Highway 50 is the brainchild of Al Laughlin, original member of the Colorado band, The Samples. Laughlin wrote or co-wrote many of the band’s most enduring songs and his percussive off-beat reggae stylings on keyboards became known as “the bubble” that helped form the band’s signature sound. Highway 50 continues in that tradition blending ska, reggae, jazz, pop and R&B with Laughlin’s melodic vocals and introspective lyrics. The band’s lineup includes guitarist James Hambleton, drummers Jeep MacNichol (also formally of The Samples), Brian Nevin (of Big Head Todd and the Monsters), and Sam Young; horn players Andrew McNew, Matt Planer, Rick Demey, and Kyle Etges, and bassists Chris Wright and Tony Soto. We spoke with Highway 50 and got some information about their new release, “The Violet Project” along with some insight on Al Laughlin’s past with his late band, The Samples.
Entertwine:What inspired the band’s name? Could you tell us a bit about each of the members and how you met and began playing music together? The name comes from having run out of gas on Hwy50 in Utah. I also liked that it was the Pony Express route for US mail by horse and called “the loneliest road in America”. The band members are all old friends from The Samples days and available locals that have helped in every way from playing to production.
What experiences and events influenced “The Violet Project”? What can you tell us about each of the featured tracks? I wrote these songs over the years and Darren Roebuck helped work them out in his house twice a week and it all came together. “Condoplex” is about a tough living situation in Boston that had people struggling and needing help. Very poor and tight living. “Pyrite Gold” features Brian Nevin from Big Head Todd on drums and James Hambleton on guitar. It is simply about life and my take on experiences. “Easy way out ” is my take on the way people interact, in my view, and touches on addiction. “Just the Way I Am” is self-explanatory with a great rap from my friend Tony G . “Gonna Make It” is simply about the will to survive.
What musical equipment, instruments and programs do you and the band use live and in-studio? Darren, Chris Wright, and Scott Higgins all helped in the production and Chris Wright helped with skill and knowledge of today’s gear. Scott Higgins owns violet. These guys have been friends for years. I wrote all the songs.
How does “The Violet Project” differ from and expand on the band’s debut album? Violet is more of a collective of all the friends and players I know because they are all so instrumental in keeping the music alive. The production is far better too than first recording.
What remain as landmark moments from your ten years as a member of The Samples? The Samples gave me experience traveling and playing large venues. The Tonight show with Jay Leno sticks out in ’93 as well as some great festivals etc. Meeting and playing with Sting is a highlight. So many of those albums and shows were exciting and heartfelt.
Could you tell us about some of the most exciting or interesting live performances you were a part of during your time with The Samples? In the early years I remember playing The Palladium in NYC with Jimmy Cliff. I was barely 19. There were so many interesting performances. Dave Mathews spent a couple years opening for us and having some great jams with us…a lot to talk about to say the least.
You played with Jeep MacNichol in The Samples from 1987-1997. You’re now playing together again through this project; explain the musical cohesion that you have. Jeep is my best friend and greatest drummer I know. He gets where I’m headed musically and he knows my history. We both love reggae/ska stuff. It fits. He plays on “Condoplex” and “Just the Way I Am” and plays many live shows with Hwy50.
Tell us about the gigs you’ve lined up in Colorado for April 2016. We play all over from Vail to Cape Cod adding gigs as we go. Colorado is best in Denver for us, from the Ogden to the Bluebird.
What’s next for Highway 50? I’ll be making a new recording soon with high energy shows, videos, and soundtracks. Thanks so much!