For the past six years, Kamal Soliman, Bill Sarver, and Peter DiStefano have molded their musical passions into the Lance Herbstrong identity. It was not long ago when the trio began sampling various tracks and fused them into novel sonic approaches, never intending their creative outlet to be a legitimate artistic project. It was only when the trio’s work caught the attention of prominent musicians were they encouraged to conceive an artistic alias, soon settling on Lance Herbstrong as a punny homage to Lance Armstrong (whom Kamal had professional ties with). Fast forward half a decade and Lance Herbstrong has released three official albums, performed at some of the largest festivals on the planet, and established a reputation for backstage sets that keep parties raging well past official event curfews.
Image Credit: austin.wtf (Artist Lounge at Euphoria)
Lance Herbstrong only performs at a handful of events each year, so it was a rare treat to catch the band throw down on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Austin’s Euphoria Music Festival. In true Lance Herbstrong fashion, the performance featured their drummer Ricky Gonzalez, and sit-ins from Josh Abdi, who played percussion and didgeridoo, and Derek VanScoten aka Cloudchord, who played guitar alongside Peter.
Image Credit: Chris Burns
Following the band’s set, I caught up with Kamal and Bill to get more insight on their creative evolution, both as individuals and as the Lance Herbstrong collective. Check out their hilarious stories below, and be sure to explore the band’s website where you can freely download every album and stay tuned for their latest developments.
GLC: A major issue you’ve recently encountered was Soundcloud taking down your music due to you sampling copyrighted music. What other music service do you plan to place your music on?
Kamal: So Soundcloud gave us a lifetime ban, and getting kicked off was like, fuck man, we had 9,000 followers, over 2 million plays, I think one and a half million just on that Pretty Lights “Finally Moving” remix. And we got booted and what’s the alternative? You can go to Mixcloud, or HearThis, or something, but it’s completely ineffective because Soundcloud is the dominant one. And now what they’re releasing is Dubset. It’s a new software that’s been developed that will now allow remixes to be put into the commercial marketplace with the appropriate percentages of the original artists getting paid accordingly, we’ll get something too. For us, that’s very encouraging because that’s everything we do.
Bill: And they also distribute it to Apple and other places. The problem with Soundcloud now is that everyone’s shit is getting taken down ‘cause people do remixes or even DJ sets that have borrowed music. To be fair, Soundcloud didn’t have a choice because of Sony and all these companies coming down on them.
Kamal: It was all software, the software triggers a flag warning and if you get three of them you’re gone.
Bill: The songs that we remixed that are old classical songs, those are the ones that get flagged. We had Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, and all these others-
Kamal: The first one that got pulled was a “Yellow Man” remix, and we were like “seriously?” There’s Pink Floyd and all these classic rock greats and “Yellow Mans” the one?!
GLC: So switching the subject, you tried out an APC40 today at Euphoria. How did that play out and why’d you decide to bring that into the show today?
Bill: We have the original APC40’s, we have two but they were so beat up. I was missing faders on it and shit so I just had to get another one so I just kinda went with the newer APC40 MKII.
Kamal: You didn’t even fully figure it out until we started.
Bill: I did, it just stopped doing what I made it do.
Kamal: We had a really rough morning, he overslept by an hour and a half and it was a mad scramble to get to the stage. We had a 2PM start set and we got here at 1:37.
Bill: But to answer your question, I have a huge Ableton Live template that is very focused towards that instrument. I did have to go and reprogram some stuff to work with the MKII.
Kamal: Bill is an Ableton wiz, he’s been using it since day one.
Bill: I used to be a big Pro Tools guy, then I got Ableton 1.0 a while ago and it reminded me of this program called Acid that I used to play a long time ago, then I flipped it over to the other view where I could improvise with it and I was like “ok I get it now” so I stuck with 1.0. I used to do all the mixing in Pro Tools but then I would write in Ableton and now I’ve just gone fully with Ableton.
GLC: So give me more detail on the band setup and who plays what.
Kamal: The core band is me, Bill, and Pete. Pete is our guitar player; he played in a pretty famous band in the 90’s called Porno for Pyros, which was the band formed after the break up of Jane’s Addiction. At the minimum there will always be three of us at a show. We have our drummer Ricky; he’s not one of the decision-makers for the band but he usually plays drums at our shows. Once in awhile we have another percussionist sit in with us but it’s always the core trio.
Image Credit: Chris Burns
Bill: It depends how much we’re getting paid for a show, and if we’re playing somewhere else we always invite friend musicians to come up and play.
Kamal: We’ve had a lot of incredible sit-ins, I mean super famous people have sat in with us. Perry Ferrell sang a song with us, Lance Armstrong has played drums with us, the guys from Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation, Brad Wilk from Rage Against The Machine played drums with us, Jeremy Salken from Big Gigantic, Karl Denson, John Popper, The Knocks.
GLC: So how are you able to book these sit-ins with the band?
Kamal: It’s mainly because I work in this industry also. I worked for C3 here in Austin for 10 years. We did Lollapalooza in Chicago and South America, I was Thievery Corporation’s tour manager for a couple years, so people know me and I’ve been around for a long time
Bill: Plus we always play the after party at Lollapalooza in Chicago, which was one of the first shows we ever did.
Kamal: Also Pete’s a super respected guitarist. He’s friends with all the grunge bands like the Chili Peppers, Rage, all those guys. They all know and love him.
Bill: And those are the shows I really like, when we’re hanging out and doing after parties, we see band member and friends and we just bring them in.
GLC: When you guys are performing, do you usually stick to a rigid song structure or do you allow room for improvisation?
Kamal: Everything’s improvising. We try to sketch out a set, like today we have a lot of reggae, we have a lot of classic rock, a lot of dancier stuff, we have some hard stuff. We just try to build blocks of tracks. We’ll go with reggae today, and then move to rock.
Bill: As live musicians we’re essentially improvising and going with it. I like that element of danger with it, just letting people have fun. All the songs that have sections I just jump from different parts of the song. We can get out of the song sooner if we need to, like if Pete’s going on with a guitar solo I can just keep a section going for a while, and that’s when I realized how useful Ableton was. I used to use a DAT machine where you’re just playing along with this tape, now Ableton allows you to freeform it and rearrange songs on the fly.
GLC: With the amount of time you’ve been performing, do you still get nervous going on stage?
Kamal: Every time, and the day you stop feeling that you stop giving a shit. Even Pete’s been playing for thirty years, we call it pre-show jitters. He’ll just be sitting there and wanting to vomit and I’m the same way.
Bill: There’s 10 or 20 minutes when you’re sitting in the green room waiting to play and you just sit there and quietly panic.
GLC: What setting would you most like to perform your music at? Where would the vibe of your music most thrive at?
Bill: I like it when there’s a tighter and close place and the crowd’s right there with us. I like the chaos.
Kamal: Our tradition is the artist after party at Lollapalooza. For the last six years we close out in the artist lounge and play on a set of tiered stairs. The drummers on the top, we’re in the middle. When the Sunday night headliner ends, we start. Over the years it’s just been a tradition and people are fired up all Sunday for the show. And that’s where Brad from Rage played and Jeremy and Lance Armstrong and all these people come out and jam.
Bill: They clear out the whole area, it’s all artists and people that work the fest. All of them let loose, get the steam off and celebrate being done with the weekend. That’s always our favorite gig.
GLC: What’s the creative process like in the studio? Do one of you focus on a specific structural aspect more than the other?
Kamal: The studio is in Bill’s kitchen. It usually starts with me telling Bill “hey we’re gonna remix this song,” or “hey we’re gonna mashup these songs.” I have no technical ability whatsoever but I have the ear, and the project is basically me starting with the concept.
Bill: He doesn’t know about chords and the music stuff, he has the ideas and I make it happen.
Kamal: Bill had another band called Ohn that I heard and was blown away with. It was amazing shit that’s way ahead of it’s time. He and my wife were friends in college, and when my wife and I moved to Austin we reconnected with him. Over the year as I decided I wanted to get more involved in music, Bill was the guy.
Bill: I remember the first time, Kamal was like “can you do something with this Manu Chau song and mix it with The Clash. I was like Word! I sent something back in an hour and we were both like “fuck yeah!”
Kamal: Bill put this together, it was awesome, and we didn’t do anything for like a year! A whole year went by and I was on tour with Thievery Corporation and I just loved their music and catalogue so much and they have all this shit they don’t play live, they play only their high-energy stuff. So they have one mellow downtempo song and I was like yeah let’s match it up with this Manu song and it was fucking killer.
When everybody heard it they freaked the fuck out, they were like oh shit! Thievery hired us to do two remixes, we did those, they were blown away by those and were gonna print it on Vinyl. They were like “What’s your name?” We never planned for this to be a live thing ever, we were just fucking around.
Bill: I was at the DMV waiting to get my liscence, waiting like four hours and just coming up with marijuana pun names on celebrities-
Kamal: At that time it wasn’t like now where there’s Com Truise and Mord Fustang, there’s a lot of those plays. At the time it was really only Gnarls Barkley that I knew of. And I knew Lance Armstrong through my job at C3.
Bill: And this was before Lance got busted and all. Tell him about the story when Lance came into your office and saw our shirts!
Kamal: Yeah we made these Lance Herbstrong shirts, and Lance Armstrong’s manager had the shirt on his desk. Lance went in for a meeting, saw the shirt and was like “What the fuck is that? I fucking love it.” He takes a picture and tweets it out. I’m coming home from lunch and Lance is in the elevator with his manager. He pulls me aside and says “dude look at this thing!” And shows me the photo of the Lance Herbstrong shirt and I was like “Yeah that’s me dude, it’s this music project that I started.” And he fucking loved it! I had no idea how he’d take it, thankfully it was positive and he’s been cool with us since the beginning.
Bill: A coincidence is our guitar player Pete also beat testicular cancer, just like Lance Armstrong. We thought he broke it off with the band Pornos ‘cause he had a drug problem or something but it was actually because he got cancer. We were like “you have one ball?! You’re in the band now!”
GLC: It seems like your band is a series of happy coincidences.
Bill: The best way I’ve ever put it is “Oops, we’re good.” This was never supposed to be something but we keep stumbling into awesome things. We do everything wrong too, we don’t do anything the traditional way that you do them with bands, we just keep stumbling into shit that works.
Kamal: Every once in awhile we have great fucking shows. We only do like ten shows a year.
GLC: Thinking farther back, how did your upbringing influence your musicality?
Bill: I’m 43, I’ve been playing music since 16. I used to do a lot of industrial music. I grew up learning the basics of MIDI, samplers, and all that stuff. I went to UT-Austin here and minored in electronic music and learned how to splice tape together and got all the basics.
Kamal: Bill’s a fucking genius, I think he’s one of the greatest unknown producers!
GLC: Tell me more about the process of compiling your music into releases.
Kamal: You can download all our releases off Lanceherbstrong.com. Tokelahoma is one record, and is more reggae and chill. Meth Breakfast is the second, that one’s all classic rock and has a unique rock vibe. The last one is the Knobturner’s Guild, and that one is a mix of both.
Bill: Knobturner’s wasn’t supposed to be an album, it was just a collection of stuff we’ve been working on.
GLC: So do you have a broad concept in mind when cataloguing songs for an album?
Kamal: it’s more unintentional and about the certain mood we’re in when we’re making songs. Meth Breakfast was the only one that was more focused, everything else was just how we felt at the time.
Kamal: There’s one record where I’ve already chosen all the songs. It’s a much more mellow, downtempo thing and that’s a future concept album that we have. It may take many many years but it’s the greatest love-making CD ever.
GLC: Going off of that, do you have a specific concept in mind for your next record?
Kamal: No, we have a list of like 70 tracks that are still on our to-do list. Sometimes we have a gig and we’ll throw in a track that fits the vibe of the show. But essentially our thought process is, “this happens to be the mood we’ve been in for this chunk of time, these are the songs that came out of that time. Let’s package it now and figure out a way to make it work.”
GLC: So what shows do you have planned coming up?
Kamal: After Euphoria, we have Electric Forest. Probably doing four nights there. That’s one of our favorite festivals. We’ll be taking over the Hangar Stage, which is going to be ridiculous this year! Just wait. It’s going to blow minds.
Bill: We’re really known as the band that throws secret parties and backstage sets, as we both have day jobs in the industry and know lots of insiders. So we’ll be playing at lots of events this year, it’s just that they mostly will come unannounced.
GLC: Awesome, thanks for chatting it up guys!
Kamal: It’s been a pleasure, thanks!
Bill: Great talking with you, man!
Featured Image Credit: Chris Burns