(photo: L. Herrada-Rios)
Jeremy Lyon is 26 years old.
This isn’t particularly remarkable information — lots of people are 26 — until he talks about his band’s breakup. He does so with a breezy, casual air, one dark night at Kingfish in Oakland. “Pat joined Con Brio, and then rob joined Soft White Sixties…I started teaching, started being kind of a local working musician, full-time musician…and I started working on my own thing.”
This is also unremarkable information — lots of bands break up — unless you understand that the band he’s talking about, Tumbleweed Wanderers, were one of the hardest-working bands in the Bay’s folk and country-tinged rock scenes in the earlier part of this decade. But band breakups are a part of life when all you do is play music.
Lyon has the rare distinction of, at 26, being a full-time musician in the Bay Area. A music teacher by day, he’s also a fixture on the local singer-songwriter scene. Lyon’s known for being a musician’s musician, for guitar riffs steeped in ‘60s-era rock and roll conventions, and for his distinct head of red hair. It’s tied back tonight at Kingfish, a dive bar that’s been in business since the ‘20s. But in 2018 it’s the Bay Area version of a dive bar, so it’s got a popcorn machine, a selection of craft brews, and is populated by the kind of people your parents might call yuppies.
But Oakland is home, even after your band is broken up and your former musical collaborators have fled to more music-friendly cities and your local watering hole has to be physically relocated to make way for condos. Aside from a short stint in Santa Cruz, he’s lived here his whole life. “I considered moving, but…my girlfriend’s here as well, and I started picking up a lot of other gigs here pretty quickly after that. So it’s like, y’know, you can move to a music city — Nashville or LA — but it can be like starting over as well.” So he’s starting over here at home, with a new project and new identity as a solo musician.
If you want to get technical, Lyon started playing guitar when he was six, but his career started when he dropped out of UC Santa Cruz. “I never declared,” he admits. “I managed to go as far without declaring before it was like ‘OK, I’ll take a year off and try to make this music thing work.’ And here I am. Seven years later.” The more interesting aspect of Santa Cruz was the city’s music scene, particularly the open-mic sessions on campus and around town, where he met future bandmate Rob Fidel. It was just the school part of Santa Cruz living that wasn’t clicking with him. “It was pretty easy at first and then…I was like ‘OK cool, I’ll try being a lit major’…and I was like, ‘I can’t read three books in a week.’”
In 2011 he moved back to Oakland, moving into his old friend Zak Mandel’s parents’ house. Zak was another musician, and the two started playing together. Zak’s friend Pat Monaco got looped in on keys, and when the time came for a drummer, Lyon called his friend Daniel Blum from Pyramind Studios. They toured together for a bit — and when they got to Santa Cruz, they met Rob. “We had a great time and felt Rob was the missing link in the band,” says Lyon.
Tumbleweed Wanderers started as a busking band, playing for change in BART stations and outside concerts of bands with similar throwback sounds. “It works great for like late teens, early 20s. Once you start growing a beard people stop giving you money.” They also discovered they actually really liked being on the road. For most of 2013 and 2014, the four of them booked nonstop tours, playing club gigs and festivals like High Sierra and Outside Lands. “Within a year of starting that band, we had a record and were touring a lot.”
And then in 2016 it just…ended. Not dramatically, not explosively. They’d been almost constantly within shouting and sweating distance of each other for five years, some of the original personnel had been replaced, and the next logical step — promoting a record to labels — didn’t go as planned. “Everyone