A galvanizing force on the Bay Area indie rock scene since launching serendipitously in 2013, Junk Parlor is that crazy-rare band whose vibe is so driven by joyful schizophrenia that it transcends easy genre trappings.
Born from the wild musical wanderings of Jason Vanderford, renowned for his five years recording and touring with gypsy jazz sensation The Hot Club of San Francisco, their energizing musical collage includes 50’s rock and roll rumbling atop gypsy rhythms, a bit of Gypsy Rhumba, tango, Eastern Euro/Hungarian music, bellydance, punk…Vanderford was raised on “rock and roll and punk and everything under the sun,” so other sounds are certain to appear as the gypsy junk rockers continue their jam.
The songs on their mostly vocal 2013 debut Wild Tones and predominantly instrumental follow-up Melusina (2015) have earned them comparisons to Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Gogol Bordello, Dead Kennedys and Tom Waits. One fan called it “Crooner Punk” because of Vanderford’s beckoning, low range vocals – but those are just the centerpiece of a vibe that includes the singer’s acoustic banjo and rhythm guitar, the polyrhythmic grooves of drummer, cajon player and group cofounder Rt Goodrich, Laela Peterson-Stolen’s soaring violin and viola and the growling electric fretless bass of Tim Bush.
At the heart of Junk Parlor’s desire to get their audiences dancing and singing along is Vanderford’s passion for storytelling. He taps into an offbeat influence for their latest single, the haunting rockabilly heartbreak tune “Mick Jagger’s Heart.” Drawing thematic inspiration from The Rolling Stones’ countrified ballad “Dear Doctor” (which appeared on Beggar’s Banquet), the band creates a fresh twist on the pain of lost love via the juxtaposition of dark lyrics and bouncy rhythms.
As Vanderford tells it, Junk Parlor began almost by accident. In the years since his stint with The Hot Club of San Francisco, he had emerged as one of the region’s “go-to” musicians for his rhythm guitar and gypsy jazz expertise. In early 2013, his uncle, Tim Bush, asked him to come play his acoustic at a wine bar in Petaluma that he tended bar at. Vanderford agreed, but only if Bush played bass. “He’s been a professional bassist for 30 years and took me to buy my first guitar when I was 14,” says the singer. As he got into his once a month residency, Robin Goodrich showed up, telling Vanderford he wanted to put a group together. “I had never met him before, but he said he knew who I was,” Vanderford says. “I was hesitant but asked him to sit in with me for a few months. Then he shows up one day saying he booked the band. I told him we didn’t have a name and he said we better get one. So then I took it seriously.”
Adding Bush on bass, the band played their first gig that May and five months later they made their debut album Wild Tones and started touring. While the singer writes all the original songs, the band works together on the arrangements and each member writes their own parts. Vanderford and Goodrich are financial partners in the band who do everything DIY, including booking, social media, poster making and promotion.
Junk Parlor’s members have played the gamut of festivals and prestigious venues including Outside Lands, Kate Wolfe Fest, Djangofest, Gaia Fest and Vanderford has played, recorded and toured with the Americano Social Club, The Hot Club of San Francisco, Clint Bakers New Orleans Jazz Band, Little Charlie’s Caravan, Avatar Ensemble and Seth Ford Young Quartet. Rt Goodrich has laid down rhythms and toured with Staggerwing, Beso Negro and Standing Room Only. Bush has played extensively with Danny Montana, Sweetie Pie and the Doughboys, Chuck Day, Sam Andrew, Jim Martin, and Freddie Roulette.
Looking ahead, Vanderford says that the new album, which will include “Mick Jagger’s Heart,” will build upon what Junk Parlor has been doing since day one. “Our first two records are simply two sides of the same coin,” he says. “I am looking forward to our next project as we already have all the songs and have been playing them out and getting a wonderful response. This one will include a few instrumentals, but have more of an emphasis on vocals.
“What I’m learning through all of these recording and performing experiences is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a jazz musician, singer or dancer, the goal is always telling a great story. I love getting out there and hearing people’s stories and then transforming those into songs that can be interpreted in unique ways by the band, dancers and everyone in the audience that it touches.