What does Cumberland Funk sound like? Or a boogie circus? Maybe soul-inspired melodies and lyrics that are colored with sometimes the perfect touch of twang, and other times the right amount of feel-good beats? Whatever it is, these terms describe LUTHI, the nine-member big band for a new age. Although they’re from all over, LUTHI the band is the brainchild of singer and performer Christian Luthi, ever since his move to Nashville, Tennessee. Recently, the band has been coming into the musical spotlight shining down over the east coast—from being a part of the pre-party for this year’s Suwannee Hulaween festival, to their upcoming show opening for Moon Taxi at The Tabernacle in Atlanta on New Years Eve.
This Friday, December 1st, LUTHI makes a return to North Carolina, where they will play Pisgah Brewery for the second time. Last time they boogied through the area, it was a pretty memorable night all around. Take a listen to some of the music of LUTHI, it would be doing yourself a nice favor. In the meantime, here’s what Luthi the man had to say to The Poke Around.
The Poke Around: LUTHI’S Pisgah show is this Friday, we’re looking forward to that.
Christian Luthi: Yeah, I’d never been there until the last time we played there, and it was super cool. It reminded me kinda of where I went to college in Madison, Wisconsin. We’re slowly building our posse there. We’ve played all over the south east but never really there before. They have some really stellar beers at Pisgah Brewery. We had a blast going there and checking it out.
You yourself studied theatre and voice performance early on. Was music always the career goal for you?
Yeah, it definitely was. I didn’t really know what capacity that would end up being the case. I had never really been around so many people that were such talented musicians, growing up. In school, of course there were talented people…But coming down here to Nashville, I started to write a bunch of stuff just on acoustic, and go all over the place, playing wherever I could just by myself.
We made an album, but as that progressed, we started to play out live a lot, with the band. So it kinda took off from there. But as a kid, I always played in small clubs, almost trailer size, and I was eleven or twelve when I started playing drums and singing at a lot of local clubs.
As I read about LUTHI, I keep seeing the phrase “make it weird?”
I think we just wanted to make it something that was not the average show that you’d go to. Something that people could look forward to and have more of an experience than just showing up, checking out some tunes and having a couple beers and heading home. I think it slowly turned into a team event, a team party. That’s an easy way to explain to people that you’re not gonna be going home early (laughs).
With a big band like yours: Does everybody in the band contribute to the sound of what LUTHI is?
It’s definitely a team effort. Obviously with nine of us, everyone has a few things to say about pretty much everything. It is a blending of everyone’s input. And it’s actually a really cool thing, because more than one of the players went to school for music performance as well, whether that was on guitar, or Amber is on saxophone, she arranged a lot of the horn parts for the new record we’ve been working on. And Robert on trumpet, I think he grew up doing a fair share of musical theatre and stuff too, so…you can just see the eclectic mix of all the different backgrounds of people, and how that comes together.
You know, I used to play guitar, and grew up playing drums and bass and stuff, and at some point, with Ivey playing guitar, and so many different pieces, we opted to kind of do the Joe Cocker thing. And it’s been a blast, because everyone can kind of specialize in the instrumentation, and the flow of how it is on stage. So yeah…we’ve been calling it this thing, too, ‘Boogie Circus,’ which is hilarious. But it’s a lot of people, and it’s a lot of passing the torch, because it seems like that would be insane, to have nine different opinions. But we all grew up five to ten years together, some of the guys even longer, so we really respect everyone’s opinions. It works really well, so…
Have you ever faced a challenge, in the live setting, of walking a line between letting things get as wild and free as they might, and keeping the music tight and focused?
Yeah, we’ve been walking that line of, what’d I say is…there was a time when we were cutting our teeth and playing these longer sets in Nashville where, sometimes you’d get a little carried away. But now we’ve honed in on even certain solo sections and stuff. Yeah, obviously there’s a chance for it to get a little bit weird, but it’s still focused, there’s certain cues to let everybody know this section is wrapping up, or whatever. Much like, I guess, cues in either musical theatre or in some jambands, that go on and you’re like, “How do they even know that section is even wrapping up?” It’s just this kind of communicative body language, and also the parts that we’ve developed, to make sure that even in the craziest setting, we all still kinda know what’s going on.
I try to think about a listener that didn’t spend their whole life playing guitar, or singing or this or that. Like, we want to make it weird, but just weird enough. It’s a vocally-driven kind of jam project, which is what makes it exciting, because we have to come back to the basis of what the songs are, and we do it consistently very well. So there’s a little something for everyone.
Sometimes you’re going with the flow even just with me (laughs). Sometimes I’ll throw them some audibles, we’ll call them, and they’re always on their toes, you know?
One of the first things that stood out, checking out your music, was the presence of the two dynamic vocalists up front, you and Amber Woodhouse. You guys are like the twin killer singers.
Yeah, and we grew up listening to different stuff. I listened to a fair share of funk and things of that nature, as a kid, but not nearly as much as she did, like Al Green, and like now I’m growing into listening more to Curtis Mayfield. But as I was growing up I was digging into, well like I mentioned, Joe Cocker, and like Mick Jagger and David Bowie, so this blending of that is really cool. She went to school for sax performance, unlike me who went for vocal performance, so we all look at things differently, and it’s a really cool blending.
Twin killers, that’s a great way to describe it (laughs). And we found each other, you know? We really try to encourage each other to step it up, and make it different every night.
LUTHI has played some cool stuff lately, like a pre-party for Hulaween? Pre and after-parties are usually a great showcase for bands to play.
Yeah, we played three different Halloween things. We played Hulaween, then we played Acme, which was awesome. That’s a local venue where…a lot of times, playing those longer winded shows, where we kind of learned to make it weird but not too weird (laughs). That’s our local venue that we’ve played a lot. We ended up playing an after-party for Perpetual Groove and Tauk, and that was a blast. In Atlanta, we’re playing The Tabernacle with our friends Moon Taxi. We’re super excited for that, we thought that’d be a good opportunity for us to get our feet wet.
I think a lot of that jam crowd, they really enjoy what we do. I think we get along with most every crowd. Any sort of party dynamic, it’s like…well it’s kind of funny, we have our thing of keeping it weird, but we don’t want that to freak anyone out at a show. We have a few dynamic songs that will be super hype, and a few others in the mix like that.
But yeah parties are our thing, that’s why we decided to play three different Halloween shows, and to play on New Years Eve. I’m slowly realizing that there won’t be many New Years Eves in the future where we won’t be playing music, which I’m totally fine with.
In the meantime, you have new recorded stuff on the horizon?
Yeah, we are currently working on a full-length record. Realistically, by the time that goes through all the mixing and cutting the vinyl and all that stuff…it’s definitely going to be mid-spring for the full-length. But those recordings from The Basement East, we’re pressing those to a seven-inch vinyl, and that’s going to be available at our show in the first week in January. Obviously you can listen to those songs on YouTube, because they’re released, but these are newly mixed and mastered versions of those tracks, and pressed.
I’m excited to bring it home and have my folks throw it on their old school record player (laughs). It’ll be the first vinyl that we’ve pressed, and I’ve been in Nashville making music for eight years. So it’s been a long time coming.
To find out more about the band, head to their website at at http://www.luthimusic.com/