Interview: Foxtails Brigade
Laura Weinbach, singer and guitarist of Oakland, Calif.-based band Foxtails Brigade, is no stranger to overcoming obstacles.
Weinbach, now 28, first began playing the guitar at 18. Although she spent her younger years learning piano from her mother and admitted to having been a singer since she took her first shower, Weinbach never seriously pursued music prior to picking up the guitar.
After taking a pop guitar class at a community college, her professor encouraged her to take up classical guitar, which she spent the next seven years learning.
However, her decision to continue the study in university was met with discouraging remarks. In particular, she was informed straight away that her technique was entirely wrong.
Rather than admit defeat, this merely caused her to shift focus.
“I didn’t care enough to carry on with classical music,” she shared, and thus went on to pursue other musical avenues.
In fact, it was her decision to leave classical music behind and take a jazz improvisation class that equipped Weinbach with the confidence to pursue writing her own music. And now, years later, that path has led up to the release of “The Bread and the Bait,” a collection of 11 finely crafted songs, each one relying equally upon fervent orchestrations as much as thoughtful lyrics to tell a story.
Although the album was released on Antenna Farm Records on Tuesday, the recording process first began two years ago, with David Reep of Third Culture Records at the production helm.
“It took about a year to make and a year to be released,” Weinbach said. “[And he] definitely made the whole thing happen.”
The process itself was definitely a huge learning experience for Weinbach, who was admittedly very green going into it.
“It was my first time really being in a professional studio, and so in that way it was actually pretty intimidating,” she said. “It was a mixture of really great groundbreaking moments and also kind of heart wrenching ones.”
Yet in the time between recording and releasing her debut album, Weinbach refused to remain complacent in her musicianship, which is how she became interested in busking on the street.
After prior unsuccessful attempts at playing, sans amplification, band member Anton Patzner suggested one day that they give it another go. Weinbach was reluctant, but agreed, and was surprised when they made $30 in just one hour.
“But I still wasn’t ready to quit my day job,” admitted the former substitute teacher.
Shortly after, Weinbach and Patzner encountered musician Steve Taylor at a party, and he told them he makes his living playing on the street. However, he said using an amp would make all the difference. Patzner then told Weinbach he would buy her an amp if she promised to use it, a promise she all too readily agreed to.
In the three months that followed, Weinbach approached busking methodically, first scoping out potential locations, then making maps and charts and documenting where she played, during what hours and how much she made.
Of course, this process wasn’t without its difficulties, but before too long, the process of trial and error began paying off.
Two years later, and now Weinbach typically only plays on the weekends. She can be found playing in Berkeley, Calif., either on 4th street or outside the Farmer’s Market, the latter of which she likened to playing a small festival, where people will come to hang out and listen.
“Those [weekend gigs] are great and they pretty much pay my bills,” Weinbach shared.
While she appreciates the spontaneity and unpredictability of playing on the street, Weinbach also shared that she loves performing in legitimate venues, citing that the selling point for each kind of performance is different.
“There is something about being on the street and playing to people who don’t expect it, and it being magical in that way, and once in awhile there will be that really quiet moment on the street where everybody seems to be tuned in,” she said. “But at the shows it is more of a controlled atmosphere.”
The intimacy of a venue performance is deliberate, with Weinbach preferring the audience to be seated, in hopes of connecting with people, instead of playing to a room of people who are distracted, or talking, or milling around.
And adding to that kind of environment, Weinbach prefers to take more of what she terms a Buddhist approach to playing live.
“The best way to go about it is to just think about perfecting the sound, and not think about yourself, but like, devote yourself to the sound of the music,” she said.
Foxtails Brigade plays its CD release show at the Swedish American Music Hall tomorrow at 8 p.m. Rachel Fannan, formerly of Sleepy Sun, supports. In addition the to musical acts, a comedy show and fashion show will take place. Tickets are $15/$10 and the event is all ages.