Interview with Arizona’s Folk Phenoms: Run Boy Run

A few years ago, we discovered an incredible Americana/Folk band from Tucson, Arizona at the Beachland Tavern during a bluegrass and folk showcase. That band would be Run Boy Run and they’ve been truly impressing us with their captivating strings and lyric-filled sound ever since that fateful late winter evening. (If you’re a frequent GWG reader, you’ll recognize them from our SW Chorizo Egg Skillet with SW Folk & Americana post.)

Run Boy Run

Since our paths crossed, we, of course, try to catch them whenever we can. The last time they were in town was this past fall. I was yet again blown away by their breathtaking vocals that often blend into a hypnotizingly beautiful sound, and their extremely well executed instrumentals – both rehearsed bars and improvisations. I was able to capture a few video clips at the show – check ‘em out below! (Still working with an iPhone, but the quality is good enough to highlight their energy, beauty, and talent.)

While the opener, The Luckey Ones, was finishing up, I noticed they were enjoying some of Beachland’s tasty grub and knew then I HAD to ask them for an interview. After their wonderful performance, I had a chance to thank them and chat for a bit. They were incredibly fun and engaging to talk to and are clearly very passionate about their music – and about food too! You’ll see in the interview below that they have some great recommendations for both recipe and restaurant adventures.

Run Boy RunThe Band:

Matt Rolland (fiddle, guitar)

Grace Rolland (vocals, cello)

Bekah Sandoval Rolland (vocals, fiddle, guitar)

Jen Sandoval (vocals, mandolin)

Jesse Allen (Bass)

 The Interview:

I remember one of you saying that the majority of the band met in college? Could you tell us more about that and how the band was officially formed? Did any of you study music as your major?

Matt Rolland: The band was official formed at the University of Arizona fall of 2009. We came together to play old time string band music, and decided to compete on something of a lark at the Pickin’ in the Pines Festival in Flagstaff, AZ. The judges liked our songs and sound well enough to pick us as the winners. That gave us an opening festival slot the following year and we ran with it. Bekah minored in music in college, but other than that it’s always been a non-academic pursuit for all of us, although several of us did take private lessons for several years.

Where and when was your first official gig?

Matt: We opened up for a small jazz duo at a now defunct 24-7 grill in downtown Tucson. They saw us practicing on my front porch and asked us to come play with them. That’s the Tucson music scene in a nutshell for you!

How did you come up with the name “Run Boy Run”

Matt:  It comes from an old fiddle tune I learned from Benny Thomasson, a legendary Texas fiddler. We liked the energy and symmetry in the name. I’ve heard that’s also where Charlie Daniels’ got the classic lyric, “Fire on the mountain, run boys run”, that appears in The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

In the “About” section of your website, it reads: “deeply rooted familial connection to traditional American music, Run Boy Run didn’t come lately to their sound; it’s in their collective blood.” Could you elaborate on that a little?

Matt: We all come from musical families. Jesse’s mom is a classically trained opera singer who performs and teaches in Tucson. The Rollands grew up in a family band, their dad a cowboy fiddler of regional renown and their mom a cellist and orchestra teacher. The Sandovals also grew up in a family bluegrass band, their grandfather being the best-known bluegrass festival promoter in the southwest. It was a natural coming together of musical history to start playing together, and there was a unique chemistry in what we were doing.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

Grace Rolland: For the sounds of Run Boy Run, we are collectively very inspired and influenced by the instrumental prowess of the Punch Brothers, and vocally of women like Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris and Patsy Cline. I love Patsy Cline.

Jen Sandoval: I really love Alison Krauss, Crooked Still, The Carter Family, and right now, the Punch Brothers, for really pushing the envelope musically.

While your instrumentals are very impressive, the vocals are incredible. Have all of you taken professional lessons? Do you have any advice, tricks, or tips for aspiring vocalists and voice students?

Grace: We have all at some point been a part of a choir or taken lessons. When it comes to treating the voice with kindness with the aim to preserve its health, I regularly drink warm water with honey in the mornings and if I go out to a restaurant; and when we are touring I try to abstain from coffee or alcohol, which are both very dehydrating.

Jen: I took vocal lessons for four years while in high school. I was trained in the classical style of singing, and I definitely recommend it to any and everyone looking to become more serious about their vocal skills. It helped me tremendously with technique, and it’s really important to sing properly in order to increase the longevity of a vocal career, no matter what style of music you are singing.

What is the best place to eat that you’ve discovered on tour?

Bekah Sandoval Rolland: Honestly, I find that I crave light, healthy food–greens, whole grains, lean meats–while we’re on the road. Maybe that’s why I tend to gravitate toward Vegan and Vegetarian restaurants when we’re stopping through a major city? I usually opt for those when scanning a list of restaurants on Yelp, even though I’m not vegan or vegetarian. When you’re sedentary in a van for hours at a time, a heavy, greasy meal sitting in your stomach isn’t ideal (not that I find anything wrong with a heavy, greasy meal when I’m off the road, as detailed in my next answer!). When I leave a vegan or vegetarian restaurant having enjoyed a bisque made from scratch and a salad, or curried veggies and homemade bread, I just feel like I’ve done my road-weary body a favor. Two vegetarian and vegan restaurants that stand out in my memory because their food was DELICIOUS are The Vertical Diner in SLC, UT, and the Morning Glory Cafe in Eugene, OR.

Grace: Our very first time through the gulf region, in Baton Rouge, we knew we had to have some good Creole seafood. So, we asked around and everyone sent us to a place called The Chimes — and it was AMAZING. We ordered boudin balls, shrimp and grits, blackened shrimp remoulade, crawfish étouffée, and red beans and rice with sausage. It was a major culinary treat.

Jen: I will never forget eating Cajun food in Baton Rouge. I had an amazing shrimp étouffée dish at Boutin’s Restaurant. It was fantastic.

Do you ever make meals together, as a band? If so, what are a couple of your favorites?

Grace: We bunked ourselves away in a cabin retreat to prepare material for our Something to Someone album (see bandcamp player above), and each night was capped off by a big group meal planned each night by a different member of the band. We’ve shared our favorite dishes with each other; enchiladas, lentil soup, boxed wine, and lots and lots of salads. That’s a special moment in our band history. When we’re on tour, though, which is what brings us together now, and without kitchens to cook in, we always start the day off with a coffee shop stop.

Jen: We definitely cook a lot together on band retreats when we work up new tunes. We definitely have had more then one “build your own taco or burrito night ” where we just put out a bunch of toppings and salsas. We are all Arizona natives, so naturally we appreciate a good burrito.

What restaurant do each of you miss most when you’re on the road and what dish is a must-try?

Bekah: I miss a couple of restaurants in Matt’s and my neighborhood (downtown Tucson), both of which are famous for their breakfast menus. The first is Proper, a new little restaurant with a chic, modern feel, and the other is the Cup Cafe, which is inside the famous Hotel Congress (famous because it’s one of the many locations where the notorious gangster John Dillinger hid out and was eventually caught). My current favorite breakfast meal is the biscuits and gravy at Proper. I literally crave them on a daily basis. The biscuits are soft and moist and beautifully crumbly, and the gravy is cheesy and delicious, with a nice, spicy Southwestern kick. A must-try should you ever be in Tucson!

Grace: I most miss being able to cook while we are on tour! My standard dinner dish at home: chicken cooked with raisins, a touch of curry, olive oil, atop a bed of quinoa and spinach greens, and a side of red-pepper spiced tomato soup. Yum!

Jen: I really miss Cafe Poca Cosa in Tucson. Amazing Mexican food, and the menu is updated all of the time, which keeps it exciting.

We know you’ve been up to Ohio several times, do you have a favorite restaurant you’ve tried up here?

Bekah: The Village Pump on Kelley’s Island. Their lobster bisque was to die for! In fact, I liked it so much that I went back, not once over the course of the weekend, but TWICE to get my fill of it before we had to be on our way. And I STILL didn’t get my fill of it. I crave it all the time. Aching to get back there, especially because, as you can imagine, good seafood is hard to come by here in Tucson.

Grace: The good folks at the Beachland Ballroom have fed us dinner when we’ve played there, and their food is always a great way to start off before the show.

Jen: Every time we play in Cleveland, Ohio, we eat at the venue, which is called The Beachland Tavern. REALLY good food and live music to boot! They have a big variety ranging from chicken and waffles to enchiladas.

What meal or dish would you “garnish your grooves” with?

Grace: Blackberry pie.

Bekah: I would garnish my grooves with some meat and potatoes, specifically some standard bangers and mash–classic, hearty, heavy, satisfying. One might use these same adjectives to describe RBR’s latest album…so, yeah. I think the two would pair nicely.

Jen: I would say a nice earthy grilled sockeye salmon with maybe a maple and ginger glaze. Simple, but really packs a punch with flavor!

What are your plans and goals for the future?

Jen: I would love to tour Europe with the band. I have never been, and it would be amazing to see all that history for myself, and taste the cuisine, of course!

Bekah: I would like to continue to play music, write, tour, travel, and invest in the community of Tucson, both as a general community member and as a musician. Specifically, I’d like to get Matt and my folk music blog, de Folk, up and running and post regularly to that, and continue to write for both RBR and my Electronica side project.

As expected by many (including us), Run Boy Run continues to gain more and more recognition in the folk/bluegrass scene and we’re really exited to see (and hear) them take their already fantastic sound even further. We’re also looking forward to hearing more about their side projects and other initiatives. Be sure to check them out when you get a chance – you’ll definitely be in for a major treat.

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