BY: Z.N. LUPETIN
Sure, that Halloween hangover may last a few days but we have a good cure for you: Michigan’s roving bluegrass-rock outfit Greensky Bluegrass will be in town for a rare appearance at The Mint this Friday, November 2 in a Sitch co-sponsored performance!
When these guys say they are one of the hardest working roots bands on the circuit, they ain’t foolin’ – after playing nearly two hundred shows a year for the last decade and change, this scruffy, down home gang has burnished and warm sound that appeals to lovers of classic alt-country, southern rock and picky bluegrass aficionados alike. With a growing national fanbase and subtly socially-conscious lyrics, they join local folksters (the also excellent) The Cerny Brothers for what should be a true treat of an evening.
The Sitch’s Z.N. Lupetin caught up with Paul Hoffman, mandolinist and co-composer in Greensky, for a few pre-show questions concerning firearms, tour life, the budget crisis, and who might be the fastest picker of them all…
Want to quickly touch on the title track of your last album “Handguns”. I especially was drawn to that melancholy chord change over ‘handguns make less mistakes without love’. Do you think that through roots music you can talk about social issues like gun ownership and the fragile human condition in a way that people will somehow understand and contemplate more deeply?
PAUL: The idea… “I’m gonna buy a handgun and make less mistakes” just came to me one day and it seemed like this awesome image of responsibility and power. It evolved into “handguns make less mistakes without love” when I wrote the song but the idea is about the same. In no way is a commentary on gun control or anything. (subsequently I think handguns are fun to shoot…) All kinds of music is great place to cover concepts such as this. I am a writer of music tho so my opinion is thus very biased. It’s a sad song. If we love we will make mistakes. Love drives us to make decisions that could otherwise be avoided.
You seem to like mixing in occasional electric or amplified instrumentation (and horns too) into your overall sound. Do you feel like it’s a slippery slope when the word bluegrass is right there in the name? Sometimes purists get huffy.
PAUL: There is this idea that the purist get huffy and I don’t think the same debate translates to any other genre outside of Bluegrass. It almost seems like a myth to me. Something people discuss more than they really care about. Like balancing the budget. “Real Bluegrass” is just rhetoric. Truly we are not a “Real Bluegrass” band all the time and it is in our name. Kinda tricky. It’s just our name though. We love bluegrass music. We all play bluegrass instruments but we are better described as a rock & roll band… probably.
Where is the most unexpected hotbed for acoustic music right now? You guys really see a lot of the road. Best off the beaten-path venue we don’t know about?
PAUL: Alaska? Hawaii? Tough question sorta. But seriously we played in the 49th and 50th state this year I was shocked how well we were received. I knew the shows would go well a and we would have a blast but I didn’t expect to be received so graciously. They thanked us as if we had traveled some awful journey to a place no one would go. In reality we were stoked to be there so it was really our pleasure. It’s a great thing when the feeling is mutual.
You have been to LA a few times already. Impressions? Are the crowds weird?
PAUL: LA crowds have been great. I remember being kinda of scared the first time. We’ve had a couple real high-energy shows in the city. It seems like bluegrass might not fit but really… it fits everywhere. Something I’ve learned about being a part of specific genre is that it takes some fish out of the pond. Then puts you in a smaller pond. People who are into bluegrass music (or whatever we are/aren’t) know how to seek it out. Goes for everywhere.
On your perfect tour – who would share the stage/bus with you?
PAUL: We just had the honor of bringing a Michigan colleague named Joshua Davis on tour with us for a few shows. He has been playing with a band named Steppin’ In It for years and has recently started focusing on a solo career. He has been a huge influence on my writing and he’s a great dude. It was an honor to have him on tour and to hear so many of our fans get excited.
Who has the fastest fingers in the band? Gotta lean towards Anders on that dobro.
PAUL: Hmm….I don’t think it’s Anders….
Can you describe how new songs come together for you guys? I like that in your bio that you stress ‘continuity’.
PAUL: Usually the writer brings the song to the group and all arrange it from a skeleton. Often I’ll have these vague concepts of things we can achieve with the feel of the song. Something we haven’t done before or something we do well but don’t have many applications for. I’m always hearing these textures and song ideas in other music that I want to achieve with our band. So I write a song and we try it.
What’s next? Rest for a bit after tour?
PAUL: We are taking quite a bit of time off this holiday season. In January we are going to start a new record. Probably be writing a lot of new material until then and working on putting together what we have. It’s been a great year but definitely looking forward to some time down at home.