With experience ranging from performing for a world-famous orchestra conductor to playing a show every night on a cruise ship with successful rock bands, the bluesy Americana Oakhurst has been tearing up the touring circuit, and is again headed to Flagstaff.
Oakhurst is a five-piece band hailing from Denver, Colo., that got its start back in 2000 and was founded by vocalist-guitarist Adam Hill and bassist John Qualley. Harnessing inspiration from other pioneering acts such as Wilco and the Avett Brothers, Oakhurst powers through live performances with high-energy displays of technical prowess.
Since the band started, some things that have characterized their growth are various changes in sound and lineup. “The band sort of started out as a rock outfit, like a piano trio, and then [we] brought on mandolin and banjo and went a more bluegrass route,” Oakhurst mandolin player Colin Maxfield Paley says. Also in the band is drummer Chris Budin and slide guitarist Daniel Walker.
Paley, 27, (who simply goes by Max) is also a change in the lineup himself, as he is not the band’s original mandolin player.
Hailing from Lawrence, Kan., Paley was exposed to music at a young age, and after playing in band and orchestra throughout high school, he went on to play French horn in the Bard College Symphony Orchestra under respected conductor Leon Botstein. Paley even has six years of teaching experience from working at a nonprofit music academy.
The high-societal path of music did not stick on Paley, and before long he was living in Taos, N.M., playing mandolin for a rock band and unknowingly waiting for Oakhurst.
The first contact Paley had with Oakhurst came in the form of a random encounter at the 2007 Walnut Valley Festival, a bluegrass music festival, in Winfield, Kan. (the festival is usually referred to simply as Winfield).
“[I] met them there at Winfield just kind of picking late night in the campground. We met, we hung out, we played music together, but then we all sort of parted ways. They had a mandolin player at that time,” Paley says.
However, the meeting had a lasting effect, because two years later when Paley got wind that Oakhurst’s mandolin player had quit, he saw an opportunity. “I called up the banjo player at the time, who’s not with us any more, and just sort of talking to him on no uncertain terms, you know, told him I was interested in a gig,” Paley says.
The meeting at Winfield and Paley’s reputation was enough for the band to give him a chance.
“They brought me up to Denver. It was sort of an audition-slash-application process. They never sat me down and drilled me or anything, but they had me come to the rehearsal, play a little bit. Actually, my first show ever with them was a Telluride Bluegrass Festival in ’09. They were just like ‘Why don’t you come down there to that and we’ll see what happens,’” he says.
This ushered in a three-month period where Paley would find himself frequently traveling from Taos to Denver to play with Oakhurst. In September 2009, after three months of extended auditioning the spot in the band was firmly his and he moved to Denver.
After more trials, tribulations and changes the band is happy with its current lineup and sound, which is pushing more in a diverse direction with each passing day. Also, the band does not shy away from their influences.
“We all have pretty eclectic tastes, but [what] we’ve most universally agreed on would be Wilco, the Flaming Lips, the Avett Brothers,” Paley says. He says that Hill, the vocalist, draws from singer-songwriters like Elliott Smith and Ryan Adams while their newest member, Walker, the slide-guitarist, comes from a firm blues-bluegrass background and digs on musicians like J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton.
“But definitely pretty heavy into the roots-rock, alt-folk, alt-country scene. We’re all pretty firmly planted in that world,” Paley says.
Last April the band released their latest album, titled Barrel, which was recorded in Nashville, Tenn., with producer Joe Pisapia. Pisapia is no stranger to talent, as he recently produced k.d. lang’s latest album and is currently working with Ben Folds Five producing their comeback album.
While Paley is ecstatic about the music they produced, he wasn’t so thrilled about the amount of time it took to create. “We recorded over the course of two-and-a-half years. It took kind of longer than we would have liked.”
However, the silver lining is that the band could easily produce another album if they wanted to. “Because the record took so long to record, we’ve been writing songs throughout the whole process,” he says.
As far as songwriting, their love of performance and collaboration feeds the process and helps define their sound. “It’s kind of interesting; it’s relatively collaborative in the sense that Adam and Daniel work together on songs, mostly words, and then Adam and I will work on songs, dealing more with the music side of it,” Paley says.
However successful the band is at songwriting, recording and producing albums, it is something they will most likely never primarily focus on for reasons of enjoyment. Their hearts are in their tour schedule.
“Definitely we’re road guys … I’ve gotten some work over the years … in studios and stuff … and it really lacks the energy. It kind of reminded me of my classical [music] days and the reason that I quit playing [that]. There’s someone up in front of you, a conductor, telling you what to do and waving a baton in your face, literately conducting you … whereas in a live show is a much more collaborative effort … and you know [there is] just more opportunity for creativity in a live setting,” Paley says.
But beyond the love of music that drives most musicians, there lies another reason to tour and perform frequently that is all too common in the music industry today. Touring is the only way to survive.
“We try to get out on the road as much as possible. This day in age, with CD sales the way they are, selling tickets is really the best way to try to make a living as a musician. Getting out on the road for us is a way to sustain the band in a way the record sales never could,” Paley says.
Touring also gives the band a chance to see the country, and since they pick their tour dates for the most part, one could almost think of it as a vacation. Luckily, the boys like Flagstaff. “As much we can we try to route our tours to places we actually like going to, and like, beautiful places, and Flagstaff’s definitely up there,” Paley says.
With their folk-bluegrass-roots-rock feel, Oakhurst will feel right at home here in the mountains. “We’re a high energy band; we play fast, we play loud,” Paley says. Right up Flagstaff’s alley.
See Oakhurst play a Party on the Patio at Flagstaff Brewing Co., 16 E. Rte. 66, Sat, July 21. The show starts at 10 p.m. and is $5. For more info, see www.oakhurstmusic.com or call 773-1442.