Grateful Shred

Wait.
I know what you’re thinking.
Another fucking Grateful Dead cover band?
Really?
The thing is, Los Angeles-based Grateful Shred manage to channel that elusive
Dead vibe: wide-open guitar tones, effortless three-part vocal harmonies,
choogling beats, and yes, plenty of tripped out, Shredded solos. The look,
the sound, the atmosphere. It’s uncanny.
“It’s more of a ‘take’ on the Dead than a tribute band,” says bassist Dan
Horne. “We end up sounding almost more like the Dead because we approach it
in this free-spirited way; in other bands, they’ve got the perfect tones
dialed in, they practice the drum parts, they’ve got their ‘Jerry.’ We just
play.”
Founded one night in 2016, the band came about almost by accident.
Singer/guitarist Austin McCutchen had a residency at The Griffin in Atwater
Village; his band was out of town, so he drafted some friends to play a set
of Dead covers, and the four founding members (Austin, Sam, Clay, and Dan)
have been together ever since. Sam Blasucci and Clay Finch (of country-folk
revivalists Mapache) handle vocal and guitar duties, rounded out by bassist
Dan Horne (of Cass McCombs, Jonathan Wilson, and the estimable Circles Around
The Sun, who provided the incidental music for 2015’s “Fare Thee Well”
concerts, the last shows played by the living members of the Dead). Add a
rotating cast of drummers (like Richard Gowen of The Growlers) and
keyboardists (like Lee Pardini of Dawes and Jerry Borgé of Ziggy Marley), and
you’ve got the essential formula.
Jams convene at Liberty Hair Farm in Echo Park, the Shred’s
HQ/commune/studio. It’s at the Farm where they live, breathe, and record.
Just watch the hallucinatory footage of the band tearing through “St.
Stephen” (filmed live in their backyard) or “Shakedown Street” (those
harmonies!). Grateful Shred is the sound of 5+ guys who aren’t afraid to
learn from the masters, but who know to explore beyond the pale, searching
for the sound. “Never the play the same thing once,” as Phil Lesh says.
Far from being a historical re-enactment, Grateful Shred’s laissez faire vibe
infuses the band with a gentle spirit, warmth, and (dare we say it)
authenticity. From their killer merch game (look for a new line with Dead
revisionists Online Ceramics) to their eminently watchable YouTube channel,
they’re clearly having a rad time and spreading the love. Strangely enough,
in a world overflowing with wax museum nostalgia and Deadly sentimentalism,
we need the Shred, now more than ever.

The young men of Mapache don’t like to waste time. In the studio, Sam Blasucci and
Clay Finch often gather around a single microphone to capture their songs live in a
take or two at most. On the road, they begin charming audiences instantly,
captivating crowds with their mesmerizing harmonies and intricate guitar work from
the very first notes. And now, just months after releasing their critically acclaimed
debut, the duo is already back with a beguiling new EP titled ‘Lonesome LA Cowboy.’
“We just didn’t see any reason to wait,” says Blasucci. “Our repertoire has grown
since our first record, and these songs are just too much fun not to sing.”
Consisting of three charismatic covers, ‘Lonesome LA Cowboy’ encompasses a far
broader swath of time and space than the hour it took to record would suggest,
effortlessly bridging decades, genres, and even international borders. Tapping
faithfully into an era that ended well before their births, Mapache’s performances
here conjure up dry desert breezes and lush coastal canyons with a distinctly
southwestern brand of harmony-driven folk and country that’s at once vintage and
contemporary. The pair relies on nothing more than acoustic guitars and enchanting
vocals to work their magic, pulling influence from the architects of American roots
music as well as formative years spent living in Mexico and filtering it all through
modern, youthful sensibilities. It’s music with little regard for boundaries or barriers,
reverent of the past but fully immersed in the present.
“We make music that’s reflective of the landscape we grew up with in southern
California,” says Finch. “It’s a big sweep of all the really rich influences you encounter
around here: folk and psychedelic and country and Latin and rock and cowboy and
Hawaiian. We’re drawing from a really deep well.”
Recorded in a similarly stripped-down fashion with producer Dan Horne (Cass McCombs,
Allah-Las), Mapache’s self-titled debut introduced the duo’s timeless songwriting and
airtight harmonies, earning obvious comparisons to The Louvin Brothers in addition to
more cosmic keepers of the flame like Graham Parsons and the Grateful Dead.
Aquarium Drunkard hailed the duo as “a blazed up Everly Brothers” and raved that
“the LP faithfully radiates the intimate warmth of their live shows,” while No
Depression said the album “weds lilting melodies to lyrics that often extol the
beauties of nature,” and Saving Country Music declared that the duo “can fill up a
room with more soul soaring harmony than most symphonic assemblies.” The music
helped earn the band festival appearances from Pickathon to Mountain Jam as well as
tour dates with Chris Robinson, Nikki Bluhm, Beachwood Sparks, and more.
Though Mapache (Spanish for “raccoon”) only recently began recording, the duo’s
roots stretch all the way back to high school, where Finch and Blasucci struck up a
friendship over a shared love of skateboarding and classic songwriters. After
graduation, Finch headed north to study music at Chico State (birthplace of The
Mother Hips, who recently invited Mapache to perform at their beloved Hipnic festival
in Big Sur), while Blasucci headed south to Mexico, where he served as a missionary for
two years.
“The experience opened up new ways of creative thinking for me,” says Blasucci. “I
was only 18, and suddenly I was thrust into living independently in a new country. I
had to learn to rely on myself and to pursue the things that I really wanted.”
Blasucci was also introduced to whole new worlds of melody and rhythm, falling
particularly hard for the folk music of northern Mexico, a style that informs his playing
and writing to this day.
While the duo’s debut showcased the incisive lyrical and melodic craftsmanship of
their original work, ‘Lonesome LA Cowboy’ highlights their skills as interpreters and
cultural synthesizers, taking tunes best known for renditions by The Louvin Brothers,
Doc Watson, and Peter Rowan and making them distinctly their own. The lilting “Katie
Dear” spins beauty from tragedy, while the bittersweet “Last Thing On My Mind” bids
a fond farewell to a lover, and the laidback “Lonesome LA Cowboy” captures the days
and nights of a West Coast troubadour.
“Even though it was written in 1973, that song couldn’t be more accurate of life here
in LA as a musician,” says Blasucci. “There’s a line in there about Barney’s Beanery,
though, and we changed it to the Semi-Tropic because we live nearby and we’re there
all the time. We made it a little more personal to our story.”
That’s ultimately what Mapache does best, reaching into the past to create something
truly modern and deeply personal. Their sound isn’t an exercise in nostalgia, but
rather a link in a chain that stretches far behind and ahead of them. ‘Lonesome LA
Cowboy’ draws strength from what’s come before and lays the groundwork for what’s
to come next, building on tradition at the same time as it creates its own. If Mapache
can do all that in an hour, just imagine what the future holds.

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