Make Way the Return of Minstrel Folk
By Cienna Wills
This past April, I went out to see a show at The Knitting Factory featuring one of my favorite bands, Beat Circus. It wasn’t until I got to the venue that I realized I was actually attending a record release show for Brooklyn band, La Strada. It came to me as a great surprise because I was familiar with this band, but not in the sense you would expect. I use to work with the lead singer James Craft at a cafe in the West Village a few months back. I remember when we worked together he had mentioned that he was in a band, but when you work in a cafe, those words are as common as hearing someone ask for a cup of coffee. We kinda lost touch when I stopped working there, but it still excited me to hear La Strada perform for the first time. When I saw them take the stage, I became a fan instantly…
Fellow Hoopla Hoop photographer Chris Heikel and I got to catch them recently at The Bellhouse in Gowanus, Brooklyn. An interview and photo shoot was planned before the set. As we walked along the murky waters of the Gowanus Canal I was anxious about going to this venue for the first time. I hadn’t expected much considering the desolate neighborhood it was in. When I got there I was taken back by how nice the place was, and thought this location couldn’t have been more perfect. The bar was dimly lit and decorated with old furniture creating a calm exterior. The stage room was huge. The ceiling was high, accented with two lovely vintage chandeliers, a scene complimenting their bohemian tunes.
James took us backstage where we were introduced to the rest of the six member band which includes guitarist Ted Lattis, violinist (and occasional whistler) Daniel Baer, Cellist Isaiah Gage, bassist Devon Press, drummer Brady Miller, and of course, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist James Craft. The band formed officially in 2007, though the line-up has changed a bit over the years. The current gang seems to fit perfectly, almost as if it was fate that brought this collective together. “We formed via Craigslist and through friends of friends. It was synchronicity” says James of their union. Their chemistry is prevalent on stage, as you would be able to tell if even one person were amiss.
I asked if there was a band in particular that played a major role in their inspiration, they all agreed on one: The Beatles, however, don’t expect to hear a likeness to the boys from Liverpool in La Strada’s music. The band carries a sound of their own that transcends genres and classifications, creating an anomaly of different sounds and transform it to something only they could create: James carries the minstrel vocals of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Magnum, while they bear the likeness of Arcade Fire’s choral and orchestral themes. Each tune has something different to offer, from the whimsical “Wash On By” to the Parisian waltz of “Baptism”. Each tune is a new surprise waiting to be discovered, and each can easily become a new favorite.
Reflecting again on the Beatles, James remarks, “I know that this sounds like a stereotype but the ability for 4 people to create things they could never create on they’re own was probably one of my biggest inspirations to do what I’m doing.” Ted adds, “There’s a real diversity of lessons that we had as a band, so its kind of hard to pick any one or even any dozen artist that inspires us because it’s so many artist. We are all inspired individually by different groups so that doesn’t necessarily translate to what we play.” Devon mentions that he is a big fan of film music, particularly of Italian composer Nino Rota, who’s score can be heard in many old Italian movies, and most notably American-Italian classic “The Godfather”. Devon also tells me he use to be in a punk/ska/hardcore band prior to joining La Strada, expressing that it felt good to be in a band that catered more to the music he is passionate about. I could easily see La Strada’s music completing a soundtrack to an indie drama.
La Strada has come a very long way. There was a time where their main gig was on the subway platform, performing to patrons waiting for the G train. Around this same time they were also working together to put out their self titled EP, funded and mixed by Devon and James, and mastered by NYC engineer Alan Zapata. They finally got their big break at the CMJ Music Festival in 2008. A representative from the indie label Ernest Jennings Record Co. caught their performance, liked them and signed them right away. Nowadays you can find them performing all across Brooklyn and Manhattan and touring – they’ve been all the way to down New Orleans and up to Canada.
Considering the highlights of traveling, touring is a huge part of why they love performing: “Eating burritos, burritos, burritos, at a taco stand in Chapel Hill NC, was a great highlight for me” James exclaims, while the rest of the band nods in agreement. “Its really nice when you get to go on the road and settle into a nice show” adds Ted, referring to the love and support they get in Canada. They’ve played some of their biggest shows there, and thank friends, label mates and Canadian band Cuff The Duke for their support, adding them to the bill when possible.
When it comes down to it, La Strada is exactly where they want to be, here in New York City, though Isaiah is the only New York native in the band. James came to New York from California, after living all over, from Paris to Romania and then back to the states again with stints in Indiana and Chicago. He simply puts it as “an unquenchable thirst” that enticed him to come here. Ted and Devon are from Weschester, while Dan hails from Kentucky and Brady hails from Vermont. Even though they have all come from a wide range of places, it is music that has brought them all together here, and I doubt they have ever looked back.
One thing is for sure: La Strada’s journey is about to take them to whole new level. So, catch these guys before they start packing in venues like the Bowery Ballroom, otherwise you’ll miss out on the intimacy of their music.
In case I’ve missed anything, here are a a few words from James, expressing what La Strada means to him:
La Strada is greater than the sum of its parts and is both individuality and community.
La Strada is a collection of instruments (first only acoustic, now a few electronic) and musicians striving to create music that resonates; that makes us happy, relieved, purposeful – music that somehow lightens our load and brings things in focus.
La Strada is music that will undoubtedly express life in Brooklyn and what it means to be in your 20s and 30s here: what it means to be in love, curious, passionate, yearning, and more.
La Strada reaches for both the earthen lows of driving rhythm and the star-like complexity of higher frequencies.
La Strada sees past nations.
La Strada sees past judgement.
La Strada sees the Earth.
La Strada bows to the globe.