Interview with Lookin' For Trouble: Uniquely done classic blues, rocking blues, rockabilly, and soul

"It all began with the blues - a very simple, beautiful art form. Sometimes you need to go back to that well of ideas to find new ways to interpret this original style of music." 

Lookin' For Trouble: L.A. Troublemakers

Uniquely done classic blues, rocking blues, rockabilly, and soul blues music done by four killer musicians who are just Lookin' for Trouble.

The band is made up four, seasoned professional musicians who create a fresh take on the blues genre. Culling from a vast array of blues music from as far back as the 1920's to the present, they create novel & contemporary arrangements to give new life to these wonderful compositions. LFT has also started incorporating original compositions into the repertoire and their "live" shows are garnering accolades wherever they perform.

Lookin' For Trouble are: Greg Conte on guitars, April Snow on vocals, Don Romine on drums and David May on bass. Greg first fell in love with the guitar at young age, and started actually teaching himself to play at age of 8 after hearing his first Beatles album. He has played in various bands over the years and has opened for such acts as Robin Trower and Foghat, and has done many years of studio work on various projects. He was trained in orchestration, arranging, film scoring and electronic music, and has written music for films. But through it all he had a deep love of traditional “blues” music. He started Lookin’ For Trouble to fuel this passion and considers it an honor to play with some of the finest musicians around in the group. LFT newest album is “Look Out”.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you? 

Greg: Well, I think the biggest thing for me and this band is that playing real "blues" music is harder than it seems! It's the easiest music to learn but the hardest music to master.  There are certain nuances that you have to know, innately, in your playing, and when playing with the other members of your band. You either have that or you don't.  When I was putting this band together I auditioned lots of musicians - good musicians - but they just didn't have this music in their soul.  But the cats I have now GET IT, and are incredible musicians to perform with and it's extremely satisfying.  I feel very fortunate that we have all bumped into each other in life and this band.

April: Singing and songwriting in any genre is a soul searching and enlightening experience. We are a blues band but I like to think that we step outside of the "blues box" at times and have a unique sound. I have always thought of myself as a "soul singer" and I think of "soul" not simply as a style of music but as a feeling. It's tapping into an emotion, trying to convey a certain story or a feeling to the listener. Blues to me is an outlet to share my experiences by expressing my emotions in the form of a song.

David: I started as a rock and country player but later learned the foundation for both are the Blues.  I appreciate it much more than I ever have.  It appears simple on the surface, and then you find out so much is feel, far beyond technique.

How do you describe your sound and progress, what characterize Lookin’ For Trouble philosophy?

Greg: Well, originally I wanted to take older, more obscure blues music and give them fresh new arrangements to make them more accessible to today's audience. And that is very creative and rewarding. This lead to writing original music as a natural extension. Our philosophy isn't something we actually sat down and wrote in stone somewhere - I think what we all contribute as artists is an integral part to our sound, and this is what makes all good bands, and it's what makes us; "Lookin' For Trouble".

David: We don’t want to be a cookie cutter blues clone band we want to be ourselves, that’s what make us unique. I play more than blues however the attention to detail and feel has enhanced the other music I play.

Tell me about the beginning of Lookin’ For Trouble. How did you choose the name and where did it start? 

Greg: I had stopped performing in bands for a time to concentrate on composing and studio work, however, I really felt that I was "missing" something in my life. I always loved the blues, but wasn't even really sure I could pull it off because as a guitarist you really have to be on your game. But I started auditioning various musicians, and trying out different iterations. For some reason a trio with a female singer seemed to be the best of all worlds. It can be big when you need it, but also allows for "air" in a song when called for. It's kind of like walking a tightrope - it's scary, but invigorating nonetheless! The name was just a saying I had heard as a kid (I think all kid's have!), but I was watching the 3 Stooges TV show one day and the line came up in one of their episodes, and it just sort of clicked with me. (I'm easily amused!). It fits the band, it's catchy, and now we call our fans & followers "Troublemakers"!

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

Greg: I'm not sure if I have any life experiences that make me a good blues musician - although I have had my share of adversity which I can draw on when writing. I just work very hard at trying to be the best musician I can be.  I have guitars all over my house and am always playing. Writing music, in general for me, is something I've always had since I was literally 5 yrs. old. I have music in my head all day long!  I feel like I draw it from some energy out there in the universe because it just comes to me. I couldn't tell you how the artistic mind works - sometimes I just pick up a guitar or sit at a piano and a piece of music comes flowing out!

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs and who were your mentors in songwriting?

April: Sometimes my inspiration comes from life, sometimes it comes from books or poetry, sometimes it comes it from listening to certain styles of music, and frankly sometimes it comes out of nowhere. I have found that running can be very inspirational... I think it's the combination of my feet beating on the pavement, and the way my mind is so clear from other thoughts. There are many songwriters that inspire me: Carole King, Dolly Parton, Lennon and McCartney, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Adele, Jeff Tweedy... The list is truly endless but I guess my mentor in songwriting would be my father. He is a musician, and a skilled songwriter. He wrote with a group in the late 60's and early 70's called, The Left Banke, and has been writing music before I was born and ever since. He always made it seem easy! It doesn't come quite so easily to me but I have been lucky to have Greg Conte to work with on our songs, and I absolutely love writing, so each new song is a new experience and adventure!

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best advice ever given you?

Greg: Well, listening to a lot of the early guys like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, the 3 Kings (Albert, BB, and Freddie), Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and even Joe Satriani - they all have their own styles, but if you really listen to their playing it becomes inspiration you can draw on.  The two pieces of great advice I've ever heard was one from Albert King who said; "If you have your own style, there is no competition", and a one from Stevie Ray Vaughn who said; "Play from your heart!". Both are simple & elegant.

David: The producer shall remain unnamed. I was very young clueless and in a recording session. The producer said “Play the simplest thing you can, what you would consider stupid.  Think only groove and feel and you’ll work all the time” He also told me if I was a bass player who could sing I would always work. He was right.  

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

Greg: Best moment hasn't happened yet! 

David: Worst playing a concert at a rodeo. The stage was in the middle of the field, we played after the rodeo it was 101 degrees 90% humidity the smell I still have no words the longest set of my life to date.  Best, I have had many and been fortunate.  Touring Europe the first time was a big one, hearing a song I played bass on the radio for the first time.

I played Arkansas on the 4th of July for an outdoor festival for 40K people.  I used to play at the Palomino Club in Los Angeles often. It was the number one Club for Country, Country Rock, Blues venues for national acts. All sorts of great players would sit in famous and just great players.

Are there any memories from the road and recording time with the band which you’d like to share with us? 

Greg: Recording with this band was great fun! There is a definite energy that we all seem to feed off of, and there is a really good camaraderie.  Plus we laugh a lot which keeps it fun! 

David: We always have fun whether recording or playing live, seriously it’s all been good.

Don: After years of being in other bands and experiencing so much drama it is great to be with a group of people that get along so well. I enjoy almost every moment being with this band. When one of us is down the others lift them up.

While being direct support for Eric Sardinas a while back we were being treated very poorly by the venue. I was the point person for that gig and wound up toe to toe with a very unreasonable person over sound check and equipment issues. April saw I was getting really angry and got between the two of us and diffused the confrontation. Afterwards I was having a hard time getting my head in the right place to perform and Dave helped calm me down and get in the right space and we wound up having a kick ass show.

Recording is a dream with Lookin for Trouble. We have all been around the industry our whole lives and it shows. We don't have a lot of ego at stake and work towards the song sounding good...not just the parts. As a drummer I listen to everyone but really look to dig a deep pocket and lock up with the Bass. As Dave and I play together more we are getting tighter... that guy is practically telepathic. I love working with Greg and April as well. They both have a unique style and it is fascinating watching how the two are able to bring songs to life.

Which memory from Robin Trower and Foghat makes you smile? 

Greg: It's funny you mention these two artists because I once opened for both of these acts eons ago!  I had always been a big fan of Robin Trower and couldn't wait to meet him, but he turned out to be kind of a "bitter" guy, and wasn't very friendly. I still admire his work & playing though.  Foghat were a bunch of great guys - very LOUD band, and funny!  They were a well-established band at the time and we were kind of an up-and-coming group.  The drummer came in our tour bus and said "hey, how come you guys have a nicer bus than we do?". 

What do you miss most nowadays from the old days of Blues and Rock n’ Roll? 

Greg: What was cool about alot of the old groups was that they actually played their instruments, and had to perform their song together in the studio - usually to a pretty high standard.  No matter who you were, you were committed to getting better & better as a player, performer, writer, etc.  It's a different vibe today.  There isn't the drive to "play it right" in the studio because you can fix any imperfection "in the mix". These tools have allowed for some creativity, to be sure, but I think it's allowed a lot of musicians to be kind of lazy.  There's something kind of special & magical when you record a near a great performance on your instrument.

April: Well I wasn't around for the "old days" having been born in the 80's myself but I grew up surrounded by blues, rock & roll, Motown, folk, and soul. We didn't have television, and the only station my parents liked to listen to was an "oldies" radio station. So I listened to that and also to my father playing Ray Charles, and Chuck Berry songs to me and my brothers on his guitar. I knew the lyrics to most Beatles and Marvin Gaye tunes long before I'd ever heard of New Kids on the Block (who were hugely popular when I was a young girl.) I think what is missing in these times is a real "scene" for live music. I enjoy going to see local bands play but I notice that I'm somewhat unique amongst my peer group. I sometimes wish that we all gathered at one or two popular local spots to hear the newest band play or to dance and have a good time. Technology is great in a lot of ways but seeing a video on YouTube is never as good as witnessing the real thing live!

David: I wish there were more venues for live music.  I wish there were only bands at weddings, not DJ’s.

Don: It seems like most (not all) of the newer players / bands are not trying new things or stretching the boundaries of Blues much. There are a lot of copy cats out there with little feel or understanding of the Blues. There where so many cat's pushing the boundaries in the 50's - 60's and 70's. I miss being able to go see Taj Mahal - Paul Butterfield and Quicksilver Messenger Service share a bill with BB King. Can you tell I grew up in San Francisco?

An important part of the old days was the ability to at least make a living playing music. This is a real challenge here in Los Angeles.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

Greg: In the beginning, there were the blues. It's the first genuine "American" music form.  If it wasn't for the blues, there would be no ragtime, no jazz, no swing or even rock n' roll. It all began with the blues - a very simple, beautiful art form.  Sometimes you need to go back to that well of ideas to find new ways to interpret this original style of music.  With Lookin' For Trouble, we're trying to stretch the boundaries of where "we" think the direction of blues can go.  There's no real right or wrong - if people dig it, if they're tapping their feet, if they're smiling and moving to the music, then it's good! 

David: Blues is the foundation for popular music. It all comes from the blues.  I hope people learn the history, then they can appreciate it, if they appreciate they can keep it alive.

When we talk about blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Apart from the old cats of blues, do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays? 

Greg: Oh, heck yeah!  Lots of great blues artists today! Some of my favorites - Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Joan Taylor Shaw, Johnny Lang, Fabulous Thunderbirds and of course, Lookin' For Trouble!

Do you believe that there is “misuse”, that there is a trend to misappropriate the name of blues?

David: We are in the age of branding I am sure it happens all the time. I don’t really notice it. I think just the fact that it out there gives people the opportunity to dig into it further.

From the musical point of view is there any difference and similarities between blues, rockabilly, swing, and rock 'n roll?

David: They are all connected and feed of off each other. The changes arrange are very close, it comes down to the feel. I’ve played many of the same songs in all those styles and they have all worked.

Don: I think that if you look back at the roots of all three genres you will find some common ground. I am greatly influenced by all and bring these to Lookin for Trouble. When I listen to different drummers in history I can hear where they came from - what they listened to and how they developed their feel. We live in an amazing time where you can find video + audio of so many great drummers. Take Little Water's "My Babe for example. Fred Below played drums on this. He definitely swung on this tune and it sounds like he was using brushes. This song is structured as a blues but also could hold its own as a pop - rock tune. Fred played on some Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley stuff as well.

Why did you think that Los Angeles Blues continues to generate such a devoted following? What are the difference from the others local scenes?

Greg: This is my hometown; I was born & raised here.  Musicians from all over the world end up coming to Los Angeles because of the many venues, record companies, recording studios and generally the bulk of the entertainment community.  But in truth, the center for blues in America is the South, specifically in Memphis. Also there is Kansas City Blues, Chicago Blues - these places are where the blues were born and it seems to be "in the air" in those places!

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