Recently I had the fortune of being assigned to do an interview with Rumspringa. If this name doesn't cause your heart to pace in a steady, thumping, corn shucking rhythm then you've yet to experience the best kept secret in Los Angeles. Dont worry though, from what I hear, people are having trouble keeping the secret. The two-man band consists of drummer Itaru de la Vega and singer/guitarist Joey Stevens. The following interview is adapted from 10 questions and answers I scrawled down in five minutes in a brief interview with Joey after their show at the Unknown Theatre last Friday, June 22nd:
The concert starts at 10:30 pm, and I'm at the door by 10:45 pm. The bouncer at the door gives my I.D. A cursory glance and counts the cover I hand him. But at $9, it's a steal to see Rumspringa, and considering the band's footed the bill for free beer inside, the cover charge slips out of my hand like water.
Inside the crowd is milling about, some parts making efforts to mingle, other parts waiting in quiet, but nearly tangible anticipation. The tiered seats of the Unknown Theatre are full of cataracts of people coming and going, claiming seats in drones, and then abandoning them for standing room closer to the stage. I find my way to a corner close to the stage where they're distributing Pabst by the can, and, after sipping the tried and tested champion of 1893, I lean against a wall to watch an opening film that's being projected on to the drawn curtains in front of the stage.
The video montage blasts images of urban beauty and decay alongside a barrage of processed sounds. "Isadora?," I ask myself. The sounds amplify with the frequency of the image cuts, climaxing in aural/visual mosaic that demands attention, and by the end of the video everyone in the house has turned to watch the film. The video closes and leaves the air electric, rippling with waves of processed sounds and earnest applause. The crowd sits still, waiting for the curtains to be drawn, waiting for the concert to start.
But the curtains don't move. The silence falls thick around the stage like a fog, and the crowd, growing antsy, begins to talk again. And then, quietly at first, but creeping out from behind the still drawn curtains like a speech amongst babble, the soulfully syncopated bass and lead lines of a guitar intone the signature sound of Rumspringa front man Joey Stevens.
And the crowd erupts. The people in the tiered seats claim their spots with resolution. The crowds in the back push the front forward, but still the curtains stay drawn. Searching blindly for a face to put to the sound, the crowd peers into the thick red wool in front of them, unable to perform visually the same slice the music is performing aurally. It's a one way door, the crowd being given the music, but unable to give anything back. It's a brief moment of live musical altruism. And then, with the rumbling thump of Itaru de la Vega's kick, the curtains are shattered and sent flying left and right. The concert has begun.
The crowd moves in close to the stage, with the unified urge to be as close to the band as possible. Rumspringa obliges, and have in fact left half of the stage open out of the same desire to be as close to the fans as possible. The crowd circles round, washing up like the tide in front of the band, swelling in waves that crest atop bleachers hidden on stage left, dancing in eddies behind the band, and drowning in the pulsing rhythm that inundates the theatre. "At first there were so many people, I was sort of nervous," remarked Joey, "But then I just saw everyone smiling and it was like this cosmic zoom. I just wanted to pull the essence out of my body and become part of the crowd."
Indeed the concert feels somewhat astral, what with the solar glare of Itaru's drum lighting at center stage, and the nebulous crowd in shifting orbit around the band. In the middle of the concert Itaru stands up and begins knocking glowing globes out of a strung net hanging above the band. The globes float down gently, revealing themselves to be white balloons filled with white glow sticks. The crowd devours them, regurgitates puncturing explosions, and soon after constellations of bright white light appear throughout the theatre.
As the band brakes into "Catfish", and the beads of sweat begin to fall from Joey's chin like some displaced southern storm, the venue becomes an oven, the crowd rising with the swelling energy of the set, the Unknown Theatre shining in its capacity to marry the crowd with the band.
"The Theatre was recently fined for an alcohol infringement that cost them $5,000," Joey later explained. "The owner sold his car to cover this month's rent, but they were still in serious trouble, so we decided to hold a concert and have all the proceeds go to the Unknown Theatre. This is actually our sixth show at the venue. It's a blast to play here, just wonderful."
Joey's enthusiasm is contagious when he plays the band's newest song, looping first the rhythm chords, then the base, and finally the lead, leaving him free to send crowing and searingly sweet vocals over the loops and Itaru's rumbling drums. "I've been playing guitar for about 5 years," says Joey, "but Rumspringa's only been together for a little over a year."
The band sounds impressively tight for having just turned 1, but perhaps most impressive is not how the band stands out, but how they blend in with the crowd. By this point in the concert, fans are playing bongos along side Joey, running fingers through Itaru's hair, or otherwise dancing behind, in front of, and between the band members. I ask Joey how he's culled such a jubilant following.
"There's a lot of people who've followed us back from New York. We just finished touring, and had shows in New York, Pittsburg, Weslyan, but the majority of our shows were in New York, and we made a lot of fans there. We also have a lot of friends in Los Angeles, since this is where we grew up."
"Ok everyone, this is the time to grab that special someone," suggests Joey, as the band begins the last song of the night, “Dout in ma Mind". It seems everyone in the theatre knows the words to the song, and are either singing along out loud or dancing even more loudly. The concert ends, and despite the shouts of "encore" Rumspinga makes way for the next act. The crowd embers, reluctant to leave the stage, watching what are now the ghosts of a phenomenal concert.
I walk up to Joey and thank him, effusively, for what has been one of the best concerts of my life, and ask him if there's anyone he'd like to thank.
"Oh man, ...um, everyone! I mean, my parents, my friends, Itaru, you, Owen Vallis for helping produce us, but just....everyone! Everyone that comes out to see us. Thank you so much."