Going the Distance
SLC’s Debi Graham Band get back to basics (and fun) with the new Bulb Studio.
by Tom Martinez
It’s easy to compare Salt Lake City folk-punk singer-guitarist Debi Graham to alt-folk darling Ani DiFranco—but apparently, that’s the wrong starting point.
“As a small child, I was always singing around the house and making up silly songs and fighting with my older sister about who gets to pretend to be Madonna,” Graham laughs. “But the real ignition was from an invitation to play in a band at 17. From there, I started writing my own stuff.”
Backed by the one-two punch of Larry Martinez (bass) and Maria Galiano (drums), in the past year, she’s opened for names like Ruben Blades and Fiona Apple (which you may have missed: “I don’t think they did a ton of marketing, but regardless, it was still fun to play”). She’s also performed on the main stage at the San Francisco Pride Day parade. She downplays the events: “It was pretty mellow. I had no interest in doing music this year at all.”
Graham was planning on going back to college until 2006 started off with a glowing review in Curve magazine. She jokes that when she thought of stopping musically, other forces seemed to work in her favor. “It’s always the case, isn’t it? Things just started coming together. Music just started happening.”
For the past few years, most of the Debi Graham Band’s time has been spent touring in support of their 2003 debut CD Anesthesia—a solid release, if not necessarily Graham’s favorite in retrospect. “That was a selfish album,” she says. “I was being a brat and wanted to put out an album more for myself than for the band.”
The band’s long-awaited new follow-up, Bulb Studio (DebiGrahamMusic.com), is an entirely different animal. “A lot of it is just newer stuff that we’ve been playing onstage, including the band version of ‘Mercury.’ I’ve even had people come up and tell me, ‘Your first album doesn’t sound like what you sound like live.’ [Bulb Studio] was a collaboration. It’s our vibes; the way we sound live. It’s raw, not overproduced. A lot of the stuff we did in one take.”
Most of the recording was done in Portland, Ore., and Graham believes the locale helped the easygoing vibe of the album. “We had a lot of fun recording up there, a good time,” she says, noting that you may hear the band laughing in the background between takes. “We picked up a couple of beers, smoked a few cigarettes and recorded. It’s just real.”
Even so, the band’s strength has always been performing live; Graham’s voice is sweet and inviting one moment, then raging in punk fervor in the next, all the while furiously strumming. It’s a passionate style that’s won her a core of loyal fans, with new ones coming onboard with every show. “When I’m onstage, and I’m feeding the vibe of the crowd, I get into that,” Graham admits. “Or, if the crowd sees how I’m really into this song, they can get into that, and it makes it so much fun to perform.” Touring and selling Bulb Studio is Job 1.
“We’ll do some national radio promotion starting in January, a little tour here, a little tour there,” Graham says, adding with a laugh, “The delicate ceremony of selling our souls to Lucifer.”