Sour Mash Hug Band - Scott Stobbe Interview
Sour Mash Hug Band will be performing as part of the Club Kuumbwa series at Kuumbwa Jazz, on September 28
The Sour Mash Hug Band has toured the highways and byways of North America for over a decade now. Its a classic American story: in the beginning, a band of kids ride freight trains across the midwest with nothing but a banjo, a fiddle, a washboard, and a washtub bass. They play at your local farmer’s market, dive-bar, or street-corner. They end up in New Orleans, spend some time playing dixieland, go up to Oregon and play old-time and bluegrass for a while, head out to New York pick up a a little Klezmer, hike around Romania searching for old men that know fiddle tunes. Finally they fall in love with the new revival of jazz culture and it’s full circle.
Sour Mash guitarist Scott Stobbe talks about the band’s influences, bicycle tours and being a longtime Kuumbwa volunteer.
Interview conducted by Bennett Jackson
Tell us of the origins of the Sour Mash Hug Band - which is probably the greatest band name ever. Why be a ‘jug’ band when you can be a ‘hug’ band?
Exactly! The band has been together for about 10 years and I’ve been in the band for around two years. [The group] started out in Eugene, Oregon as an old-timey band, then they started train-hopping, doing bicycle tours, and ended up spending a lot of time in New Orleans…eventually doing a regular route between the Pacific Northwest, Bay Area and New Orleans, just travelling and picking up influences from all those places. It started to evolve from an old-timey band to picking up some New Orleans jazz and ragtime, and also becoming influenced by Yiddish theatre music and klezmer. Shiri, one of our singers, sings in Yiddish and Mike, our fiddle player, is half Hungarian and has traveled around Eastern Europe…we’ve actually all traveled around there, becoming influenced by Eastern European music as well. So it’s a blend of all of those things. And it’s mostly original music. We have a new album coming out that’s all originals, except for one.
Sounds like this band has spent a lot of time on the road. You still tour Europe regularly, right?
Yeah, once a year we try to get out there.
When you go out on tour these days, is it still train-hopping and bicycles?
Not so much. I’d still love to do a bike tour. I did it once with another band and had a really good time, but as we get older the tours are getting shorter and more organized…though definitely still adventurous.
The band’s genre calling card has been described as ‘hot-jazz, klezmer and cabaret.’ Were you into all that music before you joined the band?
Yeah, I was. I spent seven years living in Oregon and was playing in a band called the Underscore Orkestra, which played pretty similar music. I actually knew the Sour Mash Hug Band before I joined, because they had played shows with the Underscore Orkestra…so I was introduced to them and when I moved to CA, I told ‘em “hey, I’m here and I’d love to play with you guys,” so that worked out pretty nicely.
You guys are not strangers to playing in Santa Cruz, but this is your first time playing at Kuumbwa.
That is true, so that’s a big deal. I’ve volunteered at Kuumbwa since high school in 1997…a long time!
So it’s a homecoming show, of sorts, for you.
It is. Kuumbwa is such a great place. I love it. I love the people that work there, the music there, everything about it.
How did you get started volunteering here?
It was actually through [longtime volunteers] Ken & Linda Kishlansky. I went to school with their daughter Sara. I was in the Jazz Band at school and Sara said “you should come to the jazz club where my dad works,” then I started volunteering…and here I am!
You mentioned that there is a new Sour Mash Hug Band album in the works?
Yeah. It was recorded in Oakland. We’re still finishing up the album art and title, but it should be done very soon.
Will you be playing the new material at Kuumbwa?
Yeah, we’ll be playing a lot of the newer material. We’ve got some great guest players on the album so there may be some special guests at the show. We’re really excited to [play at Kuumbwa]…it’s such a great place and I’ve seen all these great bands there, so to be up there [onstage] myself is really special.