The guys from The Flying Rickshaw are giddy about their fame. At least, they’re giddy about something.
When we speak over the telephone, it’s minutes shy of 1 p.m. the day following the first show of the Missoula jam band’s first out-of-state tour, a four-day stint through Idaho earlier this month. They’re having breakfast burritos at the Common Ground Cafe in McCall, Idaho, and still reveling in a strong response from the show the night before. Things are good, and by the end of the day they hope the groove will continue in Ketchum in front of another crowd interested in checking out the 2007 Montana PBR Band of the Year.
That honor—a $1,000 first prize awarded in March after a four-week competition sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon—made possible the release of The Flying Rickshaw’s eponymous debut, an album that was more than a year in the making and cost almost $5,000, according to vocalist Ryan Waniata’s estimate. But the beer also seems to play a larger role in the life of the band members.
The group gives off a sort of juvenile prankster vibe in conversation—albeit with a timbre grown-up enough to be beer-soaked. Remarking on this band camaraderie, guitar player Chris DuPerri says, “I kind of feel like an orphan because I’m from St. Louis. These guys took me in. They feed me PBR mostly.”
While DuPerri is a Midwestern transplant, the band is a Montana creation. As vocalist Chad Lantz remembers it, keyboard and guitar player Dennis Ferriter “called me up one day and said ‘Let’s form the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.’”
Why tap Lantz, who didn’t have any prior experience as a vocalist, for the top slot? Lantz says it was about his image. “I think it was mainly for my looks,” he says. “I’m a damn sexy fellow.”
It didn’t hurt that fronting a band was a lifelong ambition for Lantz, who’s become the face of The Flying Rickshaw. “I’ve wanted to be a singer in a band and be on stage since I was a little tyke,” he says. “I’m doing what I want to do and living a dream, [which] makes me pumped up to get up there on stage.”
So far the payoff has been largely non-monetary. Following the McCall show, the band sold two CDs but was more gratified by the attention and involvement of the crowd. It’s that way a lot of nights.
“Pretty much every show someone comes up to us and says how much they really appreciated the night and how much fun they had,” Lantz says. “To look out across the crowd and make eye contact with somebody who’s completely entranced with what you’re doing…it’s what we go for.”
After about three years of connecting with Missoula audiences, The Flying Rickshaw has decided to head elsewhere with the aim of entrancing larger audiences. At the end of August, a majority of the band will move to Portland, Ore., and the rest of the members plan to follow over the ensuing months. By relocating, Lantz says the band hopes to reach new fans, play more frequently and eventually land a record deal.
“We’ve got the belief in our music,” says Lantz, “and think we can take it somewhere.”
The Flying Rickshaw’s music is a collaborative effort; most of the band members contribute to the writing and none of the songs on the album are labeled with specific credits. The album’s tracks are good-time rock ’n’ roll peppered with instrumental segments suited to guitar- and keyboard-driven jams. Getting down is the straightforwardly addressed topic of some tunes, exemplified by “Dance With the Devil” and “Sweet Rhythm,” but there are a few change-ups as well. On “Poor Man,” slow finger snapping and slide guitar lend the intro a front-porch-in-summer feel. That beginning eventually gives way to slapped-and-popped bass lines backing lyrics about the merits and struggles of getting by on less-than-enough income before the song slips back into a hayseed outro. It’s a clever track, but it also leaves the impression the band saves its best stuff for the stage.
In fact, how The Flying Rickshaw reacts to the energy of live shows is an ongoing challenge. DuPerri says it took a moment at the PBR contest for the band to realize how to rise to the occasion even if the crowd doesn’t.
“We played first…but broke through that problem we sometimes have where, if there’s not a crowd, we don’t play as well,” he explains. “We just rocked it like we do at the best moments.”
Hoping to bring those moments to even more fans, the band will film a zombie-themed music video in August for the song “Beer Stain.” Plans for the shoot fit with the band’s more-the-merrier attitude.
“We’re going to have a big party up to Dennis’ cabin with a bunch of friends,” says Lantz. “If you want to be an extra and drink a bunch of beer, you’re more than welcome to come up to Seeley and become a zombie in our video.”
The Flying Rickshaw plays a CD-release party at Caras Park Saturday, June 16, at 2 PM. Greenstar, swyl, Ye Olde Brass Band and the inHumans open. $5.