Bubbling up from the banks of the Mississippi River, Minneapolis-based trio The Last Revel’s “Front Porch Americana” has gained the band praise for their spirited live performances and soulful recordings.
In 2017 the band released their third album, Hazard & Fate. The album builds off the band’s core sound of instantly familiar but forward-looking Americana by adding further nuance and instrumentation.
The trio consists Vincenzio “Vinnie” Donatelle on fiddle, bass and vocals, Lee Henke on guitar, banjo and vocals, and Ryan Ackers on banjo, guitar and vocals. Vinnie recently answered some questions for us ahead of their show at Swallow Hill Music in the Quinlan Cafe on Friday, February 9. You can get tickets for the show here.
The Mississippi River winds through the Twin Cities, the band’s home base. Historically speaking, the Mississippi has acted as a cultural highway, allowing Northern and Southern influences to mingle. When you write songs, are you consciously drawing upon that cultural mingling? How does it influence your songwriting?
I would definitely say that we are heavily influenced by the cultural baggage that the river provides. As a child in Minnesota, you are constantly being, wrapped up in the mythology of the Mississippi, so much so that the work of authors like Twain, Hartford and Kerouac becomes morphed from fiction to simple fact. I wouldn’t say that we are consciously drawing from the cultural mingling associated with the geography but I would say that deeply affects how we work creatively. I’d describe it like an accent in the creative process, you never really think about it, but it’s always there.
On a related note, your songs exhibit a strong sense of place – “Iron & Ore” and “Honest Man” come to mind – using the language and landscape of the Upper Midwest. Do you feel a sense of duty to tell the stories of your home region?
I don’t know if I would describe it as a sense of duty, but I do think that you write about what you know to be true. When it is dark and cold out, you write music that is about the dark and about the cold. As with the Mississippi, the cultural legacy of the mines in northern Minnesota is something that tints ones’ creative lens. This history of the taconite mines is one that has such a sad and ugly and beautiful story that is hard not to touch as a folk oriented band from Minnesota. I am just glad that we can share what we know about our world with people who are interested in what we have to say.
At a time when pop music is so expansive, and genres maybe not as important as they once were, who are some artists from outside the Americana realm that you draw inspiration from?
There are so many that it’s hard to know where to start. First off as a disclaimer, I think all three of us have a wildly diverse interest in music so, I can only speak for myself (Vinnie) in this response. Lately I have been really excited to listen to A Giant Dog, based out of Austin Texas, though I feel like they might even fit loosely into the Americana vein because as Ryan described in the van one day, they sound like punk rock Shovels and Rope. Occasionally Kendrick Lamar is a necessity for my pre-show ritual, in order to foster the energy and ego to get onto stage with something worth sharing. Also I have always loved P.O.S a rapper out of Minneapolis for his tone, and message, he’s as punk as they come and I love it.
Your latest album, Hazard & Fate, was released last spring. It’s your third album. How has your sound evolved from album to album? How has your live show changed?
I think we have always focused on songwriting above all else, so over time that has been dialed in quite a bit. Overall I think the biggest development has been separating the live show from the recording. In the studio, between the three of us we have the capacity to lay down 6-12 instrumental tracks on each song, where as in the live setting the three of us need to find which combination of three instruments plus our voices can produce the most dynamic music. Realizing that the two will be different regardless has been liberating to say the least. More specifically I think we have added more ethereal layers to the songs throughout the three albums, attempting to make each piece more spatial. Naturally that has made the live show one that includes a couple more peddles around the stage in order to have more specific choices in trying to most honestly display each song.
The Last Revel maintains an active touring schedule. Are there any bands you keep encountering on the road that you have come to see as friends and allies?
Of course! Some of our first gigs on the road included play a pizza joint in Madison with a group called Dead Horses. They are always an inspiration to see live, and a it is always a treat whenever we can play a show together. Similar story with a group called The Lowest Pair, as a side note, here’s a big shout out to you two salvaging my relationship last winter! I think if we could tour with both of those that would be such a happy time in my life even if I didn’t make a dime. Last but not least, we went on the road with a group called The Ghost of Paul Revere last fall and had an absolute ball with them I definitely would call them friends. I have been thrilled every time we roll through Portland ME and get a chance to catch up even if it is only for a moment.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I just moved into a new apartment with a wood fire stove and a real nice couch. As I write this, there are warm embers glowing and radiating next to me and my girlfriend is lying next to me also basking in the warmth, she is snoring. I think I made it.
This Q&A was conducted via email with Swallow Hill Associate Marketing Director Barry Osborne.