Q&K: Five Questions with Lost Radio Rounders
ALBANY — In a sphere of new releases, Lost Radio Rounders takes a different approach.
The duo, which is comprised of Michael Eck and Tom Lindsay, finds its niche in music lost to history. Whether it be tunes sung by slaves during the Civil War, notes penned by soldiers during the Revolutionary War or songs that would have charted had Billboard been around in the 19th century, Eck and Lindsay find hidden gems of history and use them to tell a story.
Eck and Lindsay are not always a two-piece; the duo calls on its talented friends to supplement their work during public performances. Frequent collaborators include Mike Kelley (one of the most underrated and versatile musicians in the 518), Evan Conway and Paul “Bowtie” Jossman. Conway appears in almost all of LRR’s public performances, while Jossman is slated to appear through the rest of 2021 and Kelley appears as his schedule permits.
In this segment of Q&K, Nippertown’s Katie Lembo sat down with Eck and Lindsay to talk how old music can be brought to life, how history is something worth studying and how using music as a vehicle for storytelling can be a valuable tool in educating the masses.
Katie Lembo: You guys have a niche that is so distinctly unique. How were you originally exposed to these tunes?
Lost Radio Rounders: When we performed together in the ‘80s, we had a book lying around that highlighted a lot of these tunes. Both of us have a real thirst for American music and understanding the history behind it. As we kept diving into the history behind the music, we kept collecting books from figures like Carl Sandburg and other pivotal historical and musical figures. We quickly realized we were collecting a treasure trove of music that was in real danger of being lost.
KL: Much of this music is calling back to a time before any of us were born and, in many cases, times before the generation before us was born. As you continue to perform these songs, what different things do you take away from the performances?
LRR: The best way we can explain it is that the cream always rises. Some songs we use more than others. When we create our themes and programs, in many cases we insert songs that we don’t necessarily like, but are pivotal parts of the history we are trying to teach about. Our sets are education as much as they are history; when we play songs from the Confederacy, it’s not because we agree with the views of the Confederacy, but because those songs are extremely important parts of American history. We continue educating ourselves on the history of this music because we believe in the importance of it and how it can educate us about not only current events, but who the people before us were.
KL: With these institutional tunes, how do you balance maintaining the original whimsy while breathing new life and bringing new ears to a genre that has influenced the very core of modern music?
LRR: It comes down to storytelling. As we said, we don’t love every song we’ve performed; we’ve performed over 500 songs and to love each one would be impossible. But, what we love to do is take a collection of songs and tie them together to create a story. To really learn about the time and place of history, you not only need to understand the music, but the culture as well. Some of the songs we perform don’t pass the test for what is “respectful” in our modern culture — we have some songs that were performed in minstrel shows, and we look at those and eliminate any offensive or defamatory language so people can still understand the culture of it, but at the same time, it sheds a light on how different our cultures are and how much our culture has evolved.
KL: In many cases, an act with more than one person falls victim to one member overshadowing everyone else. However, you two are on pretty equal footing in all promotional materials, performances and appearances. How do you maintain that partnership so well?
LRR: The beauty of our partnership is simple: we have the same interests but complementary skillsets. When we set up for shows, one of us will work on the PA system and more of the atmosphere around the show while the other tunes the instruments and handles the semantics around the performance itself. We both have a deep love for what we do and we are able to maintain that love by staying out of each other’s way, while using our strengths to help the other succeed. Even when we include Bowtie, Evan and Mike, they bring such pivotal skills to the table that we don’t have that it works so well. All three of them are extremely important parts of our performances for at least the foreseeable future. We have so much respect and admiration for not only their talents, but the other guests we host.
KL: The music industry is now saturated with millions of people; even internet influencers are now dropping singles in the name of boosting their portfolios. How do you prevent yourselves from getting lost in the sauce?
LRR: It comes down to enjoying it. When we pick up our instruments and begin playing, people can see it’s something we really enjoy. We crack one another up, we banter with the audience, we read the vibe of the room and use that as an advantage in our performance. People can sense the love happening. Plus, since many of our shows are private performances or at places where we are the only people performing in that time slot, i.e. libraries, senior homes, etc., we receive a lot of adulation from being the only one there. These places are places where it’s not super loud and people aren’t occupied with the bar or with other distractions; it’s quiet, people sit down and listen and they’re often places where people love learning. Seeing the enjoyment on their faces and hearing their feedback — our favorite one is when they tell us they haven’t heard that song in years — is the most rewarding part of our journey.
This is the first segment of Nippertown’s newest column, Q&K, written by NYPA award-winning journalist and former The Spot 518 writer Katie Lembo. To be considered for a Q&K story, email [email protected]