by Ben Salmon for the Bulletin Special Projects
All grown up and doing it right
There are lots of reasons a good band might come to an end.
Financial disputes. Interpersonal problems. The dreaded “creative differences.”
And, of course, there’s burnout—a condition that especially targets young bands working inhumanly hard to turn their art into a viable career.
Is This Crazy?
Kirk Skatvold wasn’t necessarily the first member of Larry and His Flask to see burnout taking a toll on the popular Central Oregon folk-punk band. But he was the first one to do something about it.
“I felt like I lost the balance of life outside being on the road,” he says. “I just kind of had to ask myself, am I crazy or is this crazy? Am I that selfish or am I just holding out to still be a part of this?”
For Skatvold, going out on tour with the Flask meant joining a rolling party, complete with long drives, great times, late nights, and head-throbbing mornings, ad infinitum. But hitting the road also meant leaving his girlfriend at home to care for his dog. And missing out on the funeral of a loved one. And being too broke to do the nonmusical things he loved to do, like fishing.
“It’s not like we were making money at the time. I was just going out and getting loaded all around the world,” Skatvold says. “I just felt like I was missing out on people who had invested in me over the years, and I wasn’t really giving back to them.”
So he made the difficult decision to depart the Flask family in 2013, a few years after he joined as part of the band’s metamorphosis from crude punk band to skilled (but still wild-eyed) Americana sextet. He stayed home in Central Oregon, working construction and odd jobs as his former bandmates crisscrossed Europe playing to larger and larger audiences.
“I remember I was on a job and this guy was just driving me crazy and I was just thinking, ‘I could be in Germany right now . . . with a big mug of beer. Instead I’m here gutting a house,’” Skatvold says. “It was hard to make sense of and readjust after so many years of that lifestyle.”
Before the Wheels Came Off
There are five members of Larry and His Flask but only two of them have been involved in the band since day one: brothers Jamin and Jeshua Marshall. Both men are exceedingly friendly—Jamin pairs unwavering eye contact with a firm handshake, and Jeshua is quick with a hug and a huge smile. Growing up, the Marshalls split time between British Columbia and Central Oregon, landing in Redmond for high school, where they got involved in the local punk scene. They formed Larry and His Flask in 2003, and soon they were joined by their friends Ian Cook on guitar and Beau Batts on drums. Batts’s arrival pushed Jamin off the drum kit and up to the frontman position, where he used his raspy growl and natural physicality to engage audiences.
“We noticed when he got off the drums, the people went way more apes–t,” Cook told The Bulletin in a 2006 interview.
For several years, the Flask was less about hitting all the right notes and more about whipping rooms into a frenzy. Every show was some combination of concert and chaos, with Jamin Marshall regularly wading into the mosh pit and Jeshua Marshall often slinging his bass around like a hula hoop. The band recorded a handful of very lo-fi albums and started building a small but loyal fan base in Central Oregon.
In 2008, however, the Flask started to evolve. First Batts left the band. With gigs already booked, the group adjusted by moving Jamin Marshall back to drums, adding new members, and exploring a twangier sound that fused the harmonies and fast picking of bluegrass with the energy of punk rock. At one point, Larry and His Flask ballooned up to a dozen members before paring back to a sextet: Cook and the Marshalls plus guitarist Dallin Bulkley, banjo player Andrew Carew, and Skatvold on mandolin. (The new guys sang and played horns, too.)
The band’s big break came in 2009, when they opened for nationally touring Irish punk juggernaut Dropkick Murphys at Bend’s Midtown Ballroom. The locals made an impression on the headliners, who invited the Flask to join them on a three-week tour across the South and up the Eastern seaboard, culminating in a sold-out show in Boston on St. Patrick’s Day.
That run put the band in front of thousands of new people and set off a chain of positive developments for the Flask. They hired a manager and a booking agent, toured Europe a few times, and opened for big names like the Reverend Horton Heat and Frank Turner. They bought an RV and spent the summer of 2011 on the Vans Warped Tour (during which the RV broke down for good, leaving the guys with years of debt to pay down). They played around 200 shows a year for three years in a row, were listed among the best concerts of 2011 in the New York Times, and recorded a couple of albums that showcased their rootsy sound—2011’s All That We Know and 2013’s By the Lamplight—along the way.
But there’s one thing Larry and His Flask didn’t do enough during those times: say no.
“We just pushed it to the max,” Cook says.
At the beginning of 2014, the band’s entire year was already booked with shows across the United States, Europe, and Canada, and no more than two weeks off at any one time. Recognizing it would be a grind, the five guys—Skatvold was out by then—committed to taking 2015 completely off from the band. But they didn’t quite get there before the wheels came off.
“That light at the end of the tunnel somehow made it worse,” says Carew.
In June 2014, the members of Larry and His Flask were sleeping in a South Carolina motel when someone stole their tour van and trailer, packed with instruments, gear, merch, and personal belongings (including “the best sleeping bag I ever had,” Carew says). Police found the van the next day, and some of the gear later on, but the theft was a major blow to both the band’s morale and its bottom line. By October, the Flask was struggling through a Canadian tour, thanks to lightly attended shows, long stretches in the van, and growing homesickness. The nadir came at a hotel somewhere near . . . well, nobody really remembers where.
“There was definitely a night when it all kind of exploded, fueled by our situation and also by alcohol. Everybody was screaming at everybody, and it was not fun,” Cook says. “At that point, we realized we had to take some time away from each other.”
The key words there are “not fun,” says Jamin Marshall. “I vowed to myself that if it ever became too much like a job or it wasn’t fun that I would take a break from it. That’s what happened. It became very exhausting and not a healthy way to live.”
The band did something it is loath to do: cancel the final two shows of the tour. Then they headed back to Central Oregon together.
“It was a somber drive home,” Cook says.
Life Outside the Flask
The guys can laugh about it now, but only because things have changed significantly since then.
Shortly after getting home, Bulkley moved to Kansas. (He has since left Larry and His Flask.) Jamin Marshall moved to the Virgin Islands and got a job as a snorkeling guide. Jeshua Marshall dedicated himself to political activism and traveled the world. Cook became a father. And Carew formed a side project, Woebegone, with Cook, Skatvold, and an old friend, Dayne Wood. The planned time off in 2015 stretched into a second year as the band stayed close to home and focused on family, friends, and life outside the Flask.
“That time off was the best thing we’ve ever done, in my opinion,” Carew says.
The break’s benefits were manifold. It helped the band members’ mental states and family situations, but also gave them perspective on the fan base they’d built and the potential for Larry and His Flask as a business. Jamin Marshall stopped drinking, and now he manages the band’s day-to-day operations from his new home in Denver. Also, staying off the road built up an appetite for new shows in towns they’d oversaturated before.
“It helped us understand what we want this band to be now,” Jeshua Marshall says. “Now we have lives at home, so we can figure out how to make the band life more in balance with the home life. Obviously, at the end of the day, the music and the art is always going to be the most important thing, and that got a little bit compromised by the amount of partying and touring.”
There was a time, Cook says, when he felt like he could never write another song for Larry and His Flask. But in the spring of 2016, the band received an offer to perform on Flogging Molly’s annual musical cruise, which sounded like a nice, relaxing way to ease back into band activities. They booked a two-week tour over to Florida, and Skatvold rejoined the group.
That tour was an unqualified success, not only because the shows were well attended but because it jump-started Larry and His Flask as a creative outlet, too.
“I got home and new songs for this band just started coming out of nowhere,” Cook says. “In addition to remembering those things I like to do outside the band, the break also reminded me how much this band is a part of me and my life.”
Bigger and Brighter
If you scroll down a bit on Larry and His Flask’s Facebook page, you’ll find a long video of Cook, Carew, and Dayne Wood—the drummer in Woebegone—working on new Flask songs in Wood’s recording studio, the Firing Room. Located southeast of Bend, the space has become Flask HQ over the past few months as the band records its first full-length album since 2013’s By the Lamplight.
The new songs are “bigger” and “brighter” than previous material, say Cook and Carew respectively. In the past, the band would record wherever it could, whenever its schedule allowed. Thanks to the Firing Room’s proximity to Bend, the guys are using the studio as a music-making tool for the first time, adding lots of horns and harmonies and string sections to their songs.
Larry and His Flask is talking to labels about releasing the new album, but they also have a crowdfunding campaign going on pledgemusic.com, where fans can preorder the album and help support the effort. There’s a new booking agent on board who is negotiating better booking fees that are more in line with what an act at the Flask’s level should be getting. And Jamin Marshall is working hard on social media to reconnect with the band’s fan base, which only grew during the time off.
Now all in their early 30s, and with their high-octane days in the rearview mirror, the five members of Larry and His Flask are reflective about their experiences together. They are cognizant of the fact that the reasons they burned out four years ago are the same reasons they have that sizable fan base today. And they are determined to take a more measured and strategic approach to their band this time around.
“We definitely want to make good music and stay true to what we do, but also, career-wise, if I’m not going to try [to make this work], then what am I doing here?” Cook says. “So we want to come at it from a smart angle and do it right this time, and that means that if we’re going to put out what we feel is our best record we’ve ever put out, then we’ve got to take some time with it.”
That kind of patience runs contrary to the band’s past. But somehow, some way, Larry and His Flask is now 15 years into its existence. They made mistakes along the way, but they’ve also learned from them.
“How are you ever going to know your limits unless you push it all the way?” Jamin Marshall says. “And now we know and we’re never going to go that far again.”
Larry and His Flask’s new album
This Remedy is forthcoming.
Tour launches Thursday, May 24 at the Volcanic Theater Pub in Bend with dates in Nevada, California, Arizona, Colorado, and Hawaii through June.
European tour in August.