Aotearoa, a funky duo with roots stretching back from Lawrence to Chicago, has returned to its home bases after a wild and crazy tour across the West, finding adventure and inspiration all along the journey. Jake Lerman has stories to tell and a lot to look back on as the band brings it all back home before continuing on.
“The band was first inspired to go on tour when they traveled abroad. “We went overseas a few years back and took some time hitchhiking around New Zealand,” Jake said. “Ever since then, Ilan and I have had a powerful urge to be on the road. So as soon as we finished up our debut EP, we sold off the apartment we were living in, put the gear in the van and split Lawrence, with no intent to settle down. So far we haven’t compromised.”
Since taking the show on the road, the band has never looked back.
“Well, we haven’t been forced by circumstance to stop yet, so I feel like it’s going great. We’ve been on the road for 9 months and we’re managing to just hold the line,” Jake said. “Gas in the tank and some food. We’ve played over 50 gigs since we left Lawrence in all variety of cities and venues. From the whiskey-a-go-go on sunset strip, to garage parties in Santa Cruz, to theaters in Denver and everywhere in-between. For a band that just turned one-year-old a few days ago I think we’re doing alright. And our van, Daphnie, hasn’t even broken down once.”
The duo of Ilan Gitter and Jake Lerman have visited most of the states in the Southwest and gathered amazing stories along the way. The guys have had some remarkable experiences and hilarious moments out and about.
“We were finding our way through the interior of California on our way to a show in Las Vegas. We were poised to pass through Death Valley and we wanted to do the drive in the early hours of the day considering it was July and we were hauling our sole master tape from a recording session in San Francisco into which we’d put the bulk of our funds. We found a state park to camp in and when we pulled up to the ranger station we realized that it was completely deserted except for a pen containing two desert tortoises. It makes sense considering no tourist would be caught dead there in the 105 degree heat. However, next to the tortoise pen we found a few active power outlets. So naturally we hauled all our gear out, and dusted off some new songs right there in the heart of the wilderness. This was a real turning point for us. We found a rhythm out there that led us to incorporate a lot more improvisation and spontaneous jamming into our sets,” Jake said. “It’s proven to be a great way to keep each performance unique.”
On the road, finding time to practice and create new music is one of the biggest challenges, after finding food and shelter. For Aotearoa, improvisation has become a key factor in finding new and original tunes.
“We’ve been writing as we go and we’re always trying to refine and develop our music but it’s proven challenging to generate new material without the benefit of a steady practice space,” Jake said. “We spend most nights either camping, couch surfing or crashing in our van so you can imagine that it’s not always easy to find an area to set up a kit and find power for an amp. Essentially, the shows have become practices and we try out new songs and arrangements as often as we can primarily through improvisation.”
Coming back to town after the long road trip means a great many things for a young band that’s growing by leaps and bounds. Aotearoa used to be a garage band with just a few songs under its belt. Now they’ll return to Lawrence with two EPs and a gig lined up at one their favorite local venues.
“Lawrence was a great place to start out, and we can’t wait to get back. Even if it’s only for a week or two. There are so many amazing venues, the best coffee shops, and a lot of our favorite people. It’ll be great to play a few shows for those who haven’t seen us since the beginning,” Jake said. “As of now, we’re set to play a show at The Jazzhaus on November 3rd, which we’re very excited about. The band first started in the apartment over the old Phoenix Gallery building right across from The Jazz. We used to open up the windows and listen to the acts every night. It’ll be great to be on the other end this time.”
Returning to Lawrence is not the end of the tour. Far from it. The band already has plans for the near future as well as a vision of their long term destinations.
“After we leave Lawrence we’ve booked dates in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Austin – with Wichita and Topeka shows pending. From there on out we’ll likely linger on the south coast throughout the winter months; we learned in Flagstaff in early March that our van doesn’t hold heat well overnight. As the snow retreats we’ll creep up the East Coast over spring time,” Jake said.
Beyond the current sound and style of the band, the guys have a lot going on. The experience on the road has only encouraged Aotearoa to expand and experiment with future songs and albums.
“I feel great about where we are. We’ve gotten a lot tighter after so much time on stage. We just released our second EP, uniquely dubbed Aotearoa II, which we recorded in San Francisco at Tiny Telephone Studios and it’s a real kicking record. But as always there is room to evolve. We’re continually trying to grow our sound into places that keep us excited,” Jake said. “We’re looking into incorporating some new instrumentation, Ilan and I are struggling at teaching ourselves the finer points of brassmanship.”
For aspiring musicians, Jake has learned a lot from his time on tour. Beyond the technical experience gained in musicianship, the guys have also acquired wisdom and a greater understanding of their love of music on the road.
“There is no money here. Not unless you’re riding the tide of some tight-jeaned blogs’ flavor-of-the-month fancy and manage to score a Honda commercial,” Jake said. “As a band we just barely manage to get by. Gas, food and guitar strings – and never much of any. As rough as it seems, the simple reality of the post-record-industry scene that’s just beginning to lilt along is that there is no reason to do this if you don’t love every inch of it. Because the cliché rock n’ roll dream has seemingly died off with the disappearance of the all-saving record contract, it’s cleared the field of a lot of fluff and left primarily devoted, passionate and creative people still striving to eek out a living off the vibrations. If you want money, fame or the easy road, go try out for American Idol. If you love it, then it’s easy. Just don’t stop.”
Check out the band tonight at the Czar Bar in Kansas City! The guys will then be hanging out around their old stomping grounds for a few days before rocking out at The Jazzhaus on Thursday, November 3rd. See you then!