The revolving door that is the Underground Township brings together musicians from all styles and backgrounds to form a unique blend of Americana, rock and roots.
Based out of Austin, Texas, band leader Graham Wilkinson along with Wayne Dalchau, Chris Stringer and James Levy make up the core group to which any number of artists can be added.
Traveling around the country in a van with eight people, two dogs and a trailer of instruments they ended up at an open-mic in Loveland, Colo. in between shows in Cheyenne and Denver.
“We just book a gig as far away as we think we want to go, like Colorado or New York and try to fill in the gaps,” Wilkinson said.
On this particular tour, a spring snowstorm threw a monkey wrench into their plans.
“The tour has been crazy, the first gig was canceled because we had trouble with our trailer and we got there late. The second show, the blizzard came in through Lubbock, Texas from Colorado and no one came out, there was like 15 people at the show in a venue that could hold 300 people.” Wilkinson said. “Then the next day, we were going to Denver because we were supposed to be in Denver Friday night but we hit the blizzard in Amarillo and got stuck. Zero visibility on all the highways so all the highways were shut down. We stayed in Amarillo for a day and just hung out in the hotel room. We woke up real early and drove from Amarillo to Wyoming yesterday, and we made it.”
“We’ve had five different drummers, two different keyboard players, three different guitarists, and there’s horn players that get up with us sometimes they’re all on the new album,” Graham Wilkinson said. “We have guest musicians from percussion players to horns, there can be nine people on stage with the Underground Township but it can be a trio or I can be playing solo. It’s developed into this community of musicians that, you know, if Wayne wants to go off to Thailand for a month, which he’s done before, there’s two other bass players that can easily fill in, they know all my songs.”
Citing influences that range from Ella Fitzgerald to Bob Marley and Bob Dylan Wilkinson’s musical roots started with the church. “My dad’s a Methodist minister and I was born and raised in the church so a lot of church music,” he said.
“But somewhere around 10 or 11 I started listening to my own music,” he pointed to his dreadlocks saying, “Bob Marley was the first person, obviously… Folk roots, roots American, folk music, blues, bluegrass, country, a little reggae and all the world music.” He takes inspiration from his travels also – he’s spent time in Micronesia and Greece.
The band brings in different styles as well, “James Levy from New York was one of my brother’s friends,” Wilkinson said. His brother, Aaron, who passed away in 2003 was a member of the Moldy Peaches. “James reminds me of like, Frank Sinatra, his voice is kind of croony, he’s got a deep voice. Chris was just a friend from Arkansas, he sounds like classic country, like Patsy Cline, George Jones. And I’ve got kind of a growl, a gruff and tough thing. There’s three very distinctive voices.”
The name “Underground Township” comes from some writing on an Ethiopian funk CD that Wayne had and subsequently suggested for the band’s name. After knocking the idea at first, they decided to go with it and “it stuck.”
“That’s how the name for the new album came about, we were joking about, we already had over like 15 musicians on the album outside of the core band and we were like, ‘it’d be really funny if we took yearbook photos of everybody that comes to play on it’ and then we were like, ‘that’s a stupid idea,'” Wilkinson laughed.
The new album, Yearbook, also features Austin favorites Alejandro Escovedo, Lloyd Maines and Hayes Carll.
And as for the music, Wilkinson said “I sing love songs and I can sing a funny song, but there’s a lot of songs that have ties to social justice and to our government and to our position in the world and where we should be with our resources. I think that’s really important for people to be aware of. But it’s about having a good time, and it’s all about sanity for me on a basic level.”
Photo by Bill Ellison