Time was when an American rock band earned its salt on the road, proving themselves by winning over unfamiliar, indifferent audiences night after night. Its a culture and a form of artist development that doesnt really exist anymore, due to the internet, the rise in the drinking age from 18 to 21, and the explosion of electronic-based forms of entertainment.
And yet, The Lost Trailers are one new band that has earned their chops the old-fashioned way: spending most of the last three years on the road?having their trailer, loaded with all of their equipment, stolen not just once but twice (hence the band name), playing to audiences that might have been just a handful of people at first, but grew into several dozen and then a couple hundred with each successive visit.
?We love the road,? says Stokes Nielson, the Atlanta-based bands founder and singer/songwriter. ?I think everyone in the band knows how important it is for us to connect face-to-face with an audience and win them over. I think thats our great strength, and I think it had to happen that way: the style of music we play, which is straight-up American rock music, needs to develop on the road. So we felt that we had to get out and start touring America from the get-go, just like all the bands that were influenced by: Bruce Springsteen, the Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, the Black Crowes.?
That ethic and attitude?not to mention those influences?go a long way toward explaining the seasoning and timelessness in the sound of this young band, which is present in spades on their Republic/Universal debut, ?Welcome to the Woods. Familiarity is another. The lineup was knocked together quickly to capitalize on a rare opportunity?Willie Nelson had been slipped a demo CD of songs performed by Nielson and keyboardist Ryder Lee, and subsequently offered the duo a slot at his annual 4th of July picnic.? Once Willie booked us, we had the confidence that we could really do this,? Nielson says. ?So Ryder and I called our high-school friend Jeff Potter and my brother Andrew to join in, and before we knew it we were on the road half the year.? That familiarity among band members (longtime friend Manny Medina recently joined on as well) helps in taking on the rigors of the road.
?Its really like a family,? Nielson says. ?We play hard, we party hard, we fight hard- everything is done to an extreme. But no matter what happens on the road, were all in the same family. We stay at each others houses and we eat at these huge tables and everybodys laughing and having fun, and I think that feel comes across in the music as well.?
Family had more than a little to do with the maturity in Nielsons songwriting, which has a directness and literary aspect that he shares with many of the writers he admires. ?When we got in trouble growing up our punishment was to write essays about why we did what we did, so I was writing a lot at a young age. And if it wasnt brutally honest, straight from the heart, we would have to write it over and over again?and thats probably where the directness in the songs comes from.?
Nielson also credits a more distant influence for his style. ?The first Springsteen record I ever heard was ?The Ghost of Tom Joad, which is a really weird way to get introduced to him. But the songs on that album are sketches of these characters in America, and that opened my eyes to what I want to write about, which is the common person struggling in America, these themes of love and struggle.?
The albums heartland feel recalls the influences that Nielson mentions along with many others, The Band and Tom Petty in particular. Songs like ?Bad Habit? and ?Averly Jane? have a good-time rock & roll feel, and ?Atlanta? celebrates their hometown. But theres darkness in others. The albums stirring opening cut, ?Longfall,? details the tribulations of a young man who moves to Los Angeles and barely recognizes his actress girlfriend after she has plastic surgery. ?Love and War in a Small Town? is about a young man whose brother is killed in Iraq (The Nielsons older brother served during the Afghanistan war and may be called upon to serve in Iraq). And the closing track, ?Fire on the Pontchartrain,? is a harrowing song of love and jealousy and murder.
?Some of our songs are uplifting and good-timey, but Ive read a lot of Faulkner and Hemingway and Ralph Ellison and I like visiting the other side of human emotion as well,? Nielson says, recalling the birth of ?Fire on the Pontchartrain.? ?After I wrote ?Pontchartrain, which is about a man that kills his cheating wife and her lover, I looked at it and I was like, ?Am I OK? That song deals with the worst human emotions, but it also shows the character in a human light. I never thought anybody would like it, but its one of our most requested songs.?
While the Nielson brothers grew up in Albany, Georgia, the band was essentially born in Nashville, where Nielson and Lee both attended the same college?and got just as much of an education in the music business, recording demos and shopping songs; Nielson also worked as a DJ at WRVU.
?Nashville is a tough place,? Lee says, ?but we got a lot out of it, and it allowed us to learn how to play and write songs, because we were constantly surrounded by amazing musicians.?
The fateful encounter with Willie Nelson came shortly before the pair finished school. ?I interviewed him for WRVU,? Nielson recalls. ?And it became really apparent to Willie during the interview, I think, that this was not a journalist,? he laughs, ?that this was just a kid that loved playing music. So at the end of the interview I asked him what it takes to be successful musician, and he said, ?If you build a house of quality in the woods, the world will beat a path to your doorstep. That advice set in motion the formation of the band and thats also where our album title [?Welcome To The Woods] came from.?
Nielson and Lee quickly set about assembling their dream-team band: ?Jeff Potter and I had played together before,? Lee says, ?So I knew that he was a great drummer, and that he would add more of a rock feel to the songs, but he would need a bit of convincing to get on the road. So we took him down to this show--well, it was a pretty crazy night, and he was in after that!? Andrew Nielson then came on board to play bass, and Manny Medina, who had played with Nielson and Lee in Nashville before venturing to Los Angeles, joined the band as a rhythm guitarist to fill out the live sound. With the lineup intact, the Trailers took to the road and have barely stopped since.