Notes from the road

Great American Taxi reflects on six years of making music

Dave Kirby | Boulder Weekly

When was the last time you spent an anniversary in Cincinnati?

It was six years last week that Great American Taxi first climbed the Boulder Theater stage for an all-star jam benefiting the Rainforest Action Group. Six long clicks on the meter later, keyboardist/singer Chad Staehly was unloading his bags into a Cincinnati hotel before the band’s 9 p.m. gig at Stanley’s when we cornered him for a quick interview.

Not exactly an art deco venue a mere stagger from the Pearl Street Mall, but Cincinnati looks a lot more like the rest of the world than downtown Boulder does, and Staehly was jazzed to be there.

“Ah, we’re doin’ great here in the Rust Belt,” he says. “We’ve been boppin’ along I-70 the last week or so. We headed straight out from home, did a few stops and then headed out to Morgantown, W.V., for a special edition of the Mountain Stage Radio Show.”

The Morgantown gig found GAT in familiar company, playing with longtime buddy Todd Snider and Railroad Earth, whose fiddle player Tim Carbone produced the band’s now year-old breakout second CD Reckless Habits. Staehly says the CD, a rambling and strutty cask of Americana, Gram Parsons-streaked country rock and prairie ballads, continues to show life on playlists around the country — almost, hearing Staehly tell it, to the band’s unexpected satisfaction.

“Yeah, the album was received really well and is still getting a lot of airplay on Americana radio stations, community radio and independent radio,” Staehly laughs. “Surprisingly, a lot of stations have gone six and eight songs deep into the record, so it’s not even like it’s been one song that’s had a ton of life to it. It’s been a huge chunk of the record. Outlaw Country on satellite radio has been playing eight different songs off it. I just saw the Colorado Radio report, and we’re still in the top 25 on spins on Colorado radio a year later.

“That record actually … We didn’t try to make it too concise for radio or anything. We weren’t even thinking about that. We just wanted to make a record that kinda reflected the band … so there’s plenty of soloing and a little bit of jamming on it. We didn’t really format it for radio, but radio’s really received it well.”

Formed by Vince Herman and Staehly at the end of 2004 as a one-off Boulder Weekly & Grateful Web Present benefit gig, GAT seems to lead a quizzically charmed life as both its own entity, pounding the club and alt-grass festival circuit most months out of the year, and as the part-time kinda-backup band for inimitable Nashville songwriter Todd Snider for the rest of the year. Snider and GAT are probably the best ephemeral musical marriage on the road these days; GAT brings a full and robust body to Snider’s bruised, understated Everyman yearnings, while Snider lends a certain angular acerbia to GAT’s rollicking Flying-Riders heartstrings. Snider is also lined up to handle production duties for the band’s next CD, which they’ll start on in Nashville this coming May.

Staehly, though, corrects the “kinda-backup band” observation about their collaboration with Snider.

“No,” Staehly chuckles, “we’re pretty much his backup band when we’re with Todd. He’s quite the performer, and he just has so many good songs. It was an accidental thing; we met him at a festival a few years ago up in Michigan, and ended up playing music in the back of a school bus at the end of the day. And he gave us a call not long after that and asked us if we wanted to do a date here and there, and we jumped at the chance, being such fans of his music for quite a while.

“So it’s been a really cool thing to do. And it’s opened up a few more doors for us. We’re going down to Texas with him later in March. He’s kind of regarded as part of the Texas songwriter family down there, so it’s a great audience to play for. And we usually get to play a set of our own music as well.”

But even if their association with Snider continues to open doors for them, and the strength of Reckless Habits and their stage chops help keep those doors propped open, Staehly readily says that the kinds of things that keep a band on the radar these days isn’t limited to great label PR or the right marquee billings. For most bands, the paradigm in the business has changed; the live show used to be staged to sell the record — now the CD gets people out to the clubs and festivals.

Or sometimes, it isn’t even the CD, which is losing its grip as the central offering from artists to fans, in deference to file-sharing, satellite radio and other, less financially impactful modes of media acquisition.

“I think [the CD] still documents a band’s place in time,” Staehly says. “People do listen to the music. … They’re not paying for it, but they listen to it. It’s basically to get more people at your shows.

“It seems now, to me, where I see the media is going is YouTube. So, really what you want to do is record some songs, but then make some visual representation to that song too, because that’s where so many people are going for music these days. So I think that’s what we’re going to be doing with this next recording … making some video stuff to go with it.

“And it can be a little scary, when you’re talking about guys in their 30s and 40s, and there’s a pile of kids out there who are good-looking and putting their stuff up on YouTube. I mean … we’re not exactly a boy band.”


On the Bill:

Great American Taxi plays the Fox Theatre on Saturday, March 19. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Spring Creek opens. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of show. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.