We will go down to Madison…record it “LIVE”…kinda like playing on stage…sounds like us on our best night ever…it has a very organic and live feel to it.
We had the chance to chat with The Troubadogs, an eclectic La Crosse area band known for its vocal harmonies, diverse repertoire and original songs. We chat about their origins with music, songwriting and recording during Covid, and we get the inside scoop on their new and potentially last album “The Last Walk”.
Randy Erickson 01:37
My name is Randy, Randy Erickson. I was born in Rochester, grew up in the Twin Cities, moved here in 1990. And I got into music because my dad was a guitar player and he gifted me with a Mosrite Ventures model when I was in sixth grade. I had no right to have such a cool guitar, but I always loved music and especially rock and roll. And yeah, I didn’t really start seriously playing until after high school. And when I when I moved down here it was about almost eight years before I found anybody here to play with. And that was these guys.
Chris Van Alstine 02:19
Alright, I’m Chris Van Alstine, our keyboard player in the band. Born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas. I lived in Wisconsin with a minor stint in both Iowa and Kentucky. I wanted to be a guitar player when I was really really young. And my dad got me a violin. He wanted me to be an absurd violinist. And he said, well, if you get the violin thing done, then we’ll move to the guitar. And then when he finally got me a guitar when I was like 12 years old, it was some kind of sears robot model, which meant that it was actually just a toy guitar, it wasn’t a real guitar. The reason I found out about that was because I took it into music shop and asked them to tune it for me because I want to learn how to play right. And they said, well, we tuned to this best as we could but this isn’t a real guitar and I was crushed. Yeah, anyways, I then moved on to playing cello for about four years in high school. And I had already started writing music in my senior year of high school, I found out that it was like really good therapy, still is. I was a late bloomer, I taught myself to play piano, I had six months of lessons, but I already picked up too many bad habits along the way. As far as fingerings going, I just wasn’t willing to relearn. And it was mostly for self expression anyways, and so. And I’ve been in and out of bands throughout, a folk band with Dick Mial. And then he was the one that introduced me to the Troubadogs. Back to you, Bob.
Randy Erickson 03:53
Chris, you forgot to mention show choir. You were in show choir.
Chris Van Alstine 03:58
That, I was at Show Choir for one year. And I do not count that because the only reason I was in it was because I was in madrigal singers. Before that. I got to dress up in the cool tights and knights robes and all that kind of crap. And show choir was lame in my opinion. You don’t do frickin Twisted Sister to kid pop music. Just stop. I was in vocal jazz in college too. That was probably the most challenging thing I’ve done as far as music wise.
Ken Isler 04:28
So I got involved in music-
Randy Erickson 04:34
Who are you?
Ken Isler 04:36
Hey, I’m Ken Isler, drummer in the band. And yeah, I got involved with the beat- the coming of the Beatles, you know, and Sullivan Show and all that. I spent, in fact, I spent half my time taking pictures off television with my mom’s in somatic camera of the Beatles on television, which none of which turned out because I didn’t how to use the flash. And anyway, um, so that kind of got me going and eventually, I got a drum. And then another drum, and built a setup and all that. I went to a Catholic high school and all the cool rock musicians in the area were, they went to Central High School. I never got into a band until a couple years after, after high school, got playing and got a little better and, and got to meet some, play with some neat musicians. And eventually, I ended up moving down to Florida and I was down there for a couple years and got into a band down there. So that was kind of cool, whole different type of music. Missy Came Back and a few other bands. And Dan Backhaus, who was the bass player in this band knew me and asked me, hey, you know, we were looking for a drummer. And so, yeah, I got involved with The Troubadogs probably late 90s or early 2000s. Late 90s, I guess it was, yeah, we had a lot of fun. And it was cool that band members had original songs. And I’d never been in a band and had people that had written original songs. So that was really cool.
Brent Hanifl 06:26
So how did the band get its start? You know, it sounds like a lot of people are coming in once the band was already kind of formed. What was the origin story?
Randy Erickson 06:33
I can think I can kind of explain that. Chris was in a band with Dick and another guy called Penumbra and they’re kind of an acoustic folk.
Chris Van Alstine 06:47
It was a folk band.
Randy Erickson 06:48
Oh, yeah. They were having a campfire jam up in Pearl Street Park. And how did Tom end up there?
Chris Van Alstine 06:57
Actually Penumbra broke up. And Dick knew Tom from work. And there was a campout thing there. And I think Dan was a part of that as well. They asked me to come along at the time, I had a keyboard that ran on batteries. So I brought my harmonicas and my, my keyboard and we all sat around the campfire and just played all sorts of different stuff that was and discovered that we had a knack for harmonies.
Randy Erickson 07:24
And Dick, there’s no Harry. Tom and Dick both worked at the Tribune and and I did too and so when one day, asked me if I wanted to come jam with those guys.
Chris Van Alstine 07:37
In the basement.
Randy Erickson 07:39
I mean, yeah, in the basement of a big house. And we did and we’re doing real real folky stuff Gillian Welch, I think Sun Volt came later. What else do you remember we were doing?
Chris Van Alstine 07:53
Classic country, Americana, some folk stuff. A little bit of blues here and there some some classic rock.
Randy Erickson 08:00
The band name came to me in a vision, a man on a flaming dog biscuit. No, it was a chihuahua on a flaming dog biscuits said to me henceforth thou shall be the Troubadogs, like troubadours with tails. And your motto shall be arf for arfs sake. No that’s not really happened the red turbo dog, turbo dog beer sticker on my guitar case and said how about Troubadogs and well that’s not that bad.
Brent Hanifl 08:38
What is your process for you know songwriting? Is each person brings in some work and kind of works on it, or is it something that one person writes it all or how are you guys going about that process?
Chris Van Alstine 08:49
I think for the most part as far as the actual songwriting part of it goes it’s pretty much a completed idea with the lyrics melody and such but the format and embellishments that’s all done with the band, they each add their own individuality to it for each song. Which is pretty much the way it was when we did the recording, too, we all had different ideas on what to do and we practiced quite a bit before even going into studio to make sure we had the song sound pretty tight to you know to save time. But yeah, as far as songwriting goes, we pretty much had are all already had the songs, the concepts already in our head with lyrics,
Randy Erickson 09:33
These songs were, some of them date back a long ways, like Must Be Love or Something Like That, I wrote in when I was in college. And in 1986 it was kind of a different, it sounded a bit different back then, when I was in the throes of punk rock. But Chris had this idea to do this album as a way to sort of commemorate our musical journey together. And Chris, and Dick, and I each had written songs for the band. And Chris said, pick four. And we’ll rehearse them. We’ll go down to Madison, to Blast House Studios to record it live. So all the basic tracks were recorded live. We had eyeballs on each other, it was almost like we’re playing on stage. And you know, we’re able to clean up stuff. Like, it sounds like us on our best night ever. And, you know, with the best sound man ever. It has a very organic and live feel to it.
Brent Hanifl 10:41
So how was it recording? Like during COVID? You know, I followed along on social media, of you guys going through the process?
Chris Van Alstine 10:48
It was, to start it was different. It kept getting delayed and kept getting delayed. I’m really not really, I’m fairly good friends with the the engineer down there, Landon Archons. I had done some previous projects down there with a different band, and I was blown away by how good his ear was, that he could hear things and catch things that would completely slipped by me and I kind of pride myself on being meticulous with sound. And when he did that, that I was like, okay, doesn’t matter what I’m into, if there’s ever going to be recording, that’s where I’m going. And I was adamant about that. But we had to sign waivers. And we had to agree to wear masks, except when we were doing the singing. When we first started, we were practicing with masks anyways, we were all in the process of getting vaccinated when we first started, and then we finally got all vaccinated and going there. But the idea was, we couldn’t bring anybody else along. No band b****es. Basically, it was just just us in there doing there were going to be no distractions. We were down there 9, 8,9,10 hours a day for one weekend a month, which I kind of preferred from the previous project. Because one month, you have an entire month to listen to, and process everything. And we needed everybody’s ears to go through and pick out things that they noticed that they would like to have fixed or changed. Then we would go back the next month. It wasn’t always every month, but we tried to May or June, people started to get back into the throes of trying to get into studio record. But for the most part, it was just us going in there once a month and there really wasn’t any competition for trying to get in.
Brent Hanifl 12:36
So I think your other bandmate joined us. Can you hear us?
Dan Backhaus 12:40
Brent Hanifl 12:41
All right. Good.
Chris Van Alstine 12:42
Randy Erickson 12:44
We all have dog nicknames. I’m Randog. Dick.
Chris Van Alstine 12:48
Dick is the only one without a dog in.
Randy Erickson 12:51
Kenny is K-Dawg as you might imagine. And Tom is T-Dawg, another logical name. And because he’s very big, we call him Marmaduke. And then Dick is the Mando. Man.
Chris Van Alstine 13:04
And I’m East-er Dog because I lived for most of the time I lived further east than anybody.
Brent Hanifl 13:11
That’s good. So recently, we kind of touched on it, you know, the new album, The Last Walk came out. How did that project, you know, come about do you have prior albums for this? Or is this kind of your last hurrah.
Chris Van Alstine 13:25
This was our one and only hurrah, I guess it was my concept was that I wanted, it would have been tragic for all of the music that we played and for all of our fans to not have access to what we had done and what we had created with this band. And it is this band has always left a lasting impression on me. So it was important that there was corny as it sounds or whatever pompous it that there was a legacy for not only our fans, but for our friends and our kids and stuff, that they had something that they could look back on because every gig we always there were always so many people that we just remembered and had so many good memories with from the Twin Cities to Rome, Wisconsin to you know, Viroqua and points unknown. We were we were even in a coffee shop in Winona, I remember once. It’s just something that I wanted. And I knew that no offense to the rest of the guys. The rest of them were getting all up there in age, I’m not. And I was the catalyst for all of this was when Dick Mial, Mando Man’s wife had passed away. And that was a harsh dose of reality. And I was like, you know what, it’s time to put up or shut up because I’ve had this idea in my head for a while. I just decided that at that point in time to let everybody know, hey, I’ve got this idea before we all you know go our separate ways. They were all on board with it. So it was really cool.
Brent Hanifl 15:00
What’s next for you guys? Is there anything coming down the road or does it kind of leave it off as a sad but joyful moment with this last album?
Randy Erickson 15:07
I think I think what I’m thinking is if Martin Scorsese calls and wants us to film a final concert, we’ll do it. I mean, I’m in you guys. Yeah. Okay. But otherwise, yeah, we, I think, you know, we all-
Chris Van Alstine 15:25
It was a reference, one last second Randy. That was a reference to The Band’s The Last Waltz.
Randy Erickson 15:32
Yeah, for you kids out there that’s like-
Chris Van Alstine 15:34
Which is why we self-titled our album The Last Walk, Randy actually came up with that.
Randy Erickson 15:42
I can picture us playing again, you know, maybe in a different configuration. I mean, Dick has just moved out of town, but you guys want in?
Chris Van Alstine 15:52
Every once in a while I could see doing that I just I know harmonies. And what we were able to produce just on a whim is always going to be special to me. So I could see doing that I have music attention deficit disorder. I get bored with one style of music too much. And so I’m always bouncing from place to place. I mean, I’ve been in a jam band, a cheesy 80s band. Yes, even with the spandex. A folk band, The Troubadogs, which is by far my favorite band. Yeah. So I’m open to anything.
Brent Hanifl 16:30
It’s been a fun album to listen to.
Ken Isler 16:33
Brent Hanifl 16:34
Talking about the local La Crosse area, everything from you know down at Fox Hollow to there’s just the different references to this region has kind of been enjoyable to listen to and the production value is really good. So it’s been fun to listen to. And also, you know, Randy being the famous music writer for the La Crosse area. It’s nice to see his talents come to light.
Chris Van Alstine 16:56
Brent Hanifl 16:57
So if people want to find out more, pick up the album, what’s the best avenue for them to go to?
Chris Van Alstine 17:01
Give a whistle, we usually come calling.
Randy Erickson 17:05
Can be inaudible to regular people. But yeah.
Chris Van Alstine 17:09
There’s a Facebook page, you can always message us there and Randy runs the what is that site?
Randy Erickson 17:17
Chris Van Alstine 17:18
Randy Erickson 17:23
Yeah, Reverb Nation. reverbnation.com/troubadogs. It’s also available on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, streaming sites, YouTube. Yeah, we might have to make some music videos. Reverb Nation.
Brent Hanifl 17:33
Amy Gabay 17:38
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La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.
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