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Interview: Americana Duo The Easy Leaves

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If you heard Sonoma County, California duo The Easy Leaves, would you think that it was a contemporary band or a historical one? Yes, this is a trick question, but it speaks volumes that songwriters Kevin Carducci and Sage Fifield have been able to realize their original intent to perform as an “old-time string band.”

The band spices things up a bit from time to time, especially with the more modern “Fool on a String” from its most recent sophomore release American Times, but the duo’s down-to-earth Americana melodies are still the heart of its sound. The Easy Leaves perform twice on the third and final date of the sixth annual Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Sunday, August 11. Their official set will be at the Sutro Stage, and a more intimate performance will occur at the AT&T Mobile Lounge.

Carducci and Fifield found time to answer some questions via email regarding their music and Outside Lands.

The Easy Leaves (photo credi: Next Level SF)

Your second album American Times was released last year. You’ve toured extensively to support it, including both duo and non-duo shows. It’s generally announced beforehand, but how do you decide whether it will be a duo show or not?

Fifield: It’s really often a logistical thing really. The duo [show] is more streamlined and easier to squeeze into tight spots. We always bring a band when headlining shows, but sometimes we’ll be asked to open for a group specifically as a duo. Being able to play with both formats allows us to be flexible.

Carducci: After our Outside Lands set on Sunday with the full band, we will be heading over to play an intimate duo set in the AT&T Mobile Lounge at 3 p.m. That’s just it: the duo just fits better in cozy environments.

Your original intent was to create an “old-time string band.” Obviously other factors come into play while writing songs, but how much of that ideal impacts into your more music?

Fifield: Well, we still play on stringed instruments. I would say those roots are still in there, and they’ll probably always going to be in there.

Carducci: Again, there’s a bit of logistics at play. We could never find a bass player for our would-be string band so we just had a banjo and guitar. Once I decided to pick up the bass, it opened us up to new directions that weren’t so traditionalist. It’s amazing what can happen when you stop playing banjo and start getting serious.

Any particular current or former artists influence you?

Fifield: Way too many greats for me to name ‘em all … classic country stuff, Hank [Williams] Sr. of course, Bob Dylan always; some literary influences, Charles Bukowski, John Fante, [and] Cormic McCarthy.

Carducci: I go through phases and generally whatever I’m hooked on at a particular time is the style I find myself writing in. Love classic southern soul and R&B stuff like Otis Redding, Al Green, James Carr. And country stuff; I just saw Dwight Yoakam who is one of my contemporary faves … now I’m in a Dwight phase.

Sonoma County is definitely known for its wine. Does wine figure prominently in your songwriting sessions? If so, any specific wineries deserve shout-outs?

Fifield: I’m more of a cocktail drinker, myself. So, definitely a shout-out to cheap vodka, cheap whiskey, and lemons.

Carducci: We do have a bunch of wine at our homes from playing local wineries, and it is pretty common for a bottle to get popped when we’re rehearsing and/or carrying on. Some of our faves: Medlock Ames, Hawkes, [and] Harvest Moon; they also happen to be some of our favorite places to play.

You don’t hear too much Americana on radio these days. What outlets do you use to sort of re-integrate into that sound or even mindset?

Fifield: There are so many outlets for music these days online. I listen to my fair share of Internet radio, and it’s been a great way for us to reach new listeners.

Carducci: We’re fortunate to be surrounded by a ton of great musicians. I get tips on new music from friends and players a lot of the time. We’ve got a great record store in Santa Rosa called The Last Record Store where you will never find any shortage of new stuff to dig through. They’ve even got the new Easy Leaves record in stock!

What is your favorite venue to perform: bars, parks, or festivals like Outside Lands?

Fifield: I love performing all over. I love the diversity of venues where we’re able to perform. But most of all, I love playing through a really great sound system, and often festivals and large venues are best for that. We’ve always had a great experience at The Independent in San Francisco.

Carducci: It’s true, but aside from more established venues, we get invited to play all sorts of places we maybe never imagined … such as [being] set up in a dusty ol’ barn hayloft, on a flatbed tractor-trailer, or by the fireplace in someone’s living room. The sheer randomness of where we end up is entertaining in itself. We once got paid in bacon to play at a roadside farm stand. [Another time], we were asked to DJ for a male stripper after our set at a croquet party&mdashthat’s right, I said croquet party.

The bigger gigs we play are always a huge thrill, and there’s also something I love about all the small impromptu stuff we do, where it may just be a group of random folks thrown together in some random location with the common goal of having a great time. It’s always something different, [and] never gets old.

And finally, is there any particular artist or band that you’re looking forward to see at Outside Lands?

Carducci: We will only be around on Sunday, but I’m thrilled to be on the same stage with Willie [Nelson]; he definitely tops my list.

Fifield: Willie Nelson, [and] Hall & Oates. And I’m always looking to be surprised by someone I’ve never heard before.

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