Joe Scarpellino, bass player and battery of Dead Larry, answers a few questions in anticipation of Friday’s epic show at Gabe’s with Twin City jam monsters Wookiefoot.
Dead Larry’s been together nine years now, which is quite a feat. How do you guys do it?
To be honest – I’m not entirely sure. We’ve gone through many rough patches over the years, as well as many reinventions. Everyone has their ups and downs, and as time passes people’s lives change. Therefore their goals change.
We have worked hard to stay together despite all of the hardships and changes over the years. Except for the first 6 months of the band (in our mid-teens) we have never changed members. We have become a family, and we see ourselves as brothers. There are a lot of different things we do that seem to work wonders for us.
Having a good sense of humor is important. Patience, forgiveness, and acceptance are also key. It’s also important not to take ourselves too seriously. We tend to have a positive outlook on life. The most #1 thing is communication. Each one of us is expected and encouraged to express who we are and what we want out of the band. We are all equals. We make sure that we all feel like we are making the music, and living our lives, the best way we see fit.
Dead Larry muscled your way onto the festival scene the hard way, winning what? four? battles of the bands in a row. (10KLF, Euforia, Summer Camp, Waka?) Can you tell us a little about playing festivals? Get treated like VIP’s? Favorite festivals? Any disaster stories?
In 2008 we won 4 battles, yes. Camp Euforia was the first, then 10KLF, and then we won both rounds of the Minstrel Recording Studio battle providing us with 5 days of free recording time. Music festivals have become a very significant part of our musical career.
We, in a way, fell ass backwards into the scene. When we won the battles for Euforia and 10KLF none of us had ever been to a festival before. We just wanted to get our name out there and show everyone what we could do, and the battles seemed to be the best way to do that. It wasn’t until we were literally at the festivals themselves (Camp Euforia was first) that we realized how much impact a set a music festival can have our career. It’s a different world – especially when you do many festivals in a summer.
Each festival is different. Sometimes the hospitality is out of this world. Many of the larger and more established festivals are able to cater to bands very well. Free beer, a meal a day, and backstage access (usually no stages bigger than the one you’re playing though) are commonplace. There are also many small festivals that are just out there to have a good time, and they do their best to make you feel special with whatever they can offer.
The people at music festivals are also very generous. We have many fans-turned-friends that enjoy feeding us! We are very grateful for all of the support of our many funky friends all over the country.
Our favorites over the years have been 10KLF, Summer Camp, 80/35, Shangri-La, Project Earth, Love Your Mother Earth Festival (in Montana), Plunder Fest, and of course the festival we helped run 2009-2011, Fall Frolic.
There have been a few disasters. We’ve missed a set because of van trouble, been at a festival when it was raided by the police, been at a festival in 45 degree weather with 40 mile an hour winds. The thing to remember is – you create your own experience. Even when bad things have happened I have tried to make the experience I have a positive one, and one to help me grow as a person. So it’s not REALLY a disaster
Loved your covers on the Pedmall show a coupe weeks ago–Kids, She Don’t Use Jelly, and Immigrant Song. What do you look for in cover songs?
Our rule with cover songs is simple. Any one of us can decide that we would like to try to cover a certain song. The band will listen to it a few times, look up chords if need be, and attempt to play the song. If we feel good about it we do it. If it doesn’t come naturally we simply stop trying and never do it again. We don’t pressure ourselves to learn songs we don’t feel good about playing. That limits our cover possibilities, but when it DOES work it’s very very very fun.
Besides Dead Larry, you stay pretty busy with Smokin’ Joe shows. No set band, right? What can you tell us about these shows?
I do indeed. I have an every-other-Sunday residency at a wonderful venue in Minneapolis called Nomad World Pub. The shows are free and each time there’s a different supporting act, and usually a different line-up of the band.   Smokin’ Joe & Friends has always been a project with a rotating cast. I do have many key members of the band. Bobby Patrick (Burbillies, Steve) plays lead guitar at 90% of the shows.   Ned and Shua (Dead Larry) are my rhythm section at most of the shows I play at my residency. Chuck Boeke (Useful Jenkins), Max Graham (Kind Country), Joe Sheehan (I Like You.), Wendy Sunshine (I Like You.), Joe McCauley (Hyentyte), David Stone (TronicTribe), Matt “Cello” Probst, Karen Krueger (I Like You.) are all folks that come and jam with me at Smokin’ Joe in Minneapolis. Banjo-ninja Jon Eric, Bethann Gavin, and Ryan Persinger all have been with Smokin’ Joe when I was located in Iowa City. The ability to do this just comes from playing my acoustic songs at after-parties and late-night music festival jams so much that my friends have learned them. I have played opening sets for lots of great folks, and even played on the main stage at Project Earth this year! It’s been a fun project to do – but Dead Larry always comes first.
 Wookiefoot doesn’t play IC much, but they’re a big deal up north, with their own festival and even a foundation. What should folks expect Friday night?
Hmmm…. I would say lots of very happy, silly and loving people wearing vibrant, fuzzy, wacky outfits and dancing to funky, rockin’, and up-lifting music! It’s true they only tour a very few days out of the year, but Wookiefoot is a different kind of band. They have done so much for the music community in MN, as well as the global community. They run some of the best live music events in the country, and do it maintaining a very professional, positive, and honest practice.
I look up to Mark Murphy and the rest of the crew very much for what they do. The most important thing, though, is to come with an open mind.
 Any other answers for questions I forgot to ask?
Not that I can think of. I’m just excited to have one of my dreams come true – playing with Wookiefoot in my home town. I’ve been trying to get this show to happen for 4, maybe 5, years. The stars have finally aligned in my favor and I am stoked.
I also want to give a quick congratulations to Dan Scheetz and Stanzy Hahn. They are very good friends of the band getting married Saturday Oct 12 in Iowa City, the day after the Wookiefoot show, and we will be there to celebrate. We will even be playing a little for the ceremony. They are a beautiful couple and I wish them nothing but the best!!
–John Hiett

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