Running with the Rumrunners
By: Pete Stegeman, August 13, 2011
Elise Hugus - Crooked Coast (formerly The Rumrunners) set the tone for summertime every Friday at Quick's Hole last year. Now that it's winter, they play for the masses at Grumpy's and in various settings in Boston.
When inclement weather recently forced the cancellation of their regular Sunday-evening gig outside Quick's Hole in Woods Hole, Luke James and the Rumrunners could have done what most bands might do: apologize to the restaurant’s guests, grumble a little over the lost revenue, pack up, and go home.
But to the Rumrunners, the only logical move was to move their gear around the corner to the Woods Hole Parking Garage and (with the kind permission of owner Donny Estes) put on a free show for friends, passersby, and bemused garage patrons headed for the Vineyard.
"(Expletive) the rain!" said singer/guitarist Luke James in a mass text message alerting fans to the change in plans. "Come get down and party with us anyway!"
Clearly, this is a band that, first and foremost, loves playing music and entertaining their fans.
The Rumrunners are the latest project put together by Woods Hole's own Luke James, who has been bringing his unique brand of rock to hometown fans for almost a decade.
He was a producer and rapper with Falmouth hip-hop collective Under Tha Influence before starting the Firewater Band, which achieved impressive local popularity, performing and recording with a revolving cast of talented musicians.
After moving to Boston, and following a stint as the leader of the Locksteadies, James now travels home to the Cape each week to play shows with the Rumrunners.
Incorporating the propulsive drumming of Charles Parker Walton (also of the Old Silver Band and The Love Project) with the tight grooves of bassist Ben Elder (also of Commonwealth), and James' stylized guitar and stories of life, death, love, and philosophy, the Rumrunners are now satisfying longtime fans and winning new converts.
InsideOUT's Pete Stegeman sat down with the Rumrunner frontman to ask about this latest venture and his musical roots.
InsideOUT- Although you do the occasional cover, the majority of your sets with the Rumrunners and with previous bands have been your own compositions. What inspires you to keep adding to an impressive catalogue of songs?
Luke James- Well, a lot of times it isn't necessarily things in my own life, but stories I hear or observations I make. I just listen to other people a lot and pick up on things... for example, I was at Grumpy's Pub, and an old grizzled drunk next to me ordered a vodka tonic. When asked what kind of vodka he wanted, he answered, "Tonight I'll drink whatever's in the well." I wrote that down on a napkin and before long I had an entire song based around that phrase.
I/O- Who are some artists that have had a lasting influence on you?
LJ- Bob Seger was the first recorded music I recall really being into. The first tape I owned was Guns N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction, which is obviously a mindblower to this day. Folk singer John Prine has always been a favorite. All these artists have a way with a story, which I try to do with my own stuff.
I like a lot of country and hip-hop for the same reason: straightforward storytelling. I have a lot of ska and reggae influences, but those are more stylistic. It's a way to bridge the musical gap between hip-hop and rock, and somehow fits my singing style.
I/O- You're living primarily in Boston now; how does the Cape's music scene compare to that of the "big city?"
LJ- I moved up to Boston for music, more or less, and it's a great place to play, but to me in a lot of ways the Cape has a more interesting scene. Maybe it's partly because I'm more entrenched here! But the venue owners are much nicer here, it's never a hassle to get booked or get paid, and the people often seem much more appreciative of what you're doing...they actually listen!
That said, Boston is definitely a music mecca; people come from all over to study and play there. It takes a huge amount of work to make it there, and unless you have a real fan base built up it can be a struggle.
I/O- What can we expect from the Rumrunners in the future? Are there plans for an album?
LJ- Well, the Rumrunners came together casually this summer, basically out of our gigs at Quick's Hole. It just seemed to click really well. Having Charles Walton behind the drums brings a certain level of positivity, energy and excitement...you feel like you really can't go wrong with him there. Ben Elder, like a bass player should be, is rock-solid. He can take whatever I throw at him, and that's good because we often change songs up a lot on the fly.
We're hoping to have an EP out by the end of August, working with John McNamara of Commonwealth who's a super local producer. We have a few great new songs we'd like to record and give away free online and on CD. There's a lot of potential here, but we just want to make sure it progresses organically.
I/O- As someone who's been a self-starter in the music business as a writer, producer and performer, do you have any advice for young people out there who have ambitions in the same direction?
LJ- Just start doing it, whenever and however you can, whether it's open mics, friends' parties, whatever...and do it a lot, 'cause you're gonna need a lot of practice! Understand that you're not gonna be great when you start, but don't be afraid to be a little delusional either. I was kicked out of the first band I was in! It took me years and years before I moved from garages and basements onto a real stage. Make the music you really feel like making. Play with a lot of different people; you'll learn from all of them. And have fun! With the Rumrunners, I think people listening and watching can tell we're having fun, and they respond to that. Before they know it, they're having fun too.