Is It You, Is It Me, premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Jan. 28), is like nothing Dustbowl Revival has ever created during its four-album run. And that’s just the way frontman Zach Lupetin and his bandmates wanted it.
“We’ve always tried to explore different sounds within Americana/roots music and never wanted to stay in one place, which maybe confuses some people but also intrigues other people who always want to see what’s happening next,” Lupetin tells Billboard. “We’re trying to bring our music to a bigger audience. I think at a certain point we never fit into just the folk and acoustic world, and I’ve always been a huge fan of rock ‘n’ roll and of artists that can transcend genre,” he adds, citing Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen and Wilco. “I wanted to be able to tell a bigger story that could be heard by more people than just the group that supports folk music.”
The 13-track Is It You…, due out Jan. 31, is certainly the biggest sonic work of the Venice, Calif.-based troupe’s career, a comparative Wall of Sound approach employing an expanded vocal chorus, brass and more layered instrumentation. “Dreaming” opens the set with an anthemic a capella chorus, while something like “Enemy” would not sound out of place on a Maroon 5 album and “Penelope” nods to Lindsey Buckingham’s Fleetwood Mac productions. “I wanted to create an album that had a big cinematic sound and go into the studio and explore a lot of different things we weren’t ever able to do before,” Lupetin explains.
Guiding the group was producer Sam Kassirer (Lake Street Dive, Josh Ritter), as well as engineer Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens), who Lupetin says steered Dustbowl out of its proverbial comfort zone. “[He] came in and was basically like, ‘Let’s throw everything you know, that you did before, out the window and create all of the songs completely fresh,” Lupetin recalls. “We all played three or four different instruments at that time. We brought in symphonic brass and some friends to be a choir. It became this really big, beautiful collection of songs.”
And while there was a great deal of creation in the studio, Dustbowl Revival did manage to road test some of the tracks, including “Sonic Boom,” which has become a fan favorite.
“We tried to bring songs into the studio in a way that they’re not tired by the time you record them. We’ve done that before, and it can be a risk,” Lupetin says. “So a song like ‘Sonic Boom’ became this emotional folk-rock epic, and that came from saying, ‘What can we do that takes it to the next level from what we’ve been playing live?’ I think we were able to elevate and really bring them to a higher level.”
Dustbowl hits the road to support Is It You… on Jan. 29 in Boston, and Lupetin acknowledges the challenge of reverse engineering the ambitious studio work back to the stage.
“What you create in the studio and what you create live doesn’t have to be the same thing,” says Lupetin, who recently composed music for a new theater piece called Cowboy Electra. “They’re different energies that you bring. We started playing about half of the songs in Europe in the fall, which was a good testing ground, and we’re excited to try out the rest live for the first time.
“You’re always a bit afraid that the people who stuck with you because they liked some of your older, more acoustic roots music are gonna be turned off by this more electric sound, but we’re also encouraged by people who say, ‘Find your truth and do it, and we’re there for you.’ So we’re just excited. It’s good to stretch your creative wings.”
Stream and listen to Is It You, Is It Me a few days early below.