a lot of that stuff. I would spend weeks of every summer way up north - near Superior - cutting down trees and sawing them into lumber. I hated it. Our cousins and uncles would be there, too. And then after the work was done our dad and uncle would play their guitars and sing and we would just roll our eyes. So it’s funny that a lot of that stuff sort of reappears in a nostalgic way in our music. If you listen to “Needles and Leaves,” we try to paint a bit of this picture into that tune.
Our dad played guitar and sang in Saturday night bar bands and did a lot of his own songwriting. We were lucky to grow up and go to school in a town that had a disproportionate number of really good punk and garage bands. So Jon and I were both in several different bands as we grew up, and so were most of our friends. A typical weekend night was a bunch of kids partying in somebody’s garage or hunting cabin or basement listening to a bunch of their peers playing Minor Threat covers and a bunch of their own tunes.
So it was a weird mix of this cloistered pre-internet small town and a musically creative DIY spirit. Medford became a tour stop for a lot of national punk bands in the late 80s and early 90s and since we were the ones promoting the shows, everybody’s bands got to open for their favorite bands. So kids were literally finishing their evening chores and then two hours later would be stage diving at a Neurosis show at the arcade in the old farm co-op building. Most memorable might have been the time I booked NOFX to play in the tiny town of Stetsonville for $500. My dad yelled at me when I let Fat Mike keep all the money we brought in. He had no idea who they were, and still probably doesn’t.
MI: Where do you see the band in five years? Do you want to hit the national and international tours, or would you prefer to keep it local?
Jon: We’re slowly building a local following, and it’s been really cool to start noticing the same people at different gigs. That’s really humbling and gratifying. We just finished this record that we’re really proud of, and we want to share it with as many people as we can. We’re having a lot of fun, and meeting a lot of really good people who seem to like what we do. And we like what we do. A trio version of the Thriftdwellers just did a week-long tour of Northern Wisconsin and the U.P., and it was really well-received, so we’ll for sure keep doing small, regional tours. Of course we’d love to do something more extensive in the US or abroad if it’s something we can take on logistically.
MI: What’s one thing you’d like Wisconsinites to know about the band and the Wisconsin homegrown music you play?
Ryan: I guess that if they come out and see us, or buy our record, that they’re most likely going to hear something that resonates with them. And that we’re just trying to write honest music that we enjoy playing and that we truly love connecting with them in that beautiful way that only happens through music.
You can catch the Driveway Thriftdwellers “Cutover Country” release show on Saturday, August 20th at the Frequency in Madison, WI at 6:30 p.m. with Christopher Gold (Appleton) opening. It is $10 at the door, and the band is selling their album in “pay-what-you-want” style.
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