Thanks to the shutdown, a scheduled European tour went down in flames, and the band's fourth album sat in limbo for months. On top of all that, the band was set to perform its energetic blend of punk and Texas country during the 2020 Saint Patrick's Day Flogging Molly concert in Los Angeles. But of course, that never happened.
Speaking with Vandoliers leader Joshua Fleming now, it's difficult to look back on that era and think anything negative about what the group endured.
"In 2020, we were going to be one of three bands on an outdoor stage outside of the venue where Flogging Molly was playing on Saint Patrick's Day," Fleming says over the phone. "But this year, we were one of three bands on an entire tour with them, and we also played on their cruise. That's kind of the way things have been lately. Whatever I thought we lost with COVID, we've gotten back tenfold."
To add to the good news, the record that was put on hold in 2020 is being released Friday, Aug. 12, with a hometown album-release concert at the Kessler in Dallas that night. But to be clear, the self-titled album that fans will hear soon isn't the one Fleming and the rest of the band including bassist Mark Moncrieff, drummer Trey Alfaro, fiddler Travis Curry, electric guitarist Dustin Fleming and multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves had in mind over two years ago. Fleming used the time to write additional songs and to have the album art redone.
Overall, it's bigger and better now, with a sound that more closely resembles the rambunctious signature sound the group conveys in concert, which has been heard on previous Vandoliers albums.
As difficult as navigating the pandemic was, the Vandoliers also had to deal with the implosion of their record label, Bloodshot Records. In the summer of 2020, the influential label responsible for helping popularize alternative country — while helping notable acts such as Dallas' own Old 97's, Neko Case and more gain prominence — became entangled in sexual harassment allegations as well as accusations of financial impropriety before eventually being sold.
After Fleming failed to find any other record label willing to take on their album, he opted to start his own label, Ameri-Kinda Records. Thanks to the help of friends and musical heroes from bands including Flogging Molly and roots-rockers Lucero, Fleming now appreciates having full control over his music.
When they finally made the trek overseas for that long-awaited European tour, instead of playing to near-empty clubs as the band might've expected in 2020, Fleming found their shows were packed with fans who had been waiting for them every bit as anxiously as the band had been itching to go. Packed festival dates in Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen to start the tour were encouraging signs, but Fleming says he and the band weren't ready for how welcoming Spain was in late June.
"That's kind of the way things have been lately. Whatever I thought we lost with COVID, we've gotten back ten-fold." –Joshua Fleming
"We had been waiting for things to go downhill," Fleming says. "We figured people would have something else to do on a Saturday night in a city like Madrid than to come see us play. But when we pulled up to the hotel in Madrid, the promoter was waiting for us, which was weird, and he told us the show was sold-out, and there was a line at the venue to get in. The guy who introduced us at the show was the DJ who had been playing us for the past two years, and the crowd knew every word to every song. We had no idea!"
On top of everything else, the Vandoliers have also now found themselves in the middle of perhaps one of the biggest stories in country music this year. When the insanely popular Oklahoma outfit Turnpike Troubadours returned to the stage after a three-year hiatus, the Vandoliers were picked to open the first Turnpike Troubadours concert, back in April at Tulsa's historic Cain's Ballroom. And when The Evan Felker-led country band performed at the also historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in July, Fleming and the boys were once again on hand to open the festivities to yet another sold-out audience.
Couple the Turnpike Troubadour love with continued airplay on Outlaw Sirius XM, and the band's 2021 single, "Waiting on a Train," recorded with Texas legend Bruce Robison for his Next Waltz label, and you have a hard-to-define band reaching a bigger Texas country and red dirt music audience — one that doesn't exactly stretch its own boundaries too much. Fleming sees the shift as a natural progression for a band that is happy with who they are.
"You can't claim authenticity and then go and change yourself," Fleming says. "The thing I love about country music and why I fell in love with it is the authenticity. Everyone is unapologetically themselves."
Fleming can think of a few prime examples of artists who made their own way by refusing to conform.
"The outlaw movement wasn't Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson conforming to a specific sound," he says. "They were told 'no' a million times, so they went to Austin and California and found other people who liked their sound. You do something long enough and you stick to your guns and you'll find the people who recognize what you do. The punk scene started to recognize us this year."
When talking about the new record and the process of getting it to where he and the band were happy with it, Fleming could also be describing his career up to this point. He takes what life has given him, and instead of letting unfortunate events derail him, Fleming looks to make things better, to make things work.
His optimism is paying off for the Vandoliers.
"This record has been like a hot-rod or an old truck," he says. "You keep tinkering with it and one day you get it on the road and it finally works. That's how this band has been for the last two years."