The Alternate Routes Q&A: Good and True and Live

The Alternate Routes’ Eric Donnelly and Tim Warren spoke to Pollstar about the band’s ongoing tour and recording a live album.

The Alternate Routes
David Apuzzo
– The Alternate Routes

Founded in 2002 in Bridgeport, Conn., Alternate Routes is perhaps the picturesque indie band, maintaining a small but devout following. The band’s core lineup includes Donnelly on guitar, Kurt Leon on drums and Ian Tait playing bass, in addition to Warren and Taryn Chory on vocals.

The group has become known for playing small, intimate sets. It’s not too uncommon to catch them playing a venue with a capacity below 300.  But the Alternate Routes has a uniquely close relationship with its fans. Many have stuck with them since their debut, 2005’s Good and Reckless and True. One can easily reach them just by shooting them an email.

Fresh off the release of Live In Pawling, Alternate Routes is on the last leg of its East Coast tour. Dates are booked through Dec. 9 in Fairfield, Conn. After that The Alternate Routes Quartet hits the road with Red Wanting Blue, Dec. 13-20.  

How did Live In Pawling come together?

Eric Donnelly: Live In Pawling was recorded in Pawling, N.Y., at a club called Daryl’s House. We called it Live In Pawling because we didn’t want there to be any confusion with the TV show, but it is a great club. I guess it’s owned and run by the same people that do the TV show.

The head engineer there, his name is Pete Moshay, he does a great job and everybody that works there is great. We did two shows over the course of a year, we recorded them both and they offered the footage and the Pro Tools session.

We had a guest multi-instrumentalist, a guy named Matt Zach, on pedal steel and piano and guitar, and our friend Bobby Yang played violin. We ended up getting some takes that we thought were pretty special and we decided to mix them and release them, and the result was Live In Pawling.

Why did you choose to do this in Pawling?  

Donnelly: It was more that [Daryl’s House] was equipped for it, but we did have a relationship with the engineer, Pete. We knew him and we trusted him and we knew that he was a really talented engineer. When he mentioned to us that they had a set up to record, we took advantage of it.

It wasn’t the kind of thing that we had to outsource the recording. We didn’t have to bring our own gear in, they had it built-in.

How is the tour going so far?

Donnelly: It’s going great. We’re excited to be back in the Northeast. That’s definitely our strongest part of the country. We’re kind of a national act but we’re rooted in the Northeast as far as where we do the best.

We kind of ventured into the Southeast which is the part of the country we don’t make it to as often. It was great to be out and play every night. It was great to hone the live band and the show. It was also exciting to come back to our bread-and-butter markets.

I think every time you leave for a tour you come back a slightly different band than you were when you left. I think we did a lot of growing on this trip and I think we learned a lot about what we are and what we have to say and how we like to say it.

To be able to know that we put in that two weeks’ worth of work and that we get to hit New York, we get to hit Connecticut, we get to hit Boston and show them what we’ve been up to is a very exciting feeling. I’m glad it went that way and not the other way. It’s pretty special in that regard.

It’s interesting what you said about coming back a new band every tour.

Tim Warren of The Alternate Routes
David Apuzzo
– Tim Warren of The Alternate Routes

Tim Warren: I kind of think of it like calisthenics. If you stretch every day, after a week or a month you can stretch further than you could in the beginning. There’s this different strength when it comes to being on the road. It’s a different muscle, performing, and you can’t really exercise it any other way.

I think that we went 11 or 12 days and we only had one night off. We were just in it every day, nitpicking parts of the show that we didn’t think were quite right and also discovering things by simply moving them around. It allows you to go a little further creatively. Simply by way of repetition.

Donnelly: When you’re doing one-offs or a couple shows here and there, so much happens between shows that you kind of reset the next time you all get together. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there is something cool when everyone is in it every night. When you do one show for 12 nights, that’s what you’re thinking about. That’s what you’re focused on and that’s what you’re talking about.

And then you get the opportunity to do it again when it’s fresh and at the end of a stretch of time there seems to be something cohesive that’s occurring. When you have scattered dates, you go home, life happens. You go home and hang out with your family or you do something else and you forget about that for awhile and the next time you get together you remember the songs, but everybody’s in a different mood.

Everyone is coming from a different view, they didn’t have a shared experience for the last 24 hours. We all did the same thing. We all sat in a van and drove from this city to that city and we all ate at the same place. There is a moment that comes from being on the road that’s pretty cool.

How do you push through when you’re playing seven nights in a row?

Warren: If you throw TV and radio interviews in the morning you got yourself a 12-hour workday, but anybody who is in it to win it is going to work that long no matter what they are doing. There’s always a dressing room waiting for us and a hot meal and I think in the grand scheme of hard work, it’s nice work if you can get it.

Donnelly: The parts of being on the road that people associate with being hard – if I’m speaking for myself – I’m definitely wired for it. None of that stuff bothers me. The traveling doesn’t bother me, the cramped hotel rooms don’t bother me, the lack of sleep doesn’t bother me. I feel like once I’m on the road I’m pretty wired to go.

I think the parts that are challenging are being away from home and missing loved ones. The older you get and the bigger your family gets, the harder that becomes. Other than that, I think the rest of it is not hard at all. When you know what you’re supposed to be doing and believe what you’re doing there’s no amount of work that’s too much. It’s all worth it once you get to play.

Any interesting stories with fans this tour?

Warren: I feel like a lot of people came to see us on this tour because they’re using our song in their wedding. Which I didn’t expect to see. That’s a nice compliment but that happened four or five times and it was over only a week and a half, so I guess that’s a high percentage.

Donnelly: I was in Massachusetts – we started the tour in Rockport, Mass., and this was the leg right before, but a gentleman came to the show who built me an amplifier. He had contacted me beforehand, so I was expecting him to be there. But he didn’t say a lot about it, he didn’t say a lot about why other than he appreciated what I was doing and didn’t ask for anything in return. He just said, “I built this for you and I hope you enjoy it.”

It’s incredible, it’s an incredible amp. It sounds amazing, it’s boutique, handmade and it looks beautiful. It’s got the Alternate Routes logo in the back. It’s a breath-tacking piece of gear and in the right room it can really sound great. I’ve brought it out for a couple of smaller gigs so far. I don’t use it in the big clubs yet just because I would have to set up some extra gear that I’m not prepared for at the moment. It’s definitely something that I’ll be playing for the rest of my life and that was a really cool experience.

You guys have a close relationship with your fans. Why do you think that is?

Warren: I think we’re still in the mom-and-pop shop phase of the Alternate Routes. We aren’t going anywhere, we sell a sturdy product – the whole, “They don’t make them like they used too,” thing might apply to us. The fans that know us, they might have known about us for a number of years now. We’ve become a part of some event in their life and once the music ties into that I think you’re in a special kind of territory. That’s really what propels us forward.

It would be nice to have that relationship with millions of people instead of thousands but the potency of the kind of relationship with the people who see us is inspiring. If we’re doing that well then we have a reason to continue.

How has the crowd reacted to your new material?

Donnelly: That’s been the most exciting part. I feel that in the last two or three years as a band … I’m starting to see the page turn. I feel like those two songs “Safe Haven” and “Stronger” are the most recent iteration of that.

Those songs are a collaboration with our drummer, Kurt Leon, who engineered those tracks and we all co-produced it together. In the early part of the year I got together with Kurt for “Safe Haven” and we thought we were going to be working on a demo and we kind of got snowed into his studio, there was a blizzard.

I said, “Hey, if we can get to the studio before the snow starts we can get a full day of work in.” So, we did and there was a giant Northeastern blizzard and we were there for like 12 hours. And again, I thought we were going to get a demo or two and we ended up diving into “Safe Haven” pretty hard. By the end of the day we had something and were like, ” I think this is more than a demo.”

That day is kind of when something changed in the band or in the process of what we do and it’s been a really exciting journey ever since. I feel like it’s given us a new benchmark for what we can do. I don’t know in the grand scheme of things what that song will be, but I know that it set us on a direction that I think we will be on for a while. I think that’s going to help us reorganize some of the things we’ve done in the past couple of years.

To answer your question more practically, I think the new material is a high point in the show, which is not something that you necessarily think is going to be the case. We open shows with our three most recent songs and it’s been very gratifying and I feel like fans know they’re in for something new.

Some of our songs that we’ve been playing for years and years and years, that people associate with us, we’ve backed some of those out of the set and replaced them with the new material. So far, the reaction has been very positive and that feels exciting.

How do you decide what makes up your setlist?

Donnelly: For years we prided ourselves as a band that could mix it up. We’ve been around for a while and we have a lot of albums, and we’re constantly writing. I’ve always felt like we could do a lot of material and night-to-night we would switch up the show, possibly to a fault.

We still mix things in. But I think on this particulate tour, it was kind of easy to lock in to what the core of the show was. We know there will be seven or eight songs that you’re going to get right now in the latter half of 2017 from the Alternate Routes. Some of the other songs come in and come out but that depends on if a fan has a request or if someone is in a particular mood. There’s definitely a core you’ll get at every show.

Can fans expect a new album soon?

The most honest thing I can say is I’m not sure. The last couple of years we’ve released a handful of singles, and I feel like we did that just to get new music out. But in retrospect, between releasing the new music and taking it on the road and recording some it ourselves, there’s a sonic and an emotional – there seems to be a thread that’s developing that would lend itself well to an album.

So I don’t think we would do an album for an album’s sake, but I’m starting to feel like an album might be writing itself. At a certain part we’re going to look at it and say, “This collection of songs deserve to be together.” It sounds like a corny thing to say, but I feel like an album is being written even if we’re not writing it and I think there will be a tipping point where we’ll get together and be like, “Oh yeah, that’s what we were doing.”  

The Alternate Routes is represented by Madison House. The band is managed by W.F. Leopold Management.