Zack, Chris, Sasha, and Paul are not always this serious.
So a few weeks ago, just as the site was really getting up and running, I received an email from a guy asking me to check out his bluegrass band, who would conveniently be playing around the corner from me at Bigfoot West in Culver City. My interest piqued and schedule open, I made my way to the log cabin themed bar on Venice Blvd (which is seriously cool inside– ask for a Bourberry at the bar… it’s my new favorite drink in LA) and discovered American Primitive. This year-old quartet– featuring bass player Zack Smith, Paul Fuller on banjo, Sasha Birrittella on guitar, and fiddler Chris Stewart– is developing a steady following with their weekly shows at Bigfoot and other events around the city, like the downtown art walk. Their considerable talent traverses traditional to top 40–all while making it sound completely original and new. Over dinner at Venice’s Canal Club, Zack and Paul had plenty to say…
WHAT IS YOUR ORIGIN AS A BAND?
Zack: Paul and I actually grew up together–we’ve known each other since preschool. When we were in high school we played in a band together…
Paul: Don’t forget orchestra.
Zack: Oh yeah. We were in orchestra together. Then we went off to college, did our separate things, came back to LA and had a different band, which eventually went through different variations. Once we added Sasha and Chris, that was it–you don’t get better on your instrument then those two.
Paul: I will give credit to the movie Deliverance. When I heard the banjo for the first time it really caught me– the unrelenting rhythmic power and growl from the banjo– there was something to it for me.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO LA?
Zack: Well, we’re both born and raised here. I mean, Sasha and Chris aren’t. Chris is actually from Louisville, Kentucky. And Sasha’s from Massachusetts.
Paul: I went to Cal Arts for college which is where I met Chris– I think the first tune we played together was Fisher’s Hornpipe– and musically we just clicked immediately. Sasha also came from Cal Arts. Actually I was taking Jazz Guitar lessons on the banjo and he was my teacher. When we needed a guitar player I couldn’t think of anyone better.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR MUSIC?
Zack: Honestly, we just play everything, from the very traditional to a lot of different covers (NOTE: anyone who’s heard their cover of La Roux’s Bulletproof at Bigfoot can attest to how epic their covers are…). Each of us has a different style, different stuff we like. But when it comes down to it, we’re bluegrass gypsy jazz.
Paul: We don’t limit ourselves. We’re a bluegrass band, but to be honest, we would get bored if we just played bluegrass.
Zack: When it comes down to it, our only limit is we don’t create any sounds that don’t naturally come from our instruments.
WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCES?
Zack: I focused on Brazilian music in college. And The Meters. If I really had to name a favorite band it would be The Meters.
Paul: Taj Mahal has always been there for me–whenever I want an authentic sound, I confer with Taj. And Jerry Garcia! Did you know he started as a banjo player?? He was no virtuoso, but there was feeling behind his music.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC STORES IN LA?
Zack: Going to Guitar Center is like going to Home Depot– sure you can get the equipment you need but are you going to be dealing with someone who really knows their stuff and can personally help you on your project? McCabes is great. Timewarp Music on Venice Boulevard is amazing.
Paul: The only thing I could possibly add is Trilogy Guitars in Playa del Rey. John and Ryan there really take care of people and also do monthly concerts. We’re actually having our album release party there on July 22.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE DRINK?
Zack: I’m partial to green chartreuse.
Paul: Give me whiskey. Straight up.
IF YOU WEREN’T BASED IN LA, WHERE WOULD YOU LIVE?
Zack: We’d have to go to Kentucky, Nashville, or maybe New Orleans.
Paul: I’d say Prague. Which would work just fine because Chris is really into Romanian and Eastern European music.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK TO ANY DECADE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Zack: I know Paul and I would go back to 1930s California, if only for the surfing on uncrowded beaches.
Paul: Ohhhhh yeah. And I’d also say the folk revival period of the early 1960s.
WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT OBSESSIONS?
Paul: My current obsession is a mahogany and maple ukulele that I’m working on. And I can’t stop paddling outrigger canoes.
Zack: I just moved into an older, dilapidated house and I’m in the midst of fixing it up. Can’t stop fingerpicking guitars too.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST MEAL IN LOS ANGELES?
Zack: I’m blessed to have a father who’s a scuba diver–he knows all the best places to catch fresh seafood. So I’d say a homecooked meal.
Paul: Canal Club. Right here. Right now.
Zack: What would Sasha say?
Paul: He would eat his own pizza.
Zack: Oooh yeah. He does make AMAZING homemade pizza.
Paul: Chris would probably go for a cherry tootsie roll pop or homemade chicken and grits.
Zack: Well, he is from Kentucky…..
American Primitive plays every Sunday at 9pm at Bigfoot West, 10939 Venice Blvd, LA. Their self-titled album was recorded at Zuma Studios in Pacific Palisades and drops July 22. You can buy the album or follow them through their site at http://www.americanprimitiveband.net or on Facebook.