From early in his music career, Klauder developed a passion for traditional American Music styles and genres.
Caleb Klauder is a prolific storyteller, songwriter, and musician from the Pacific Northwest who’s been touring the world for over twenty years, connecting with tens-of-thousands of people through his records and live performances.
From Foghorn Stringband’s old-time bluegrass wails to the cajun yips of Cajun Country Revival, he’s found a number of styles to explore and express himself.
At Do-It-Ourselves Fest, Caleb Klauder will feature his band, Caleb Klauder’s Country Band. Unlike other string bands, the instruments are electrified, allowing him to apply his innovative style to traditional American Music forms. Caleb Klauder is creating a new American traditional music and telling his own story while doing it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What do you know about Do-It-Ourselves Fest?
I know very little. We play in California quite a bit and met a great fiddler named Jan Purat who plays with The Bow Ties. We loved the music so much and became great friends with the guys, especially Jan. He sat in when our fiddler couldn’t be there, from time to time, so we got to play with him. He mentioned this festival and wanted us to come play it; that he is friends with some of the guys who started it. Jan lobbied to get us in there. I haven’t really been to that area in the Santa Cruz mountains, so I’m excited to be there.
From country, to old-time, to bluegrass, and to cajun music, you have so many bands that play different styles of Americana. What do you like about playing each of these styles?
It all unfolds, things come to you as much as you make them. I grew up in small little community up in Washington and started writing songs with my best buddy growing up. We would write songs and have concerts for our parents. We got into college and kept playing originals and the more we did it, we just did originals. We gathered some people around us. At about 23 years-old it kind of hit me that I didn’t know any kind of American music. I am self-taught. I had this longing for something more than just my original songs, something more grounding.
Perfect coincidence. I got presented the opportunity to play the fiddle. My mom used to play the fiddle in this old-timey kind of band, so the fiddle was something that was always this cool thing but never made available. So, I started learning the fiddle and started getting into old-time music around me in my community in Portland and finding the young people playing it. So, I dove head-first into it: it being the grandfather of bluegrass. The more I got into it, the more I knew it was what I wanted.
I was still a songwriter and learning all this old time stuff and playing fiddle... picked up mandolin. It just sort of left my songs behind for a little while and just played old-time music and created Foghorn String Band.
I was playing all this old-time music and I was still writing songs. So, some of my songs were like these older-sounding, simplified, country songs. That became the country band where I was doing stuff that was a little bit different than the old-time music, mountain music, and ballads. It has a little more rousing melodies and acoustic sounds. The country was this melding of the electric and the acoustic instruments, that’s where my band fits. We got an electric steel guitar, upright bass, fiddle, drums, guitar, and mandolin. It’s almost bluegrass, almost country, almost rock-and-roll, but acoustic. It’s all about dancing.
Cajun is almost the same story, from moving, really old Cajun music to what it is now. We got some friends that are about the same age and we’ve been touring and crossing paths for years. Our music is the same language, but we’re doing English music and they’re doing French music.
Do you feel like you need to keep this type of music alive or are you doing it just because you’re gonna do it?
It’s a little bit of both. I love teaching those songs and helping pass them on. I think that music is bigger and greater than everyone. I kinda feel like I’m watching this train go by that goes on forever and I’m gonna grab on board when I can and listen to it and share it.
There’s this joke that old-time music is better than it sounds (laughs). It is pretty challenging to play. It sounds easy and looks easy to play from the outside but there is a lot of nuance to it and details. So, there’s a selfish thing in that, to want to challenge yourself to play it really well and have 500 to 600 tunes in your brain. But, I do really feel like this American tradition is so awesome and powerful to pass on.
Do you get a new perspective on American music when you go overseas?
I definitely think the international audience, as a general rule, is more interested. People just go mad for it in Australia. People in Ireland and England just go crazy for it. We played in Denmark one time and got this 1,000-person standing ovation with lighters. We brought out the banjo and everyone went crazy. We just went, “right on.”
You know that thing where if you’re a local musician you can’t get any gigs but when you go out of town people love you? It’s kind of like that but on a bigger scale. Especially in Ireland and England because a lot of the tunes and ballads came from there. That really, really old music. As far as traveling bands, Foghorn Stringband is one of the keepers of that kind of stuff. It’s pretty neat to be well-respected for that. I never thought about that very much, I just played from the heart as well and pure as I could. I was just honest.
I try to be really straight and pure and powerful with it because I feel a lot of power in that simplicity. I think simplicity is taken for granted. Playing slow and quiet really perfectly is really hard to do. Everyone wants to play faster and loud but playing slow and quiet is one of the challenges in music.
I heard you were in Malaysia and played a festival out there. What was that like?
We were at this world music fest that was put on by the board of tourism in the country. We were the first American band they ever had. They sort of rolled out the red carpet for us, we felt we were at the Olympics the way they showcased we were an American band. The weather was so hot.
Some of the bands came from their countries and we could tell the government was really behind them, Thailand for instance. They had their best musicians and they dressed them up and had a full stage setup, with those little microphones Janet Jackson would wear. They were wearing their traditional garb, it was a production. Then some of it was real traditional folk music. All those bands sat down. The more modern shows stood up. The tradition was clearly consistent. So as Foghorn Stringband we were proud of ourselves to be in that really traditional pocket.
Back at the hotel, they put all the bands in this one hotel and the hotel had a pool with a bar you could swim up to. The bar wasn’t being stocked by anyone so we had this open space in the middle of the pool we could go into. We’d bring our own beers and go down to the bar/service area and hang out and we could play music down there and hand out beers. It was a little session spot. So we went for eight days. There was a band from the Ivory Coast, really traditional drums and dancing. Those guys specifically came down and joined us at the session.
One guy brought his drum and another came and danced. We had seen them perform and it was really powerful. They started playing drums and their style. Then you have Foghorn Stringband and this Appalachian music with a banjo. They say banjo comes from Africa and you can hear those African rhythms coming through African-American culture and into old-time music. We were playing with the drummer and it was blowing my mind how real that connection is and how real those rhythms were. We couldn’t speak each other’s language, they had a translator and only spoke French.