"The crowd was louder than we were," guitarist Kirk Rundstrom says of Bloodshot's midafternoon barbecue party, which also featured a performance by KC's Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys. "They were just totally into it. Then we played an outdoor show Saturday night at Waterloo Brewing Company outside, and the venue was packed."
"It's a big blur," adds banjo player Eric Mardis. "I don't even know what day it is."
Given the group's uncanny ability to pack as much activity as humanly possible into tiny time slots, this disorientation is probably a common condition. For example, Split Lip Rayfield managed to record, mix and master Never Make It Home in just eight days, working in Lawrence last April at Z'Gwon,Th Studios with Colin Mahoney behind the boards. "We just went in there and worked fifteen hours a day, trying to get it done as quick as we could because the clock was running," Rundstrom says. "We went until we couldn't go anymore. You got to do it that way. We didn't have no big budgets, you know."
Despite how quickly it was assembled, Never Make It Home never feels slapped together. Instead, it's an intense testament to four guys who have one hell of a time playing the music they love. Banjo, mandolin, guitar and four-part harmonies all are present and accounted for, with bassist Jeff Eaton's invention the Stitchgiver, which he fashioned out of a Ford gas tank, adding a unique dimension. "I think it might be from a van, but I'm not sure," Eaton says of the origins of his behemoth washtub stand-in. "I didn't have a washtub, but I had that gas tank, and it just sort of evolved into it."
It's pragmatic that the group manages to convert automobile parts into instruments because, as its song "Kiss of Death" implies, Split Lip Rayfield has quite a scrap heap at its fingertips as a result of Mardis' bad luck with vehicles. "They're all real cars that I had, and I actually do have the '85 Buick in my driveway," Mardis says of the less-than-roadworthy cars described in the tune. "I have a curse about me, and there's actually a couple of vehicles that I've had since I wrote that that should go on the list," he confesses, adding that his special lady only rarely lets him near her own vehicle. "She doesn't let me drive it that much. She knows. She can see the front yard."
Fortunately, Rundstrom isn't similarly hexed when it comes to transportation, or Split Lip Rayfield might have difficulty assembling. He moved to Richmond, Virginia, about a year ago, and he hooks up with the other three-fourths of the group when it comes time to tour or head into the studio.
"If we're doing three weeks on the road, we'll meet wherever the first city is and do the tour," Rundstrom explains. "It works just fine." The group's camaraderie, established after years together in Split Lip and (for some members) Scroat Belly, enables this unorthodox arrangement to succeed; the band can put tunes together on the fly. "We write them, and when we go on the road, we just learn them at sound checks," Rundstrom says.
"It's not too bad of a deal," mandolin player Wayne Gottstine says of the group's long-distance relationship with Rundstrom. "That keeps him far away from us, which is nice. He's a turd. Sometimes it's hard because you can't just meet for band photos or practices, but we'll figure it out."
In the meantime, Split Lip Rayfield will keep crisscrossing the country, enjoying the luxury of its relatively new touring vehicle. "We've got one of those big old extendo Dodge vans," says Mardis. "We had an '83 Econoline that we used for the past three and a half years, and it was like a big rolling ashtray. It sprayed oil, and it couldn't go any faster than 60 miles an hour. Now we've got a '94, so it's much better." That's assuming, of course, that Split Lip Rayfield never lets Mardis in the driver's seat.