While Los Angeles County may be more well-known for its rock and roll and hip-hop exports, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the area also has healthy country music and bluegrass communities as well. Lately, Long Beach’s own Big Bad Rooster has been garnering praise and recognition all across California for its own distinct style of bluegrass, which blends the classic musical qualities of the genre with more modern lyrical topics and ideas. In June, the band released its self-titled debut full-length album, along with a music video for the record’s first single, “Whiskey Bottom Blues.”
Recently, CULTURE was able to talk with lead singer and guitar player Michael Solan and fiddle player Camilo Barahona all about how the band came together, the making of their new album and their feelings about cannabis.
“I think we all agree it should be legalized. We’re not children, and I think when the government tells us what we can and can’t consume, it’s ridiculous.”
First and foremost, can you tell me a bit about how Big Bad Rooster came together?
Michael Solan: Yeah! Let’s see, Camilo and I met each other at Cal State Long Beach and we started just by jamming on some songs I wrote. One day, we were playing out somewhere on the campus, and we looked up from what we were doing, and we had accumulated a crowd; we finished a song and realized we had maybe 10 or 15 people around us clapping, and I think they may have thrown us a dollar. So, we thought that was a good sign and kind of just went from there.
Your sound blends classic bluegrass sound with more modern topical elements in your lyrics really well. Can you tell me a bit about where your lyrics come from and how they fit into your music?
Camilo Barahona: I think all the things that lots of older Americana and bluegrass artists talk about, like the coal mines or the railroads, are circumstantial details. These people are talking about their lives. We strive for our music to come from an honest place, so it would be dishonest of us to be singing about hopping trains or doing things we didn’t entirely do.
Solan: I’ve always got a journal around so I’m writing down my thoughts, feelings, or one or two lines of a song that I’m working on. So, that’s where my songs are coming from. Just a sort-of stream of consciousness about my thoughts and feelings. So, all my songs are pretty personal to me and are about personal relationships, experiences, or people that I know.
The new record sounds incredible, can you tell me a bit about how you all made it?
Solan: We were working with our buddies Paul Rhoda and Jesse Pridmore on our demos which we were recording at The Bomb Shelter in Garden Grove, and it was just a little too boxed in. At the time, I was living in this crazy party house in Long Beach and the acoustics in there were great. So, we decided we’d just record the whole album at my house and Jesse and Paul brought their mobile recording rig to do it. The hope was that we would capture the vibe and the acoustics of the old house. The whole thing was essentially self-produced over there in that house.
Barahona: We wanted the whole thing to be soaked in the feel of Long Beach as much as we could. We recorded with the windows wide open, and if you listen closely you can hear all types of sounds like kids playing and stuff.
Does the band have any feelings about the current struggle to legalize cannabis in this country?
Barahona: I think we all agree it should be legalized. We’re not children, and I think when the government tells us what we can and can’t consume, it’s ridiculous.
Solan: I’ve actually been 100 percent sober from all drugs and alcohol for seven months now. However, I used to be a huge pot head. My dad was a musician who was on the forefront of playing fundraisers for NORML, and we have plenty of friends who make their livings in the cannabis industry, so I think legalization is a great thing. I’ve even picked up my grandma some CBD when she was feeling sick. I know we’re all proponents and advocates for cannabis, even though I don’t use it anymore.
Besides the release of your new record, what plans does Big Bad Rooster have for 2017?
Barahona: We’ve got a few things in the works. We’ve got a string of shows lined up over the summer locally and we’re making a couple of runs up to the Northern California area as well. All in all, a lot of good stuff.