It's a beautifully wrong location, a dirt driveway alongside an overgrown creek leading to a leaning wooden shack. Inside is a tiny one-room-with-a-loft living space with plywood floors, a creaking door and a pet turtle. It feels more like Mississippi than Roseland, which suits guitarist Sage Fifield, who lives here, and bassist Kevin Carducci, who's about to move next door, just fine.
Wrong locations come easy to the Easy Leaves, who've played street corners, barns, house parties, wineries, farmers markets, bike festivals, a redwood grove, a grade school—and once, a farm stand at Zazu restaurant, where the band was paid, literally, in bacon. So it wasn't a big deal for Fifield and Carducci to start recording their latest album tucked in the basement of an old convent in Grass Valley, a subfloor bunker straight out of Cabin in the Woods cluttered with antiques, taxidermy, stereoscopes and Victrolas.
Almost two years and yet another basement later, the Easy Leaves' second full-length album American Times arrives June 8 at a record-release show at the Mystic Theatre. It'll be an unusually large stage for the band. "We started joking about calling ourselves the Squeezy Leaves," Carducci quips, "because people always book us as a duo and squeeze us into a little corner."
Carducci and Fifield met at an open mic at the old Powerhouse Brewing Co. in 2007. Fifield had grown up in the Nevada City–Grass Valley area, a region known for left-field musicians like Joanna Newsom and Zach Hill; Carducci grew up in Hudson, Ohio, not far from the members of the Black Keys. Within a year, the pair had two hours' worth of material, releasing a debut recording soon after.
American Times is far more accomplished than the debut and is filled with timeless harmonies and songs evocative of the greats. Many of the tracks could be mistaken for outtakes by Old Crow Medicine Show ("Keep It Country") or Doc and Merle Watson ("Great Big Diamond"), and Fifield's voice sometimes creaks with the fragility of Jerry Garcia's, but whether these signposts are intentional is hard to gauge.
When I read back the lyric "feelin' good ain't good enough this time" from the track "Crack Another Bottle" and suggest it as an answer to Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee," Fifield says he'd never even thought of it before. It's the conduit-like nature of this music: you could be repurposing something in the lineage without even realizing it.
With this new album, and with drummer Skip Urmson and pedal-steel player Josh Yenne, what does the future hold for the Easy Leaves? "Ideally," quips Carducci, "we'll be playing clubs rather than croquet parties."
Fifield laughs. "Although the croquet parties," he says, "they are great."
The Easy Leaves headline Friday, June 8, at the Mystic Theatre. 23 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 8:30pm. $16. 707.765.2121.