By Matt Hickman
When Mumford and Sons broke onto terrestrial radio back in 2010, it was the first time many had heard alt-rock rhythms paired with a bluegrassy banjo. But a few years before, Rose’s Pawn Shop was playing just that sort of sound on college radio, at summer music festivals and Sundays at the ‘Grand Ole Echo’ at Echo Park, their home venue in the East Los Angeles city of Eagle Rock.
“We get the Mumford and Sons comparison a little bit, though we predate them,” said Rose’s Pawn Shop lead singer Paul Givant. “Some of the bands we were influenced by were Uncle Tupelo, some early Wilco, bands that had a little bit more of a country twang to them… At the time, we were what would be called alt-country.”
Rose’s Pawn Shop released their first album ‘The Arsonist’ in 2006, the end result a handful of guys who’d bounced from one L.A. rock band to another and thanks to a series of serendipitous events that culminated in one that would give the band its peculiar name. Rose, was an estranged girlfriend of Givant’s, who in an alleged fit of rage absconded with the band’s equipment. On their way to get their instruments out of hock, the band let the moment dictate their name.
“I’m quite positive she knows the band is named after her,” Givant said. “Not much contact since the band adopted the name. I ran into her a couple of times; it was short and pleasant… We don’t really have an active friendship. Hopefully she’s having a good life; probably best if it’s far from me.”
Since that memorable trip to the pawn shop, the band has enjoyed a steady run of success. Thanks to the success of ‘The Arsonist’, RPS won the Billboard Magazine/Disc Makers Independent award for Best Band in the West in 2006 and four years later released their follow up album ‘Dancing on the Gallows’ and their last effort, ‘Gravity Well’ in 2014.
“We’ve been a working band for the last 15 years — it’s been great; it’s been a slow burn, and I think a successful one,” Givant said. “Ideally, we’ll continue that way. We have an upward trajectory with our fan base and right now we’re in the process of trying to collect songs for our next full-time album. Every time we get the right batch of songs, we have pieces of music that reach more and more people. I guess that’s the big goal, to get back in the studio and getting the full length album out.”
Last year, Rose’s Pawn Shop performed at Salmonfest, and thanks to that connection, they’ve been able to put together an 8-day, 9-show tour of Alaska that kicks off with a show at the Tanana Valley State Fair near Fairbanks, followed by a show Saturday night at Koot’s. From there, the tour takes them to Homer, Soldotna, McCarthy, Palmer and finally Talkeetna on Aug. 16 for the Live After Five Music Series, before they head back to L.A. and the Grand Ole Echo on Aug. 25.
“We kind of fit into that Americana/bluegrass genre, which kind of has its feet in a few different fan bases — alt country, the jam crowd and the festival crowd,” Givant said. “In late high school and college I started getting interested in folk and found a lot of different genres that blend bluegrass and country and rock with instruments like the fiddle, mandolin and banjo. How it happened in L.A. was I met someone who played the banjo and electric guitar and someone who played the fiddle with traditional bluegrass. We came together as Rose’s Pawn Shop and now it’s kind of a blend of things.”
The 5-piece band consists of Givant on lead vocals, guitar and banjo, Tim Weed on the fiddle and mandolin, John Kraus on banjo, mandolin and electric guitar, Stephen Andrews on the upright bass and Christian Hogan on drums.
“I think (our genre) has a realness to it — it’s not overly produced and it has an acoustic instrumental, organic feel that focuses on songwriting,” Givant said. “Certainly satellite radio and the Internet really helped grow that genre and make it popular all over the country. You can go to any corner of the States and find a fan base. That was a pleasant surprise for us our first time in Alaska last summer. We’ve been really well received in Alaska so that’s been really good for us.”
That reception has built the band somewhat of a local following in Alaska, which the band hopes will turn out in droves for their third and longest run to date through the Last Frontier.
“I feel like we’ve been really well received in Alaska,” Givant said. “Our music appeals to a lot of the folks in that area — it’s upbeat and danceable. Many people have told me that a lot of Alaskans like that high energy music that gets them on the dance floor. We’ve seen that so far and we hope to keep building on that.”