.Diggin’ Trails Weight of Waiting

Country act journeys from spuds to studs

Sometimes it’s good to wait, exclaims Johnny Dodd to the Zoom camera.

The singer, guitar player and songwriter and his bandmates are discussing why it’s sometimes better to sit on a creative project—in this case the song “American River”—instead of releasing something immediately after it’s finished.

But really, he could also be talking about his latest band: five-piece, rootsy, folksy, country rock outfit Diggin’ Trails, which plays with Tommy V and the T-Hawks at the Crepe Place this Friday, July 5.

The members of Diggin’ Trails—Lauren Miroyan on standup bass, Sean James on drums, Don Mackessy on banjo and Mat Warren on tenor guitar—all at one time or another (with the exception of Mackessy) played in the phenomenal local folk punk outfit Tater Famine.

For those of us who were around for Tater Famine’s existence (2007-2013), it’s a time not easily forgotten. OK, maybe a little foggy through all the whiskey shots and beer, but there was always something magical about TF playing at the Parish on the Westside, busking on the street or double-billing with their musical brethren in Fire Whiskey.

“It was not intended that we’d break up,” Dodds recalls about the last TF show. “We were just going to go on a hiatus.”

Yet as the saying goes, so are the best laid plans of mice and musicians. Life had another direction when one Tater Famine member moved away and a little while later Dodd became a father. As a new parent with a full-time job, he put down the guitar and focused on what was in front of him.

But all that changed in 2021.

Just as the world was reopening from the pandemic. Dodd ran into old friend and Parish Pub owner Joel Sawtell and accidentally introduced him to his daughter as “Sean.”

“I know a lot of redheaded Seans and Joel’s also a redhead,” he laughs. “So I wrote this song and sent it to Sean [James] and he was like, ‘Dude, we need to play that song.’”

That track was “Se-Joel” the fifth song on Diggin’ Trails’ 2023 debut album, Done By June. It’s an upbeat, catchy number with a signature sense of humor that’s sewn throughout many of the bands’ songs. Like “The Roosevelt,” a song from the perspective of a rich person telling their kids they need to work for the family or else they’ll be cut off and become long-haired hippies “brainwashed by hard bodied progressive girls.”

Then there are the more serious songs. Tom Waits famously once said he loved “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things,” a sentiment that’s prevalent throughout country, bluegrass and Diggin’ Trails. Songs like “Cannery Row,” “The Last Glass” and “Roanoke Pl.” are all bangers musically with lyrics that carry the themes of heartbreak, regret and the all-too-human feeling of being on a path that isn’t working out anymore.

What ties them all together is the fine line that Diggin’ Trails rides playing Americana with a punk rock attitude while still falling firmly outside of the folk punk genre.

For Mackessy, bluegrass and the punk rock attitude go hand-in-hand.

“Something happened when ‘old-time’ became an offshoot of punk,” he says. “Punk adopted Americana for a hot minute.”

As for their writing process, it’s a family affair.

“Johnny will come with a song, usually just the acoustic, jam version of it,” Warren explains. “But for me at least, I can hear the [complete] song. It’s usually already pretty polished, but when you add in all of us, it’s perfect.”

“When you bottle it all up, it’s sweeter than Yoo-hoo,” James agrees.

Recorded at Compound Recordings in Ben Lomond by Henry Chadwick with artwork by Shaun Logan (aka Slogan, the man behind designs for the Expendables, Cali Roots and the new, Giant Dipper 100th anniversary mural), Done By June got its name because the band thought they’d be done by—you guessed it—June in 2022. That’s when their previous guitar player, Tommaso Procicchiani, had plans to return to his home country of Italy.

However, just as their name suggests, Diggin’ Trails is blazing their own way and won’t let anything stop them.

“I played up until I was seven months pregnant,” exclaims Miroyan.

But she wasn’t out for long.

“The second you had your baby—I think it was the next week—you said, ‘When’s the next practice?’” Dodd laughs.

It’s this passion for playing, along with their love and camaraderie for each other, that drives Diggin’ Trails to keep forging on. In fact, they’re currently working on the new batch of songs for a follow-up album.

“They’re songs I’ve written in the last two years since we were actually recording,” Dodd states. “I started writing a lot of songs in a row because when you’re in that process you’re a lot more inspired.”

“There’s a lot more punk rock songs,” Miroyan says about the new tracks.

She specifically mentions “American River,” a song Dodd had written 15 years ago during the old Tater Famine days.

“It’s about a family cabin we had in Tahoe but it burned down in the Caldor Fire three years ago,” he says. “So I rewrote it as a different song.”

“The way we play Tater Famine songs now as covers is different,” James explains. “They’re a little slower and a little more thought out.”

It’s a great representation of where the band members—and their friends and fans—are today. While Tater Famine was the fast, whiskey-fueled sound of their 20s, Diggin’ Trails is the music of mindful adults, backed by intention, with a few more scars—and kids—to boot.

And the music is better for it because, after all, sometimes it’s good to wait.

Diggin’ Trails plays at 8pm on July 5 at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 429-6994. $10.



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