10,000 Maniacs has felt its share of bumps throughout 30-year career
July 31, 2015
When 10,000 Maniacs play a free concert at the newly christened Canyons Village at Park City on Saturday, the band will reach into its 30-year career for old hits, but may also play new songs from its most recent album "Twice Told Tales," according to the band’s bassist and co-founder Steven Gustafson.
"We actually can play two shows," Gustafson said during a telephone interview. "One is for stand-up festivals and free events [and those performances] are a little more aggressive and contain more hits and less new stuff."
The other show is designed for more intimate venues that charge admission.
"That show has more new songs, because we have a captive audience that is made up of mostly of our fans," Gustafson said. "We do this because when we play free events or stand-up festivals, the minute we play a new song, everyone heads to the beer tent."
Still, the selections from "Twice Told Tales" have been going over well with some of the outdoor audiences.
"We just played a free show in a city park in Lake Forest, California, and there were a bunch of blankets, lawn chairs and little kids doing cartwheels in front of the stage," Gustafson said. "It was a lot of fun. The audience reacted quite positively to the new songs."
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"Twice Told Tales," released in April, is the band’s ninth full-length album and is composed of renditions of traditional British Isles folk songs.
"It has a lot of high-tempo songs and a lot of fiddle playing and people like that," Gustafson said.
Throughout its three-decade career, 10,000 Maniacs has seen its share of ups and downs.
The band formed in 1981 and featured Gustafson, guitarist Robert Buck, keyboardist Dennis Drew, guitarist John Lombardo, drummer Chet Cardinale and singer Natalie Merchant.
"We were in our early 20s and in school in Jamestown. I wasn’t interested in studying unless it had long hair and two legs and was a female," Gustafson said. "Dennis and I were running the 10-watt college radio station. The signal range was two miles if the wind was blowing in the right direction.
"We knew two people that listened to the station," he said. "One was Robert, who worked in a factory down the road, and the other was Miss Merchant, who attended the college."
After Buck’s previous band broke up, he asked Gustafson to audition for a new band called Still Life.
"Since he already played guitar, I decided to play bass," Gustafson said, laughing. "I mean, it had four strings, so how hard could it be, right?
"I knew three notes, G, C and D, and bought a bottle of Wild Turkey because it had a cork in it and drank it at the audition and passed out," he said. "Robert pointed at me and said, ‘I’ll take him.’"
The two knew Lombardo, who was playing guitar in a band that played Elvis Costello and Jonathan Richman covers.
"John knew artists who had a factory space that turned into our practice space and we invited Natalie to come down and hang out," Gustafson said. "None of us knew how to play songs like ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ so we made up our own songs."
After a few drummer changes, Jerome Augustyniak joined the band permanently in 1983 and had a run of Top 40 success with the hits "Hey Jack Kerouac," "Like the Weather," "Don’t Talk," "What’s the Matter Here?" "These are the Days" and "Candy Everybody Wants."
In 1993, Merchant left to pursue a solo career.
" that time we had hired Mary Ramsey as a backup singer," Gustafson said. "She and John played in a duo around town and she played a great violin."
The group didn’t want to do a nationwide search for a singer, because it seemed natural for Ramsey to start singing leads because she knew the songs.
"Unfortunately there are still many people who think Natalie is still in the band, even after 22 years," Gustafson said. "But Mary is full of grace. Someone will yell, ‘I love you Natalie,’ and she will say, ‘So do I.’
"Other times someone will say, ‘I never knew Natalie played the fiddle’ and we will say, ‘Neither did we’ or ‘We would like to see her play sometime,’ he said. "It’s our burden to bear, I guess."
The band lost Buck in 2000 after he lost his long battle with alcohol.
"We tried to keep Rob alive but he was a mess and it was awful to see," Gustafson said. "We tried an intervention and that worked for a while, but we lost control of him. We still miss him."
The band took a two-year break after Buck died.
"We did nothing, until we got a call for a show in Toronto," Gustafson said. "We asked a friend Jeff [Erickson] to play because, like how Mary knew the songs, Jeff knew the songs because he was such a close friend to Rob and had all of his encrypted guitar notes."
The band found an agent and did a Pledgemusic.com crowd-source campaign to raise money for a new album, 2013’s "Music from the Motion Picture."
The campaign also raised money for the Robert Buck Memorial Foundation and the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.
Gustafson said "Tales Twice Told" would probably not have happened if it weren’t for Ramsey and Lombardo, who remained close to the band and actually plays on the album.
"Mary would sing these two a cappella songs in our set that were written 300 years ago," he said. "John knew all of these songs and mailed us all of these cassette tapes with these songs on them. We listened to them and decided which ones we wanted to do."
10,000 Maniacs will play Canyons Village at Park City on Saturday, Aug. 1, at 6 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://www.mountaintownmusic.org .
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