Some bands try to reinvent the figurative wheel; some try to master that wheel. And some bands ditch the wheel altogether—and do something completely different.
The latter description fits Tumbleweed Timemachine, a three-piece band that calls the Joshua Tree area home. Usually, “three-piece” means guitar, bass and drums, but this three-piece features something a little different: The band is Skyler Fell on accordion and vocals, Steven Carthy on the upright bass, and Ryan Mussen on guitar.
Tumbleweed Timemachine is set to perform at the Mon Petit Mojave drive-in venue in Joshua Tree on Saturday, Nov. 7. The band describes its music as a mix of “folk and punk,” and I recently talked to Fell and Carthy about the band’s music and upcoming show.
“We like to play a lot of dark-carnival originals, country-twang tunes, and also some Eastern European klezmer music,” Fell said. “It’s accordion, standup bass and guitar. We approach the songs from different genres with the instruments that we have. We’re really inspired by a lot of folk punk and folk music.”
The unique name made me want to learn more about the group. As per the band’s Facebook page, Tumbleweed Timemachine is a “time-traveling high desert accordion-based musical rampage.”
“I made it up,” Fell said about the name. “Just pulled it out of my ass. I think it gives a good desert vibe with ‘Tumbleweed,’ and I’m also really into time travel and time machines. It gives us a way of being able to play many different genres and types of music; we’re not stuck in one genre only, because we’re time-travelers. We can hop from place to place at our whimsy.”
Videos of the group’s performances reveal techniques not used by many bands in 2020.
“Sometimes we play acoustic-style with no amplification, which is pretty special,” Carthy said. “We’re able to pull off performing just busking-style.”
Added Fell: “Yeah, we’re able to show up at a venue and just play. We don’t need any microphones or anything. With that being said, we do love playing with all the city lights and everything, too.
“We started the band about a year and a half ago. We play gigs all over the high desert, and we usually have a regular gig at the Joshua Tree Saloon, every first Saturday. We’re really looking forward to the upcoming show at Mon Petit Mojave. The last time we played a live show was in March, at the Joshua Tree Saloon. We did also go busking in Pioneertown after that. I heard that they opened a new saloon up there, the Red Dog, and we’re really looking forward to playing there. We also regularly play at Pappy and Harriet’s.”
The band has not yet released any professionally recorded music—but that’s not due to a lack of trying.
“We had a great plan for recording,” Fell said. “It was for March—but then the lockdown started. Our recording plan was really derailed by COVID. We’re hoping to get back into recording soon, and also producing a music video. Making a music video is going to have a huge impact right now, because so many people are at home and are interacting through video. We want to have a rustic, high desert music video that includes all of us, our instrumentation and my horses.
“I have three amazing horses; one’s a wild mustang that I’ve had for 16 years. I have a really cute paint mare that I got to train myself; her name’s Fiona. I just got a new horse named Max Wildfire, who came to me from a wildfire in Sonoma County, where I pulled him and his family out of the wildfire. It was an intense experience.”
The members of the band got their starts playing in various places and genres.
“I’ve been playing music since I was a kid,” Fell said. “I started out playing the 3/4-sized banjo in a jug band at my local church. I took some piano lessons as well. I’ve always had music in my soul. I love to play and sing, and the accordion has such a versatile range of what you can play. Our guitar-player, Ryan, got his start playing in metal bands, so that would be his influence. My most recent influence would be my band Thee Hobo Gobbelins, a really awesome folk-punk band based out of the Bay Area. We played live shows every weekend for almost the last 12 years.”
Added Carthy: “As for me, I started playing when I was a kid. I mostly played electric bass before I picked up the upright. I used to take lessons for upright bass when I was a kid, but this is my first time playing in a band with the upright bass. I used to play in New York City in a ska band. That was a lot of fun—a lot different from what we play now, but there were some klezmer influences in there, too.”
It was luck that brought them all together, they said.
“Being in Joshua Tree, I was out rambling around the desert,” said Fell. “I love hiking and walking my dogs out here in the wilderness. I was walking down my road, and I ran into Steven. He’s my neighbor, and we chatted. I met Ryan, and he was originally my masseuse. One time, after a massage, he rocked out on guitar for me, and he sounded amazing. When I found out that he was such a great player, I asked him to come and join my band. I was hoping to find a new trio when I moved here—and it magically happened.”
The band members are looking forward to their first live performance since the lockdown.
“I’m stoked to play there, and I’m really glad that the venue organizers are paying special attention to creating culture in this COVID vacuum,” Fell said. “They’re doing a real service to the community and to the people, bringing them live music during COVID. It’s really hard to find such an amazing place as an outlet for musicians, as well as for all the live-music-lovers to come and experience a concert out in nature. It’s a healing experience for all. It’s also the perfect time of year to play shows, and this is the only CDC-, COVID-compliant venue in the desert, as far as I know.”
While many people are hesitant about the logistics of enjoying a drive-in music show, Fell and Carthy said they were just happy to be performing again.
“I think it’s gonna be like people are car-camping—sitting in their cars, on their hood, hanging out by their cars,” Fell said. “It’ll be like a parking-lot party in a beautiful place. I’m sure people don’t really want to sit in their car to see a show, but it’s a great alternative to no show at all.
“I absolutely love playing for an audience; there’s nothing like it. The energy that you get from your audience and give to your audience—the love, the excitement, the dancing—it’s really the best, and I’m hoping this will have some inkling of the magic that brings. I have super-high hopes, and I think it’s really awesome to bring musicians together in this time. … We’ve been doing a few video shows, and it’s been fun, but I’m sure this will be cooler.”
The future for this group of time-travelers seems bright.
“We’re planning for more drive-in stuff, more online stuff, and we’re starting to book festivals that will hopefully be happening next year,” said Fell. “We just got a spot at Trapper Creek Bluegrass Festival in Alaska in May—fingers crossed we’ll be able to go.”
For more information about Tumbleweed Timemachine, visit www.facebook.com/apocalypseaccordions. For more information about the shows at Mon Petit Mojave, visit www.jeremielevisamson.com/drive-in-concert.