Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys are an extraordinary Bluegrass/Americana band that originated out of Michigan State University. Although the band still consists of the original Flatbellys lineup, they’ve dropped “the Flatbellys” alias and have been touring under the name Lindsay Lou. This band has consistently stayed true to the their roots while adding a flare to their live shows that makes bluegrass accessible and fun for the new-aged listener. We got the chance to talk to Lindsay Lou about everything Flatbellys, even after she spilt coffee all over the tour bus!
Sound-Fix: I’ve just recently heard about Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys, and I’ve listened to your music and I’m intrigued! Can you start from the beginning? Where are you from? How did the band meet? Really just lay the story down for me about the Flatbellys.
Lindsay Lou: Well, I was born in Missouri (laughs). I’m just kidding. Josh [Rilko] had a band called the Flatbellys who I met at an open mic in Lansing, Michigan at the Dagwood’s Tavern. Since I’ve joined the band we’ve went through various evolutions to get where we’re going now. Basically, we met the people in the band now just by nature of being in similar bands in the scene, traveling, playing similar venues and crossing paths with each other. But the band as it is now started in Lansing, MI.
SF: Is that where you are from?
LL: I grew up in Upper Peninsula, Michigan but Josh [Rilko] and I met when we were going to Michigan State University.
SF: So you didn’t necessarily meet at school but you formed at school?
LL: Well we met at a bar while we were at school (laughs).
SF: Can you tell me a little more about what sound you’re trying to achieve. Is it country western, bluesgrass, maybe a combination of both that were hearing?
LL: (laughs) I’m really excited about your use of the word “bluesgrass” it’s one of our favorite genres.
SF: (laughs) slip of the tongue!
LL: We combine Blues and grass for sure as well as Soul, Americana vibes. We started out as a bluegrass band. We love the music, it’s an accessible way to get into the craft of music making. Trying to embody our own sound is a result of the influences we have heard and are continually hearing around us. But it’s in the Americana realm, I think.
SF: What would you say some of your influences are?
LL: We all draw on various influences. Josh [Rilko] probably lists Bill Monroe, Sam Bush and mandolin players that he loves as influences. I listen to the Indigo Girls a lot, The Beatles, Lauryn Hill, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday. Those are the main people that influenced me. Then I started to hear bands like Crooked Still and Lake Street Dive and met the Michigan music scene. May Erlewine, Rachael Davis, Earthwork Music Collective. I’m largely influenced by all of those people.
SF: As far as live performances go, what up incoming events do you have planned? Any nationwide tours?
LL: Well right now we’re on this little tour of the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic and then we head up to Canada to play the Canmore Folk Festival. Then we’re headed to Michigan and Wisconsin. We do have another Midwest tour coming up in September, we’re going up to Winona, Minnesota for Boats and Bluegrass Festival playing with Billy Strings. In October, we’re heading out to the West Coast. We started the year with a month long tour in the UK followed immediately by a month long tour in Australia and then stint over to the West Coast. We played Winter Wonder Grass, Bender Jamboree, MerleFest. We’re on our way to Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival right now then we’re playing Floyd Fest. We played Strawberry Music Festival a couple months ago. We’re going to Mexico in December for Strings and Sol. We kind of go all over the place. We get around. Actually, the Flatbellys’ first record was called “The Flatbellys Get Round”
SF: How did you get on the lineup for Strings and Sol?
LL: I think that happened because we mingle with the jammers a fair bit. We’re friends with Greensky Bluegrass and have played shows with them. I think we’re in a unique position to be one of the few bands with a girl in it in the jam scene, so I think that gave us a little bit of an edge to be included on the lineup. Us and The Shook Twins are the only female bands there and I know that festivals are making an attempt to level the playing field in that regard. We used to jam a lot more than we do now. We used to have this weekly residency at the Wolverine State Brewing Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We jammed a lot back in those days, but we’re playing more songs than jams these days.
SF: Why is that?
LL: I don’t know, it just happens. You find yourself moving organically toward the thing that feels right for the time.
SF: That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned that you’ll be coming out West in October. Will you be making any stops in Southern California? We’re based out of San Diego
LL: I think San Francisco is the farthest South we’ll get. A lot of stuff is coming in for that October stretch. I know we’ll be as far North as Seattle and playing Washington, Oregon, Northern California. That’s probably what it’ll be this time, but were just in San Diego, we played in Del Mar and Jeff [Wilson] who is on tour with us playing drums is from Encinitas, CA.
SF: So how did Jeff [Wilson] come into the equation?
LL: He was in a band called Steep Ravine and we met him just by nature of being in similar bands playing similar circuits. I remember we played a show with them at The Starry Plough in Berkeley, CA and then ran into them at Lyons Folk Festival and then we played a show at the Redwood Ramble and a guy that was in the band at the time couldn’t make it so we asked various members of Steep Ravine to fill in all the roles that he was playing at the time and Jeff [Wilson] played drums with us and it was really fun so he’s been touring with us this year.
SF: Can you tell me about your band’s dynamic?
LL: Right now the main instruments are drums, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and upright bass and there’s a fair bit of switching. With the upright bass, Josh [Rilko], PJ [George] and myself all play it at point or another throughout the show. PJ [George] also plays electric bass and then he and Josh [Rilko] have been switching out on the electric guitar and sometimes the acoustic guitar as well. So we have a lot of instrument swapping throughout the show.
SF: And you released an album this year, correct?
LL: Yeah, April 6thwe released a record called Southland
SF: Can you tell me more about that? Are those songs you had been touring prior, or is it all new?
LL: We’ve been touring it quite a bit. I wrote most of the songs in 2016. We released Ionia at the beginning of 2015 and toured on that for all of 2015. In 2016, I started writing songs for this new record right up until we went into the studios I was writing and collecting. There’s three songs that are songs that friends of ours wrote, there’s a couple songs I wrote as co-writes with friends in Nashville or in Michigan, and there’s a few that I wrote on my own so we get together as a band and we arrange the songs. This was the first record we made with a producer, we worked with Sam Kassirer and we recorded it in his studio in Maine. It’s a house that was built in the 1790s, and it’s wired up like a studio but it still feels like a house. Our previous records were also recorded in a house and it feels very organic and the spirit is in it, the spirit of playing together. So it was cool working with a producer just with an eye on the sky perspective and I’m a big fan of Sam’s work. He did Bad Self Portraits by Lake Street Dive and This Unknown Science by Joy Kills Sorrow and has produced Josh Ritter and a lot of our friend’s records over the last couple years. So it was really nice working with him and listening to these songs come to life and in the studio platform.
SF: Is there anything new that’s in the works you want to share?
LL: Tour dates are coming in and we always put them up on our website. We’re talking about making a new record at the beginning of next year so things are just moving right along!
SF: Lindsay, thank you for your time it was great talking with you!
If you’re looking for a chance to see Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys live in concert, or want to learn more about this up incoming Americana act, check their official website by clicking on their name, or check out their Facebook account by clicking here. You can also listen to their new album, Southland, by clicking on the title.