Been Through The Desert: America at THCA

EU talks to original band member Dewey Bunnell

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America is giving fans a taste of something old and a few new things sprinkled in with a performance of classics and collection of previously unreleased material at the Thrasher Horne Center for the Arts. The band will play from the well of hits that earned Grammy Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for starters. They’ll also play covers from Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Brian Wilson, and cuts from their latest release Lost and Found. A pre-show dinner package courtesy of Carrabba’s Italian Grill is available with seating at 6pm followed by the concert at 8pm.

All of the unreleased songs are original compositions written by original members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, recorded over the last 15 years in Beckley’s LA studio and recently mastered from those archived recordings for release. “We kind of mined a lot of old original songs that Gerry and I had recorded over the years, the kind of things that were like the 13th song on a 12-song CD. They didn’t make the cut then, but then you look at the stuff in a different context a few years later and they have a lot of potential,” says original member and vocalist Dewey Bunnell. “We didn’t want to gild the lily, so to speak. We wanted it to sound as natural as possible.”

A visual history through America’s 45-year journey set the backdrop for the live performance with black and white photos and archival footage. “It’s another great element that gives you a new multi-media experience,” Bunnell says. “The song Ventura Highway has a lot of vintage footage, a lot of time and place-oriented visuals. The show is an hour and a half of get-out-of-yourself, I like to think.”

When two of the original members retired from the road, Bunnell and fellow founding member Gerry Beckley recruited some young players including former Reel Big Fish drummer Ryland Steen to take their place. The guys are fitting in and full of new energy and ideas, whether it’s a subtle change in a song or scanning old material for new material to add to the live show. “The dynamics on stage have changed to some degree but Gerry and I are the founding members and Rich [Campbell] has been with us for quite a long time on bass,” says Bunnell. “The five-piece has kind of got a new energy up there and it’s good to be looking forward.”

Bunnell says the typical set has an easy flow, building like a great story woven with classics like ‘Ventura Highway’, ‘A Horse with No Name’, and ‘Sister Golden Hair’. “There’s this thing about running orders that can make or break a set. You can lose momentum,” he says. “When you bring the set down into a lull if a song doesn’t have the oomph, it can slow you down when you’re on a roll. The set seems to have really evolved into this nice beginning, middle, and finish.”

He listens for the subtle changes that Steen and guitarist Bill Worrell inject into the music. “They’ve got a lot of ideas and they bring their own energy to the show. Individually, I can hear it on certain songs. They have really taken on a different character by having a young guitar player on the solos,” says Bunnell. “It’s a subtle thing. It’s something maybe the average listener wouldn’t hear, but we certainly do and I think it really transfers to the audience.”

America continues to reach new audiences through film and television as well. ‘A Horse with No Name’ was featured in Breaking Bad and the film American Hustle, and a reworked version showed up as a ‘Place with No Name’ on Michael Jackson’s posthumous 2014 release Xscape.

“Nobody can plan on that stuff. We just kept playing and kept working. We were very fortunate in the beginning that the albums in ‘72, ‘73, ‘74 and ‘75 really took hold and we became a part of that era. The recording process has evolved away from certain things that were our key elements as singer-songwriters but there’s a place for it all out there and we’re glad that we carved our niche,” says Bunnell. “As the music finds its way to the next generation and the next generation after that, it’s something that you have no control over. It’s been really thrilling and we have a lot of gratitude for that.”

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