Scott Diehl and Lance Frantzich of The Storytellers speak with Christina Fuoco-Karasinski, Pasadena Weekly Executive Editor on February 6, 2022
What can fans expect from your show when you play the Coffee Gallery?
Lance: Attendees can expect a carefully curated collection of our favorite songs from our considerable song list. Songs with compelling stories, lyrically and melodically speaking. They can expect three-part harmony singing, tight rhythms and soulful inspired lines from our soloists. That’s what we’re shooting for anyway. And they can expect to hear our original song “The Ballad of Bob Stane”, our tribute to the owner of Coffee Gallery Backstage.
Tell me about your relationship with Bob Stane. How did you meet, what has he done for you? You said you owe your Vegas shows to him.
Scott: Early on we were searching for a venue to rent out to create live videos. We couldn’t afford any of them and some of these places were real dives. Then we called Coffee Gallery Backstage and Bob picked up the phone. We didn’t know he was a famous person. We saw videos of his listening room and we figured we’d never be able to rent it. As it turned out, he wanted about 25% of what the others were asking. We thought he was kidding. We said, “We can pay more!” He wouldn’t accept it. He said, “If I could make what I’m asking in a single day, I’m good.”
That’s when we knew we were speaking with someone of integrity. The day came and we were making our videos. Bob was coming in and out and checking things out. At some point we asked him what he thought about the band and whether he thought we may some day perform there. This is the same day we learned that you don’t ask people of integrity a question and expect anything other than an honest answer.
Lance: I remember what he said. He said, “I think that you have a lot of work to do.” He said if we didn’t make changes, we were going to end up as a bar band and not a quality act.
Scott: And he laid it out for us. He drew on his lifetime of experience and success to advise us on how we can improve. Our deportment on stage, how to connect with the audience, our stage banter and all of that. He basically transformed us from “a band” in to what he calls “an act”. Every time we perform for Bob, he offers his insights. So it’s hard not to be aware of him when we’re performing our Las Vegas shows or standing on a bluegrass festival stage. It’s hard not to always be conscious that Bob has had a hand in it. He’s famous for mentoring creatives. It’s why he’s in Wikipedia.
That’s great to have a mentor like him in your corner!
Lance: Yes. When I was studying acting with Tim Robbins, I’d come to realize that these people like Bob Stane, like Tim Robbins, these high level people who offer honest criticism, it’s driven by love. You have to really love people to be honest with them like that. You have to have this almost innocence about you to believe that people want to hear the truth, even when they ask for it. Lucky for us we wanted the truth. Bob’s honest feedback changed the course of our band. I find that powerful and inspiring.
You’ve opened for some amazing people. Who have you learned the most from?
Scott: Probably Dave Burns?
Lance: For sure David Burns. He was in our band. Before that we hired him to do big gigs. He ended up joining the band. He is a super-duper gifted musician with a ton of experience. He made significant improvements to our arrangements with the smallest tweaks. Fine art is in the fine details. He’s hasn’t been playing with us, but he left that legacy with us. We’re more careful when constructing our arrangements. More thoughtful.
Was music always in the cards for you?
Scott: I speak for both of us when I say, no, no, no. If someone told me just ten years ago that I’d be a professional musician, a guitar player, performing in Las Vegas, I would have laughed. I would never have believed it.
Lance: I certainly wasn’t thinking about a career in music.
Scott: The impetus of this band was a philosopher I was reading, who during a lecture, posed the question: “What is a richer life? A life creating culture or a life of consuming culture?” At that time I was going to a lot of live concerts and listening to a lot of music. At some point Lance and I and Michael, the original fiddle player, we agreed to start this experiment, this project to answer that question.
Lance: At the beginning we didn’t play these instruments. Scott didn’t play the guitar; I didn’t play the bass. So, we decided to start creating, start playing music, just to see if we could do it. Then it became not about whether we could do it, but can we do it good? How far can it go?
Scott: The enlightened answer of course is a healthy balance of both creating and consuming. But here we are 5 years later, still creating music, still creating art, creating momentum and movement just by being focused on what needs to be done now.
What keeps you passionate?
Lance: I’m very inspired by the community that has formed around our band and our music. Neither of us have played in bands before, let alone one doing as good as we are. So there was no way to prepare for this phenomenon of people you don’t know showing up to one of your gigs, and appreciating what you’re creating. And then doing it again!
Scott: Right. We don’t forget the faces of the first people who started returning again and again. You never forget those faces because it’s stunning. If those people didn’t exist, if people come and never return, the band isn’t going to progress.
Lance: They like what they hear. They understand what we’re trying to accomplish. They’re somehow vibrating on a like frequency as us and our music. Next thing you know, there’s a hundred people there singing and dancing and supporting not us but rather this scene.
Scott: They’re participating in this story. They’re creating The Storytellers with us. We’re showing up. They’re showing up and it’s fun, and joyous on a good day, and we’re all coming together around this thing we’re all doing together. We’re performing the music, but what everyone else is contributing is equally vital. We never lose sight of that.
Lance: It’s an extraordinary project. We love what’s coming of it, what’s created by it. The music, sure, but the community is the true reward. We’ve come to know first hand that this is the purpose of art. Love. Community.
What are the plans for the rest of the year?
Lance: We have a full schedule of gigs, some of our regular appearances as well as several shows at wineries, and some civic appearances and some good-sized music festivals. We’re also going to be recording a CD in the coming months. We’re in the process of writing a bunch of new original songs. Then we’ll get on the road to promote the record. And hopefully we’ll continue to perform at Bob’s Coffee Gallery Backstage, as long as Bob is running the show. We hope that’s a long time. Bob is precious. He can’t be replaced.