Muddy Ruckus are a Southern Blues infused rock duo from New England and today they are dropping their third album, Bellows to Mend. The band, Ryan Flaherty and Erika Stahl, spent a year working on Bellows to Mend with the goal of capturing their live show sound on recording. They also have their friend, Daisy Castro, joining them on the album adding violin to a few songs. Erika Stahl was kind enough to tell us about her start in Muddy Ruckus and how she became the heartbeat of the band.
Izzi Krombholz: Tell me about your background in music. Where are you from and when did you first start playing?
Erika Stahl: I am originally from Delmar, NY, near Albany. I was blessed to be exposed to a lot of music in my home growing up. My mother is a musician and gave piano and violin lessons and had a quartet that held rehearsals at our house. She also played violin in the community orchestra and later went on to be the conductor of the orchestra. I remember so many evenings spent at their rehearsals taking in the music and dancing around. I was interested in percussion as long as I can remember. That was my first choice for band when I was in fourth grade but the band director who was a woman, said I could not sign up for percussion because “girls don’t play drums.” I remember my mother was furious and I of course was terribly disappointed but I went with my second choice of trumpet at the time. When I was about 13 or 14 I got into middle eastern hand drumming a bit. Again I attribute that to exposure through my mother. She’s involved with an organization that explores medieval traditions; clothing, music, arts ect., and I was instantly drawn to the rhythm of the hand drums. I was 19 when I bought my first kit. I had wanted to play all my life so one I day I just decided I was going to get a kit and try to figure it out. I was living in rural Arkansas at the time. I knew one other person locally who played drums who showed me a few things. I really had no idea what I was doing but I tried to teach myself to play when I had the time. I wound up moving to Maine eventually and I set up my kit in my basement and continued to try teaching myself here and there. Back then it seemed even harder to find the time to play as I had a full time job and a newborn baby. It wasn’t until I met Ryan that I began playing professionally.
ES: I met Ryan in July of 2013 at a show he was playing with his former band. We got to talking about music and made an instant connection. We started dating shortly after that and would listen to music together all the time. I would sing along here and there and Ryan liked my voice and asked me to learn one of his songs. I enjoyed singing with him at home while we were hanging out but I was not intending to perform on stage in front of people as I tend to be a more introverted person. One night while Ryan was playing a show in New Hampshire he asked me to come up and sing a song with him. I was shaking in my shoes but I went up and sang with him and got great encouragement from the audience which helped a lot. Every now and then at his shows he would call me up to sing a couple of songs with him and that’s how it all began. Shortly after that his band dissolved and he started Muddy Ruckus as a solo project – playing acoustic guitar and a suitcase kick drum with tambourine on pedals. He was eventually joined by an upright bass player and then asked me to sing with them full time. That was in April of 2014. We performed as a trio for about 7 months. I remember at one of our shows way up in Northern Maine at a great little hidden gem called Eureka, we were messing around, jamming outside after our gig and I picked up a metal rake and started playing percussion on the gravel with it, also using my foot on Ryan’s guitar case as a kick drum. I remember Ryan being pleasantly surprised by this and that’s probably when the first idea was sparked that I might play percussion with the band. When the bass player moved away in November of 2014, Ryan gave me the suitcase he’d been playing with his feet and I tied that tambourine on top with a piece of rope and got out my old snare drum and we started playing together as a duo with drums and guitar.
IK: How did you start combining vocals and drumming?
ES: Since I was singing with Muddy Ruckus before ever drumming with the band, I combined the vocals with the drumming right away. It was hard at first. Since I really didn’t have much experience with drumming it was difficult at first to play and sing at the same time. I would play the songs with Ryan and then, as I got more comfortable with the beat, I would add the singing.
This is your 3rd album, how has your style grown or changed since your first release?
ES: When we released our first album we were a three piece acoustic band and had more of folk/bluegrass sound. Our second album, Pretty Bones reflects the beginning stages of us as a duo and starts to introduce more of that rock sound that we have now. Over the past few years as we started playing as a duo our sound has evolved a lot. First with the drums and then Ryan switching to electric guitar. We just naturally kept moving towards more of a rock sound which is what you hear on the new album, Bellows to Mend.
IK: Do you have a favorite track on Bellows to Mend?
ES: Honestly, it’s hard for me to pick one favorite. I really like “The River,” “Along in the Sun and the Rain,” and “Sweet Unknown.”
IK: Who is your favorite drummer?
ES: I have a hard time picking favorites. My first inspiration was John Bonham. I was introduced to him as a child when my sister and her friends showed me video’s of him playing live and I was in awe. Over the years, as I’ve been learning and studying, I’ve also come to love Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Bernard Purdie and many others.
IK: Being from the East Coast, how did you develop a more Southern/Americana sound?
ES: Ryan and I have always loved a variety of music. Both of us have also moved around quite a bit. I lived out west for a short time and down south for several years. Ryan is from Illinois along the Mississippi river and also lived in Tennessee, Arizona and California before moving to the North East. Ryan is very into the blues and folk music as well as many other styles and I think that is reflected in his songwriting. But it’s funny, we never were trying to sound southern or Americana, or bluesy or any style… but the music comes out that way at times.
IK: Do you have a favorite woman in rock?
ES: I grew up in the 80’s when Madonna was huge. I was totally into her as a child. As I got older, hearing women like Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin blew my mind. I’ve recently been getting more into PJ Harvey, Patti Smith and Joan Jett. There are so many amazing women in rock, again it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite.
**Bellows to Mend is available now to stream on Spotify or order from iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp. Be sure to check out this powerhouse duo!