The qualifiers for progressiveness within bluegrass seem to be difficult to name. There may be no better way to find an answer than to look to a band still making a name for itself even after, well, having made a name for itself: Yonder Mountain String Band.
Born in Nederland, Co. with mid-western roots, YMSB is undergoing transformation; the kind of change where, instead of seeing your ex at a bar with a new flame, you see your ex — and his new band — on the same summer festival lineups. As Yonder tours familiar territory with a new configuration, sights are set on the live show performances. Though, it is perhaps the undercurrents, and the behind-the-scenes notions driving the band to move forward into a realm that surpasses expectations both professionally and personally
YMSB picked up two new players after cutting ties with founding member, Jeff Austin, in 2014.
“It can be nerve wracking… to a certain extent,” commented YMSB’s banjoist Dave Johnston in a recent interview with Miranda Brooks of IndyMojo. “But, I don’t feel preoccupied with frustration. We’ve made a decision, and we’re just letting the chips fall where they may.”
The expanded band is now a five-piece with Allie Kral on fiddle and Jake Jolliff on mando.
“It feels really good and fresh,” Johnston spoke of the band’s current dynamic. “Allie and Jake are talented musicians and quick studies. Plus the ‘hang’ [time] is good, they’re really great people.”
With a sink or swim and trial by fire type of audition, Kral and Jolliff came out being both not drowned and unburnt.
“I think that speaks to their level of creativity and willingness to work,” Johnston said of the newbies’ seamless transition. “It feels like two things are happening at once… it feels like a new band, but an old band, too – maybe something that has existed in a parallel universe somewhere, and now we’ve crossed paths.”
The band has recorded brand-new material set to be released sometime this year.
“The process has changed so much now that you record whenever and wherever you can,” Johnston said of their own operation, which took place in studios across the country from California to Michigan to Virginia.
When asked about the piecemealed technique, he said, “It’s tricky and requires a different kind of psychology, but we take care to make sure it sounds uniform; ultimately the sound ends up being the same because you get to the same musical place regardless [of locale].”
The creative process is still the same for the band, despite the change in lineup.
“We write with the intention of allowing everyone input; crew members and managers even have a hand in the process, making it a group effort.”
Themes and sounds may differ from the past, but the evolution of this family-style dynamic is heart-warming as it steers clear from making music that might be individualistically identified. It’s this type of off-stage improvising that pays off when and where it matter most.
And Johnston’s laid back attitude is focused on just that… the live shows – playing audience favorites from their lengthy catalogue, and having fun with new covers from Neutral Milk Hotel, Urge Overkill, Dusty Springfield, and Chuck Berry.
When asked about the progressiveness of the bluegrass genre as we know it today, Johnston shared this insight:
“Bluegrass is such a malleable and adaptive form; the possibilities for it to thrive and expand and redefine itself are typical of any American art form. It’s a legendary tradition to be a part of, mainly because it’s changing. Any amount of tinkering can be done. Or even if major, massive changes happen… and it still has that drive and feeling that traditional bluegrass givens to you, then I think it’s still pretty much bluegrass. It doesn’t have to be from a rural area, it doesn’t have to mimic or even echo the progenitors of the music… it just has to make you feel like other bluegrass makes you feel.”
The Vogue Theater
Wednesday January 28th
“It’s not enough to feel it, it needs to overwhelm you,” sings the sensibility of Greensky Bluegrass as they ride the wave of a genre redesigned, where the centralized point of America’s Appalachian roots music spirals out further towards popular dubs of Newgrass and Jamgrass to provide a fresh take on the traces of Mr. Monroe’s and Mr. Stanley’s original styling’s.
Aptly borrowed from an episode of This American Life, If Sorrows Swim is the current release from the mostly-based Kalamazoo band. “The context of the phrase was something we kind of fell in love with; it’s about drinking and being sad,” laughed Greensky’s guitarist Dave Bruzza during a recent interview with Miranda Brooks of IndyMojo. With sentimentality most American’s can relate to, the album, furthermore, is benefiting from increased exposure with first-time distribution help from Nashville-based Thirty Tigers.
The traditional, all-stringed instrumentation of Greensky formed organically at open mic nights in Michigan with a full-time touring schedule that began in 2006.
“We just did it, just went for it, for years, we played everywhere. Then something happened along the way and it was like, ‘Oh shit.’”
Clearly the 200+ days a year of travel have proven to be a selling point for the five-piece.
“Promoters like to know you can bring an audience,” Bruzza said, referencing the larger festival circuit invitations they’ve received from Bonnaroo to Northwest String Summit to Outsidelands.
Perhaps Greensky’s accessibility to mainstream acceptance is their unique, hardly strictly Bluegrass background mixed with their evident ‘raised on Rock and Roll’ experimentation within the genre.
“Though our name surely suggests to anyone who doesn’t know who we are, we never intended to be specifically labeled.”
The dynamic ability of the band is known to those who’ve experienced their live shows.
“So many of our fans come to multiple shows, so it’s important for us to be fresh,” Bruzza said of Greensky’s familiar, prescribed, yet varietal sound.
But what’s interesting is the fact that much of Sorrows was arranged primarily in the studio, void of excess rehearsal and on-the-road confirmation.
“We played ‘Windshield’ once and then recorded it; it was amazing to hear to such a raw, powerful song.” Ironically, ‘Windshield’ was played live for the first time at Telluride Bluegrass in 2013…after the album was completed. For reasons undisclosed, Greensky sat on Sorrows for well over a year and experienced both anxious eagerness and forced patience with its debut.
“We had this new music and wanted to get it out, so, yeah, there were some times we felt a bit frustrated,” Bruzza remembered. Frustrations aside, the product of their efforts, If Sorrows Swim, charted in the top fifty for iTunes downloads on the day of its release.
The idea of ‘making it’ in today’s music world may be relative and difficult to describe, but Greensky Bluegrass’ path appears to suit them just fine. “We love what we do, playing together, and creating music,” Bruzza added, “It’s great that people are acknowledging the fact that there is a future for Bluegrass.”
Greensky’s sound undoubtedly impacts the burgeoning landscape of their namesake genre, even if its trajectory may not be historically straight forward.
Want to win tickets?
In the spirit of the tour, please leave a comment describing your favorite Greensky show or song. One winner will be randomly-selected by Thursday, October 2nd and will receive two tickets to the show.
Greensky Bluegrass w/ The Stampede String Band
The Vogue Theater
Friday October 3rd, 2014
Doors at 7:00pm, Show at 8:00pm
There is plenty of press to tell you all the ways Jessica Lea Mayfield has blossomed. Leaving behind her bluegrass roots, the Northeast Ohio-born and Tennessee-raised darling has made it clear that her point of view has been, and with no doubt, shaped by her traveling family-band past, but is in no way attached to her current coming-of-age musical exploratory efforts she so well portrays with Make My Head Sing.
Make My Head Sing is Mayfield’s first go at a fully self-produced piece. With Dan Auerbach – one-half of the Black Keys – providing guidance on her last two releases, Mayfield takes a stand to express a side of her that is based more around sound than songwriting. The result has left critics fumbling for ways to place her into the pigeon holes she is so evidently trying to fly away from. “It’s damaging to the creative process to pay attention to other people’s dissections and I don’t want to think about what other people are going to think about what I am creating as I am creating it,” Mayfield said in a recent interview with Miranda Brooks of IndyMojo.com.
Make was recorded in Nashville at Club Roar, a varietal warehouse/studio creative escape space run by Robin Eaton. Mayfield’s counterpart and bassist, husband Jesse Newport, worked on building the studio and lived there as well. “It just seemed like the right place to come back to,” Mayfield said about the studio which they affectionately dubbed Club Ruff, “…our dog recorded the whole album with us there and helped with the mixing.”
With such a shift in sound, Mayfield summed up the creative process for the album by saying, “Instead of sitting down and expressing myself with words like I’d always done, this time around I took the opportunity to express myself sonically; obsessing over guitar tones and sounds, I was able to build the songs around that.”
When asked about the ever-apparent freedom of the current album, Mayfield said honestly, “In the past there was always a cutoff of time in the studio. I would sing a vocal and want to sing it again because I knew I could do better, but maybe we didn’t have the time, so that was that. But it’s like, shit man, this music is my face and name. This is the first chance I’ve gotten to really flush something out and do the best I could while pushing to do even better than I thought. It really is just me letting go to hear all of the sounds I wanted to hear and to ultimately make the album I have always wanted to make. So, yeah, there’s definitely freedom in that…such an important process for me to go through.”
On the topic of image- with its burden of being both a blessing and a curse- Mayfield admitted to being an overly open person with undertones of uncomfortable shyness. “I have met a lot of people who have already built this idea of who they think I am,” she said quietly, leading the conversation into the obscure realm of being a girl in the music world. “It’s weird; I’ve always wished I wasn’t [a girl]. I am attracted to men, but as a kid I was always really upset I wasn’t born a boy. And I still think that, that all of this would be a lot easier with a lot less questioning and gawking and scrutiny.”
Nonetheless, Mayfield is doing something right to garner such attention.
Along with her sound, her road dog lifestyle has changed as well, and seems to provide solace for the artist. “I don’t party anymore,” she said bluntly, “I like driving a lot. Being on the road, in a sense, is more comfortable because of the schedule and we have things to do. At home – in Ohio – I feel a loss for routine as a touring musician. For me and Jesse, we are always looking forward to getting back out and having some sort of purpose.”
On Tour, Mayfield’s live show features herself on electric guitar, Jesse Newport on bass, and Matt Martin on drums. The band plays music from all three of Mayfield’s albums and despite the difference in sound among them, there is little disconnect. “The live shows are loud, they have always been loud. I’m still doing what I’ve always done, just a little differently.”
Jessica Lea Mayfield will perform at The Hi-Fi (a new venue in The Murphy Building brought to you by Do317) in Indianapolis.
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Saturday June 28th, 2014
Doors at 7pm/Show at 9pm
Arctic Monkeys have risen through the demanding and saturated ranks of the music industry holding their own as a notable act; mainly because they have succeeded in doing what all artists hope to do: evolve publicly and profoundly.
The foursome began in Sheffield with pioneering roots in post-punk. Ten years in the making, Arctic Monkeys have transformed their measure and image – album by album – as widely as their audiences. Their just-left-of-center mainstream sound is lined with a fan base built largely by the powers of the interwebs, infiltrating the industry from the underground up.
Promoting their fifth studio album titled AM, Arctic Monkeys will see crowds from Glastonbury to Outside Lands this summer; the massive tour of duty makes their success seem easy and, more importantly, relevant. AM reads like, and feeds off, the highlights of any modern romantic trying to make it through the day (or night for that matter), dealing primarily in ideas of knowing and then not knowing.
Love and drugs are the backbone for the album – drinking too much and then calling too late, only then to have nothing to say; lyrics that sound like texts layered with beats that make you move your feet. The curves of the album may outline cigarette jeans and next generation blues, but the overall mood proves to remind you why you aren’t still with so-and-so.
At this level of popularity one may wonder, “What’s next?” Arctic Monkeys has clearly worked past the wide-eyed rigmarole of a no bullshit mantra to expand within the blurry-lined confines of a rock and roll era where there’s only room for one thing…reinvention.
White Denim’s middle name may as well be “Experimental”. The Austin based threesome-turned-foursome has been well received at proving the unproved. With the help of producer Jeff Tweedy, Corsicana Lemonade (the band’s sixth release) opens to rooms filled with psychedelic, soul, jazz, funk and math rock fusion- all of which together never sounded so good, nor made as much sense.
(Guys and their guitars: Austin Jenkins, James Petralli, and Steve Terebecki of White Denim. Photos: Kirsten Cohen Photography)
The album profiles American dreams tangled with the marvels of irony; using music to knock down the walls of any place we’ve never known. Corsicana Lemonade is a full-bodied punch with guitar for days- a true mixture of elements resulting in an undoubtedly conclusive explosion. White Denim prevails with tour dates in the U.S and Europe this summer, playing everything from small clubs to large festival crowds.
White Denim at Southgate House (Newport, KY) :: June 15th
Arctic Monkeys with White Denim at White River State Park (Indianapolis, IN) :: June 24
Drive-By Truckers take to the American and European highways, figuratively speaking, to promote a new edition – English Oceans – to their long standing and ever expanding catalogue.
English Oceans is a full length album spun quickly by the originally-Athens-based five-some during hiatus late last summer. In an industry where careers are built over time, Drive-By Truckers explores evolving sounds while venturing down roads where their familiar southern hospitality meets true musical grit.
It is noted that co-lead guitarist and vocalist Mike Cooley spearheaded this album’s direction with his lyrical input and, more than ever, presence – perhaps giving, for the first time, a fully balanced sound alongside Patterson Hood’s pronounced and popular front.
The record reads like true life, with mature themes wrapped around country chords and that signature twang DBT has become so well known for. ‘Grand Canyon’ and ‘Primer Coast’ are tracks that well represent the cohesive, honest efforts of a band that is almost twenty years old. ‘Natural Light’ may be the most diverse song as it teeters on the edge of the blues with vocals reminiscent of Willie and surprising, two-step guitar and barroom keys.
Southern adages are in a league all their own, and when, come to find, shit shots do count; it is then that suddenly the whole world wants to sing…so cut the apron strings and get on with it already.
You can currently stream the album at Paste Magazine.
The Vogue Theater
Tuesday March 25th
Doors at 7:00 PM; show at 8:00 PM
21 and over
$22 – $25