Marin Idependant Journal

This Old Earthquake

 "Gospel Flat"

This artsy acoustic quartet from Bolinas continues to refine its distinctive brand of "West Marinicana" on this second album of sophisticated back porch music.

"Gospel Flat," recorded in the band's famously eccentric hometown, is just as spare, elegant and occasionally dark as 2009's "Portuguese Murder Ballads," the inspired debut from childhood friends Ethan Okamura and Steve Trivelpiece, both singer-songwriter-guitarists.

Original bassist Michael Burton is no longer with the band, replaced on this 11-track sophomore effort by Taylor Cutcomb on stand-up bass. With the addition of drummer Michael Pinkham, This Old

   Earthquake, named after a line in the Graham Parsons song "Sin City," now boasts an effective and, thankfully, unobtrusive rhythm section.

 On "Gospel Flat," Okamura and Trivelpiece continue to explore subjects facing their baby boom generation. Sung in Trivelpiece's mellow baritone, "The Old Home" speaks to anyone who's tried to hold onto the family spread after the parents are gone and the family has moved on.

On songs like the existential "I'm Not Here," Okamura sings in a strange tenor whine that makes the song's poetic lyrics all the more compelling. And their odd harmonies on moody tunes like the bluesy "All Alone" are different and progressive enough to set this group apart from the average alternative folk group. Grateful

 Dead lyricist Peter Monk wrote the lyrics to a pair of songs, "That's Where It Lives" and "Checkmate."

 On "Gospel Flats," the title track, a ghostly trumpet sounds like it escaped from a Tom Waits session. Most people familiar with Bolinas know Gospel Flat as the Bolinas farm of artist-turned-organic grower Mickey Murch.

But the tune, called "Gospel Flats" on the CD, goes beyond vague name recognition. It comments on the xenophobic hippie haven's inexorable gentrification, mentioning Horseshoe Hill, where houses sell for millions of dollars. Okamura and Trivelpiece sing about vultures circling the sky above that expensive piece of real estate, ending with the sad-but-true line, "It's the only place left up there that money can't buy."

Pure Bohemian

GROOVE:  Another Earthquake,  This Old EarthquakeGospel Flats Pre-Release. Bolinas, California. The waterfall chords descend right down into our laps. And we can’t let them go. Your New Year’s gift. 

Played first a lovely ‘proper’ holiday party set at Sundance, UT. Later gravitated to the Owl Bar, old time Butch Cassidy hangout. As their jackets came off, a bit of whiskey sipped, they beautifully loosened, evolved, and blended harmonies into the barn board walls as sheer magic.  Sophisticated back porch, agree.  

Look for the Gospel Flats disc to appear, and when it does, listen especially for the Box of Red track.

swim thru the angry seas, unto another shore, and I will meet you there.

jump out the window on the 31st floor and I will catch your fall.

Marin Independant Journal

Band profile, Marin Independant Journal, Aug. 20, 2010




That's not the name of a new genre in pop music - yet. But that's the way a growing cult of fans has been describing the sophisticated, back porch music of This Old Earthquake, an acoustic trio from Bolinas that has just released an inspired debut album, "Portuguese Murder Ballads."

Dennis McNally, the Grateful Dead historian and author, turned me on to them, saying in a note that accompanied their CD:

"As I suspect you know or can guess, my musical tastes don't run to 'alt.'" Most of what I listen to was recorded at least 50 years ago or more, but I ran into this CD and was seriously impressed. It's spare, dark, elegant and contemporary."

Yes, it is. And then some. I was as enthused as Dennis after listening to



the album's nine original songs, tunes reminiscent of Chris Whitley and Bon Iver, Gillian Welch and Iron and Wine.

Childhood friends Ethan Okamura and Steve Trivelpiece, both singer-songwriter-guitarists, along with another boyhood pal, bassist Michael

Burton, formed the band in the summer of 2008, naming it after a line in "Sin City," a Gram Parsons song that goes, "This old earthquake's gonna leave me in the poor house."

They aren't afaid to take on weighty subjects like mental illness and death. The album's title comes from "Lisbon," an existential ballad about a young woman's body that washed up on a beach. "End of the Line" was inspired by a spate of young men in Bolinas who were suddenly stricken by bipolar disease. Two have





since died. Okamura sang the bittersweet "Tsunami" at a memorial for his late father, Bolinas artist Arthur Okamura. And "Cemetery Street," written by Trivelpiece, is an ode to a girlfriend who passed away. "Birthday Card" is the only song from an outside writer, Grateful Dead lyricist Peter Monk.

Shortly after they got together, they were playing a private gig in the Peace Barn, the Bolinas landmark owned by Esprit clothing company founder Susie Tompkins Buell, when longtime Bonnie Raitt sound engineer Paul "Pappy" Middleton heard them.

"It just blew me away how straight to the heart their songs were," Middleton recalled in a soft Texas drawl. "Their songs are about things that they've been through that life throws at you. I gave Bonnie (Raitt) some of their tunes to listen to when she was going through some hard times in her life and they really worked for her."

Middleton was so moved by their haunting, evocative sound that he offered to record their first CD in his Palmyra Studios, a rustic recording facility known for its vintage gear in the rolling Texas countryside 25 miles south of Dallas.

There was a small hangup, though. These guys are in their 40s, and a couple of them have day jobs and families and responsibilities.

Trivelpiece, for instance, is the production manager of Hog Island Oyster Co. He and his wife, Rebecca, manager of Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station, have two young sons. They couldn't just drop everything and make a 3,600-mile round trip to Texas, even if it was the chance of a lifetime. That's where the good people of Bolinas came in.

Okamura's in-laws loaned them a van to drive, even fixing its air conditioning to help them weather the searing Texas heat. Once they arranged to get time off from work, their "community of friends" scheduled child care and packed a cooler with provisions to sustain them and save on meal money.

Once they got to Palmyra, they hunkered down in the studio, recording for five days, sleeping on the floor at night. They made a conscious decision not to clutter their sound with a drummer. Their only percussion were some spontaneous hand claps.

"What we wanted was sparseness and space in our sound, letting the music breathe," Okamura explained. "We want to hear the pick against the string, the way a consonant sounds in the microphone. We wanted to hear our breath. You can't get that with a rock band."

When they were done, Middleton pronounced "Portuguese Murder Ballads" "one of the best albums I've heard in many, many years."

"To me it was the perfect marriage of people wanting to put heart and soul into the music so that it will translate for years to come," he said. "And I think it will."


West Marin Citizen






Record release party 

Bolinas Earthquake Ball   


by Shari Faye Dell, West Marin Citizen (published December 3, 2009) 


Bearing nearly 80 years of musicianship between three members, This Old Earthquake 

brings to full gestation the tears, toils and joys of experience with the release of the 

groups’ first album, Portuguese Murder Ballads. 

The self-produced nine-song collection of originals blends sweet harmony and a laid- 

back tempo into melodies that linger just behind the beat. The effect is somber, bitter- 

sweet and nostalgically melancholic. The songs invite meditative reflection. 

In May of this year, the three men–Steve Trivelpiece, Michael Burton and Ethan 

Okamura–made the 3600-mile-round-trip to Palmer Texas for a coveted five-day session 

in Palmyra Studios.  


A cut above 


“Its one of the nicer analog studios in the country,” say Ethan Okamura, This Old 

Earthquake’s singing, song-writing guitarist. 

Owned and operated by Paul Middleton, an engineer to Bonnie Raitt since 1986, Palmyra 

is home to the audiophile’s collection of state of the art vintage audio equipment as well 

as his crown jewel, the 1969 Automated Neve analog-mixing board previously owned by 

Abbey Road Studios in London. 

 Middleton first heard This Old Earthquake in Bolinas at a private party. “He took some 

interest in us,” says guitar and vocal artist Steve Trivelpiece. Later, a mutual friend 

provided Middleton with a copy of the promotional CD the group completed in 

December of 2008. From his studio in Texas, Middleton told the Citizen, “I listened to 

the songs at least hundreds of times...these songs touched me so strongly I just couldn’t 

get away from it.”  

An industry professional for many years, Middleton expresses concern he has with 

standard digital recording practices and the tendency to tweak things or over produce, “I 

didn’t want that to happen to their music,” he says. “I knew they didn’t need to tamper 

with it. All the group needs is find the right feeling and go in there and record,” says 

Middleton. “We wanted to help capture that.” All said and done he adds, “The sheer 

passion in the’s one of the best albums I’ve heard in many, many years.”  


It takes a village 


Being family men, it took the group several months to arrange time off from work and 

child-care. Family and friends heartily orchestrated necessities for the journey a van, 

coolers packed with provisions and domestic support for the young family members 

staying at home. 

Upon arriving, the group set to the task. “We made the most of it. We slept right in the 

studio; we recorded–we were in there [working] 13 or 14 hour days,” says Trivelpiece. 


Drawing on experience


The difference between performing before a live audience and recording in a studio is far 

from subtle. While individual instrumental nuances and interpretations may come off 

nicely during a performance, they don’t necessarily translate into solid musical terms on 


“For several years, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio,” says Okamura. In 

addition to a former partnership in the Terra Linda studio, Okamura has a studio at home. 

Thanks to the advancement and availability of technology, “It is easy to stock yourself 

with a descent home studio,” he says.  

Going into the studio is often a challenge for performers. However, all three of the 

seasoned musicians have done studio work on other projects. During sessions in Terra 

Linda for the 2008 demo, This Old Earthquake worked out arrangements and solidified 

parts. The solidarity served them well when they hit Texas–nine songs in five days is 

quite a feat.  

“We barely got what we needed to get done;” Okamura iterates, “literally, at three in the 

morning.” “We were loading the van,” Trivelpiece chimes in. “I was finishing up a guitar 

track,” Okamura says with a grin. 

The group hit the highway for a long haul home at 3:30 a.m.. 


Fixing an identity 


“Wasn’t our first gig at the community center?” asks Trivelpiece, unable to recall the 

exact moment the ball began rolling. 

 To be certain, in the fall of 2007 Trivelpiece moved back to West Marin following an 

eleven year-hiatus. Okamura and bass player Miguel Burrtone, (aka. Michael Burton,) 

expressed an immediate interest in forming an all-acoustic trio. Shortly thereafter, the 

three men got together to test the waters. Although the three had played together 

previously, more than a decade had passed, they began by picking out a Gram Parsons’ 

tune, Sin City, which was later to become the only obvious inspiration for the groups’ 

official identity. Thus, from the Parsons’ adage, ““This old earthquake’s gonna leave me 

in the poor house,”” the band name was formed. 


EDITORS ITALICS: This Old Earthquake will perform at a semi-formal record release 

party on Friday, December 4 at the Bolinas Community Center. Serving Hog Island 

Oysters and wine, the band begins at 8 p.m..


This is the greatest review ever! To be fair it was written in Dutch and translated online...

Does Portugal have Sin City? That question announces himself with Portuguese Murder Ballads (own management) of the link This Old Earthquake. This old earthquake are gonna leave me in the poorhouse, sang gramme Parsons on Sin City. However, a good name for a link thought Ethan Okamura, Michael Burton and them Trivelpiece. But no country music rock of this acoustic triumvirate from San Francisco expects. This Old Earthquake bring bittersweet mastered music which could invite to meditation and reflection. Slowly as Savoy Grand sometimes, but on fancy 400 stings rather as a type Crosby, Stills and Nash. Make Yourself ate home have a faster melody line, something what cannot be said of Cemetery Street. Even on a number entitled Tsunami do not serve themselves three of thundering violence. An extremely tasteful debut of skilled musicians. Available at CD baby.

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