Upon firing up “Best Lonesome Friend,” the opening track off of burgeoning LA country rock quartet Cave Flowers‘ debut album, I immediately think of early Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, or maybe My Morning Jacket. It’s an excellent balance between that enticing country twang, ripping electric rock and roll, and authentic songwriting- not too hard, not too light, and not overcooked.
This 11-song self-titled album, released in January of this year, which now seems like an eternity ago, continues to steamroll with unique, catchy, and energetic songs. Fans of the aforementioned bands should definitely find something they like with Cave Flowers.
With inspiration from legendary songwriters like John Prine and Willie Nelson, frontman Andy McAllister spent several years kicking the tires on new tunes, loading up notebooks and stockpiling stories. And after releasing three albums with his previous band Vanish Valley, he found himself drifting around Los Angeles- an all too familiar story. Still, he refused to give up on his dreams of putting together a group that could connect on that laid-back California country sound that he left Seattle for.
He would reconnect with guitarist and renaissance man, Henry Derek Elis, who he first met 10 years ago when he moved to LA. Elis would bring equal parts Waylon Jennings and Crazy Horse into the equation, and the band quickly took form with Ryan Wykert (Ivory Deville) on drums and Ben Coil on bass.
The band would go into the Heritage Recording Company with Chris Rondinella (who got his start engineering for Levon Helm) and in two days tracked 11 songs live. Jon Niemann (Gospelbeach) and Frankie Palmer provided keys and pedal steel, respectively.
“If you’re an outsider, an outcast, a reject, a burnout/you’re welcome at the midnight movie,” McAllister sings to close out arguably my favorite song on the album, “Midnight Movie,” which is accompanied by a trippy and ever so fitting music video.
The band hits on all cylinders in their debut album, and it’s a damn shame they weren’t able to hit the road very much and share their songs live with the masses. The general future might look a bit hazy, but Cave Flowers are shining a pretty powerful light to help guide us through, as music often does.
We got the chance to fire some questions to McAllister and some of the guys, so without further adieu…
So how did Cave Flowers come together and what’s y’alls story?
Andy McAllister: I moved to Los Angeles from Seattle, and one of the first people I met was Henry Derek Elis. On top of being an incredible guitar player, Henry is pretty boundary-less in terms of talking music, and we loved a lot of the same folks. So after a couple years and a couple bands later, I had been writing pretty non-stop and reached out to Henry with a bunch of demos. Then my buddy Alex Owen aka Lasers Lasers Birmingham ( https://www.laserslasersbirmingham.com/) introduced me to Ryan (drums) and when I heard him play, I thought wow, we might just really have something here. I soon met Ben (bass) at a bowling alley, and he tied it all together.
Ryan Wynkert: The band came together very organically, and right away it felt very natural to play with Andy, Ben and Henry. Andy’s songwriting reminded a lot of Wilco right away, as well as Tom Petty and a little CSNY, so it was right up my alley as far as coming up with parts. Everyone in the band is very adaptable, so it’s very easy to write material that covers a wide range. Whether it’s a more dynamically sensitive approach that showcases lyrics and songwriting, or a riff heavy sonic exploration, it’s always effortless to create it with these guys.
What brought you to LA as opposed to another big music market city like say Austin, Nashville, or maybe New York?
Ben Coil: For years I planned to move to Nashville once I was over the Bay Area. But when the time came nearer, I decided on LA because A) It was only a 5 or 6 hour drive from home and B) I think I would’ve missed being close to the ocean living in Tennessee.
Ryan: I graduated from jazz school in 2013 in Greeley, Colorado, and the band I was playing with at the time moved to LA. I came out with them to see what it would be like, and quickly fell in love with the Echo Park music scene.
“I actually pitched my daughter an idea for the video- something about a lone cowboy coming to a small town, and she immediately was like “boring!” and then just went off on how it should be a story about these skeletons who perform badly at a talent show, and then ride a rocket that goes into an underground cave where they get cheered up by watching monster movies.”
So earlier this year you guys released your self-titled debut LP. What’s the inspiration and influence behind this collection of songs?
Andy: A couple years ago, there was a moment when I was going to move to Nashville- visited and checked out the neighborhoods. But as soon as I got back to LA, things started to fall into place. And I was soon looking at the idea of “settling down in LA” which was a pretty weird proposition. The tunes on this album really came out of that- sort of making peace with that idea. Like, this is a big town full of a bunch of weirdos. And I guess there was something comforting in that. I feel like a lot of the time I’m fighting against where I am or what I’m doing. But for once, it felt like those battles weren’t worth fighting and things felt pretty good. So I think I got away from writing the ol’ lonesome sad bastard tunes I’d always been writing. I started to celebrate things a bit more with this batch, and not to be anywhere else but here. These guys all brought out the goods. Ryan would always guide it to keep it from going into straightforward territory.
Ryan: I tried to channel a lot of Levon Helm on this record. Our producer Chris had worked with Levon, so it was easy to get into the mindset! I did some vocals on the album too, so I think that helped me write some drum parts that would mesh well with the vocal parts. My Bonham and Grohl influence came out as per usual, so a lot of the drums thump pretty hard, but there’s some other ones that are a little more held back dynamically. To that I credit my jazz influences, particularly Brian Blade who is another player I always try to emulate.
How did you get hooked up with producer Chris Rondinella and Callum Barter?
Andy: I went over to Chris’ studio, and not only was it stocked with old gear, but he told me he’d go on these epic road trips down to Memphis and hit pawn shops along the way to get some good stuff – but more importantly, it was all set up and ready to go. It was exactly what we were after – the whole room was already dialed in. We didn’t need to waste a day or two moving mics around. Chris learned from Levon Helm. He engineered at his studio, so he understood the loose vibe we were going for. We just jumped in, and on that first day got 9 tunes tracked and just kept building from there.
I met Cal after he relocated from Australia. He did Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s Lotta Sea Lice, which I loved. It’s just fun, easy-going, great tunes. We had a shared love of the band Faces, and he asked me, “Do you want the album to sound like Faces?” And I was like “Yes!” And he dryly said “Yeah, you’re probably not going to sound like Faces.” I appreciated his honesty as I might not be on the level with Rod Stewart. But he was game to mix our record, so we just got super lucky working with these folks. Everything just sounded so good thanks to them.
You guys also released a pretty trippy cartoon music video for your single “Midnight Movie.” What was the idea behind this and who made it come to life?
Andy: I actually pitched my daughter an idea for the video- something about a lone cowboy coming to a small town, and she immediately was like “boring!” and then just went off on how it should be a story about these skeletons who perform badly at a talent show, and then ride a rocket that goes into an underground cave where they get cheered up by watching monster movies. I got really lucky and found this animator Raf Bonilla who did an incredible job. I mean, this guy is so insanely talented, the way he brought it all to life is so beautiful and funny and weird.
Ryan: I’ve always loved animation of all kinds, and it feels cool to be part of an animated music video- it’s very trippy and silly and even a little ominous and creepy at times.
What do you think you’ll reflect back on most fondly when looking back at the making of this album ten years from now?
Ryan: Working with Chris was a very cool experience. His studio setup was very vibey and cool, absolutely no pressure, very comfortable and VERY cool gear. He pulled out some vintage kits that were a pleasure to play, and the sounds came out great on the record. Another thing I’ll always look back on is having hazy rehearsals at Dlux rehearsal space in Atwater Village and Bedrock in Echo Park.
Andy: Well, these fellas are the best I’ve played with. Getting us all in the room together and knocking it all out pretty quick and loose. I’m really proud of the record. At the same time, while I think it’s a solid document of us all getting thrown together, I’m pretty dang excited about the new stuff we’re working on now. [I] think everyone will be able to stretch out a bit more. And even though we’re in the demoing phase, it already sounds more vast in terms of the areas we can explore.
How does the songwriting process work within the band?
Andy: This album started with my little strumming, and then everyone else would sort of collectively guide it, add to it or bend it in one direction. I’d just try to give them as many songs as possible and it was a pretty quick process of them just narrowing it down to the good ones. If it didn’t stick, there wasn’t much discussion, we just moved on. With the new stuff we’re writing now, it’s exciting because Ryan will send over drum beats and Henry will send these guitar parts and they’re so dang good, and I’ll start writing on top of those from the ground up which is freeing. And it’s casting a much bigger net. But still sounds in our wheelhouse. So I’m really looking forward to getting beyond the current homebound situation we’re all in and at some point soon, getting back into the studio with these guys.
“this is a big town full of a bunch of weirdos. And I guess there was something comforting in that. I feel like a lot of the time I’m fighting against where I am or what I’m doing. But for once, it felt like those battles weren’t worth fighting and things felt pretty good.”
How have y’all been trying to keep momentum going for the album throughout everything going on?
Ben: It’s pretty difficult, but we randomly send each other ideas and I think we’d all agree there’s some cool stuff there and when it’s time, we’ll jump back in it and go nuts. We’re all in our own head spaces and geographic spaces, riding this shit out, but I think we’re all looking forward to playing again when the time comes.
Ryan: Everyone’s just trying to say sane, which is tough, but being able to still make music together in any capacity helps a lot.
What are some LA establishments y’all are missing most right now, and are looking forward to frequenting again?
Ryan: Ye Rustic Inn. Crawford’s. The Hi Hat. Basically any place where friends used to convene. I really miss shows at the Bootleg, and the Echo. I miss going to hot yoga at Modo. On the plus side, I have gotten really good at cooking and making cocktails at home.
Andy: Grand Ole Echo every Sunday. Looking forward to getting back to that.
What might a dream show entail for Cave Flowers? City, venue, opening for an idol etc.?
Ben: Pappy and Harriet’s is on my bucket list. I wouldn’t care who we played with as long as the place was packed and people were having a great time!
Ryan: At this point, playing a show literally anywhere would be a dream come true for me.
Andy: Haha, yeah same!