Tag Archives: Honest Tune

Baskery: Blistering banjo punk

Pilgrim Profiles: Your guide to the freshest faces in grass-roots music

By: Tim Newby

Band: Baskery (Official Webpage)

Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden

Members:  Greta Bondesson (guitar, banjo, drums, harmonica, vocals), Stella Bondesson (bass, vocals), Sunniva Bondesson (acoustic/electric guitars, cello, vocals)

Sounds Like: Blistering banjo punk with shimmering vocal harmonies. Continue reading Baskery: Blistering banjo punk

Elephant Revival Fall Tour – HiFi, Indianapolis, Indiana

Elephant Revival
September 22, 2016
Hi-Fi Indianapolis, IN
Photographer/Writer: Tyler Muir

One of the meanings for revival is an improvement in the condition or strength in something, and Elephant Revival seems to never forget that. The band came back to Indianapolis, Indiana September 22nd, 2016 making it the first stop on their tour in support of their new album “Petals.” Elephant Revival’s companions on the fall tour, Dead Horses, set the mood by getting everyone comfortable at the picturesque Hi-Fi, in one of downtown’s most gentrified districts.

The Milwaukee-based trio’s acoustic set included, Sarah Vos on vocals and guitar, Peter Raboin on guitar, mandolin and vocals and the lower acoustic end Daniel Wolff on Double Bass and vocals. The band’s moral compass aligns with that of the headliner that we are all one and that love is the path to unity through the darkness to better times. Their haunting Americana Folk melodies drifted through the Hi-Fi compelling the audience to join their path of unity.

tom_7491

When Elephant Revival took the stage, Bonnie Paine on washboard, djembe, musical saw and stompbox, Bridget Law on fiddle, Charlie Rose on banjo, pedal steel, guitar, horns, cello and double bass, Dango Rose on double bass, mandolin and banjo and Daniel Rodriguez on guitar, banjo and double bass, the crowd settled in for a relaxing quaint evening with the band.

tom_7557

There were moments throughout the night where the band proved time and again how masterfully they have continued to grow and how they create their own style and genre. Several times throughout the performance Bonnie’s emotion came out showcasing her strength lies in being able to tell such a tale through her lyrics as well as stage presence. The band finds strength tying themselves around things that revolve around the universe, in their new album they have delved into things revolving around social issues. The band’s new music video “When I Fall” found them working with a non-profit agency to raise awareness and funds for the current immigrant and refugee crises.

tom_7676

A new, stronger sense of intimacy seemed present on stage with them. Maybe there is power in numbers, maybe each member is more in touch with themselves, or with each other, whatever seemed to bring it out, it seems strong enough to not wilt away anytime soon. The passion they brought as well is such that you could not walk away that night without being inspired, having every emotional string tugged.

Charlie Rose brings a new dynamic, his skills on the pedal steel felt right alongside the rest of the band. Another pleasant surprise was Bonnie on the electric cello. Yet another meaning of revival is an instance of something becoming popular, active, or important again. It is safe to say the band continues to show the importance of using each member’s talents to amplify one another’s. Very few bands can have their instrumental parts tell a story as much as their lyrics do.

tom_7618

The distance fans are willing to travel to see their favorite band says a lot about the connection they feel towards the band. Inside the Hi-Fi there were fans from all over the Midwest. Along the rail were four fans from South Bend, Indiana who had plans to catch the first four shows of the band’s tour, by the end of the night it seemed they had convinced a couple next to them from Chicago to follow them to Wisconsin to catch the second night of the tour. The common theme among the crowd was it is truly a treat when Elephant Revival comes to your town. In this day and age with everyone having a camera in their pocket and a conversation that cannot wait until after the show, a true sign of fan appreciation was shown that night by both of those things being kept at a minimum.

Kung Fu & Twiddle: A Dirty Dozen Interview

DSC00040Backstage at the Rex Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA following sound check, members of Kung Fu, keyboardist Todd Stoops and bassist Chris DeAngelis, and Twiddle, drummer Brook Jordan and guitarist Mihali Savoulidis sat down with Honest Tune to talk about their highly-successful joint Dirty Dozen Tour, which finds both bands collaborating throughout each show with a series of “Super Jams.”

The interview was much like one of the nightly Super Jams.  The guys were talking, joking, and riffing with each other seamlessly and forgetting at times about the interview.  Much like a runaway jam on stage, it was wise to not try and stop the positive energy that seemed to be building up in the room, and instead just allow the room full of musicians to do like they do on stage, improvise and create.

 

Honest Tune:  What brought Kung Fu and Twiddle together for the Dirty Dozen Tour?

DSC09126Brook Jordan:  We’ve had respect for these guys [Kung Fu] for a long time. Hopefully we gained their respect.

Todd Stoops:  We don’t hang with bros we don’t respect!

BJ:  It was an idea that we talked about for a long time. We enjoy each other’s music.  Also we enjoy each other as people.  It just made sense.  We knew it would be fun and that our fans would enjoy it.

 

Mihali Savoulidis:  We have been wanting to do a tour together for a while.  Then it was how do we make it not like what two bands normally do.  I think it started with let’s not tell anyone who is playing first or second.

TS:  What Mahali said.  We were talking about this idea of not wanting to tell anybody what band was going first.  Then it just evolved into the idea of both the bands playing together multiple times through the night.  Each band has people sitting in with each other.  Instead of two bands showing up and playing a show, it’s turning into an event.  We’re creating stuff on the spot, where each little section -drums, bass, keys, and guitar – is having their moments.  The end result is a much more creative product. Me, if I wasn’t playing in the band, I would pay to see this show.  I would probably come multiple nights. Some of the Twiddle fans, who are a little younger than the average Kung Fu fans, have been on tour for a week and a half.  They’ve seen every show and it blows me away.  Something really cool is going on.

BJ:  We start every night with a Super Jam and end every night with a Super Jam.  We start with me and Adrian [Tramontano, Kung Fu’s drummer] on drums and each set of instruments come out together.

 

DSC09387HT:  Chris, you and Todd, have all been in other bands and projects over the years.  How have those projects shaped your sound now?  Do you feel that the band you’re in now is where you have always wanted to be?

Chris DeAngelis:  Whatever project you are in at the moment is a culmination of where you come from.   I’m happy with the music I’m playing.  It’s an outlet for me to write and express myself.  Also, I get to play with a bunch of monsters that I’m used to playing with.  That makes it a very comfortable situation. We can stretch out.  There are a lot of liberties that can be taken.  All the other projects strengthen what you’ve got going on.

 

 

MS:  From an outsider’s point of view, we’re all musicians.  I watched Stoops in RAQ.  I saw these guys in The Breakfast.  I don’t know if this is the band they have always strived for, but as musicians, these guys are playing some serious music.  It’s not to be messed around with.  I mean every musician I have ever been with at a festival while these guys are on stage; their jaws are dropped and everyone is like, “What the hell are they doing.”

DSC00178TS:  To append what Mihali was saying, the Twiddle guys have gained so much respect from other musicians in the past few years.  Not that they didn’t have it before but with their song writing, stage presence, and the way they control a crowd, it blows me away.  I have been doing this a long time, I’m not going to say how long, and when I watch a Twiddle crowd and the front row is crying, singing the songs.  It gives me goose bumps.  The whole crowd, a thousand people in New York City the other night singing along.  Brings a tear to my eyes and is fucking awesome.   It’s a pleasure to know these guys and if I didn’t know them I would be a fan of theirs. This tour has been fantastic.

 

DSC08475-EditHT:  Mihali and Brooks, you used Kickstarter to help fund your new album Plump. Can you explain why you went that route to ask for your fans support and how that may have influenced the album?

MS:  The Kickstarter ended before we went into the studio.  We had a plan going in.  We hope our fans are happy with the final product.  It may have put a little more pressure on us to get it right but we’re sticklers for that already.  We want it to be a very good product for them to enjoy.

 

BJ:  I think that if we had done the Kickstarter before the music was written it may have been different but the music was ready to go.  It blew us away how quickly it happened.  It’s like a double edge sword at the same time.  We got a lot of backlash from people that don’t understand what Kickstarter is.  They were claiming that the band was asking for money from our fans and then selling the CD back to them. And that is completely wrong.  Everything we did with Kickstarter has incentives.  It’s the amount of money you want to pay.  Like, if you pay twenty bucks you get the CD.  So, it’s more like your just pre-ordering the CD months in advance.  Some people were saying, “Why don’t you just go play a weekend of shows to make the $20,000 you need. Why are they asking their fans for money?”  I was like, “Oh My God.”

CD:  Some people don’t understand how much money goes into making an album.  Like everything we make touring is a 100% profit.

DSC00161TS:  You know I personally harpooned that guy (a negative comment guy).  I messaged that guy and said to him, “What about the fifteen years it takes to make the band?  The half million we have spent on failed relationships, careers, and everything that has gone into it.”  I laid into him about that comment. He private messaged me back and said that he was sorry for his comments and didn’t mean to come off like that.  Some people just don’t understand the big picture sometimes and what all goes into what we do.

BJ:  Kickstarter was amazing but it breeds stuff like that.  People don’t understand.  If they just took time to look at it they would get it.  We tried to make it as cool as possible.  Depending on what you donate you could get your name on the album, CD, and the craziest one was if you gave $3,000 you would get merchandise for life.  Everything we have now, shirts, CDs, posters, stickers and everything we ever make in the future; which we had one person do who is an old friend of ours.  I talked to him on the phone about it.  He said he didn’t want any of the merchandise and just wanted to help make the album. He came in after we already reached our goal and still gave anyways.

CD:  That’s just a testament to their incredible fans.

TS:  Like I said they have an amazing fan base.

 

HT:  Twiddle, you’re with Madison House. What went into your decision to join with them and how has Madison been for you?

DSC09927BJ:  At about the same time we were contacted by Madison House and another agency.  At the time we felt that we could go with a smaller agency and be a big fish in a smaller pond or we could go with Madison House and be a smaller fish in a bigger pond.  So the thing that changed my mind was when we did the interviews.  (With) Madison, when we were talking with them, we didn’t have to ask a question. They told us what they were thinking, how they felt about us.  Just very on point about how things would go.  When we talked to the other agency, I was asking all of the questions and they didn’t have the answers we were looking for.  So, we went back and talked to Madison House.  We told them that we didn’t want to be a band that’s over looked since they have some big, big acts.  They said that they wouldn’t be contacting us if they didn’t believe in what we’re doing.  That won us over and it’s been great ever since.

MS:  We love Madison House!

 

HT:  So I see a small cargo van out front that Kung Fu came in and a real nice travel RV on the side that brought Twiddle. How does that work out?

MS:  [With a huge smile and a large dose of sarcasm] We are a bunch of prima donna fucks!

DSC09947TS:  That thing [the RV] cost a lot of money and we are willing to sacrifice our comfort to get paid more at the end of the tour.  We’d rather dog it out. So these guys [Twiddle] are sort of like Divas.  Brooks also has his salon quality hair and needs room for his products to be all set up.

{BJ to TS as he points at his hair}:  You have the products!

BJ:  I can sum it up in one word; Kids.  That’s literally the bottom line. Only one of us in Twiddle is married.

TS:  Kung Fu has ten children.

BJ:  We have some dogs.  That’s about it.

DSC09089TS:  We have been doing this a long time.  We’ve done the bus thing and right now we’d rather save on that and be able to get hotel rooms to have more space and relax more.

BJ:  For us it just makes sense right now.  It’s a lot of strain to always have someone that is rested and sober to drive to the next city.  The extra money is worth it so that we can have fun and still make it to the next city and be ready for load in.

MS:  There is a big trade off to having a nice hotel room every night.  We want to live on a bus with several smelly dudes and only be able to shower at venues.  Are we on time at every show? Yes.

TS:  The way Kung Fu does it is that we like to have nice rooms.  I like to sleep in a bed with 1000 count Egyptian cotton sheets.  I like to use a bidet.  I like crab meat on top of my filet in a restaurant. When you stay in a van it is fast food.

 

HT:  What show or festivals are each of you most looking forward to playing or being a part of this summer?

BJ and MS:  We’re super pumped for Red Rocks.  Bonnaroo is huge and of course and The Friendly Gatherings in Vermont.  I mean we’re doing everything we love too, like Catskill Chill, Gathering of the Vibes, Wakarusa, and All Good.

DSC08987TS:  Honestly if you play Red Rocks you can just quit music.  I feel there is Madison Square Garden, Red Rocks and something else.

MS:  The Gorge!

TS:  We on the other hand are playing a few good festivals, The U.S.S Chowder Pot III festival, The Boston Baked Beans Festival, Pizza Fest that’s in Milwaukee. We’ve decided to go into the whole food festival thing.

Tim Palmieri:  Don’t forget Garlic Fest.

CD:  Soup Stock…Obviously we are very excited for Gathering of the Vibes because that is in our home town.  We love the Vibes.  We have been doing it for the last six or seven years.  We did a main stage set last year and are back on it this year.  We are also doing Summer Camp too.

A Band With No Drums: Greensky Bluegrass and If Sorrows Swim

Greensky Bluegrassedited

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words and photos by Tim Newby

A band with no drums,” says Paul Hoffman, mandolinist, singer, and songwriter in Greensky Bluegrass. Hoffman had been trying to best explain his band’s sound, which is a mix of traditional style bluegrass and a more adventurous brand of roots-rock. “I used to say that we are not a bluegrass band and try to convince people that there is more involved,” says Hoffman, “but we absolutely are a bluegrass band and can play the shit out of some bluegrass. We just don’t do it all day. It is not all we do.” With a taste of the humor the gives the band much of its personality and makes them so much fun to see live, Hoffman continues with tongue firmly in cheek, “Besides the pun wouldn’t make any sense without the second word in our name.”

Hoffman is right though; bluegrass is not all they do. They are so much more than that. While their music is built firmly up the traditional bluegrass sound with their line-up of banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, Dobro, and upright bass, the way in which they reinterpret that traditional sound is miles away from what Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs first played so many years ago. While they have those elements that one would expect to find in traditional bluegrass – acoustic instruments, fast virtuosic playing, tight vocal harmonies, and instrumental solo breakdowns – it is what they do with those simple elements that sets the band apart from the past and points towards the future.   DSCN1704

Greensky Bluegrass have always tread the line between the old and the new, moving easily from traditional tunes such as “Working on a Building,” or “Pig in a Pen,” to Bruce Hornsby’s “King of the Hill,” or Traffic’s “Light up or Leave me Alone,”  throughout the course of their high-energy live shows.  This chameleon-like ability is shown fully on their song “All Four” from their 2011 album Handguns. The song starts with what seemingly seems to be a simple finger picked banjo led-lament that quickly dissolves into a lengthy, adventurous jam the likes of which would be completely foreign to those only reared in traditional bluegrass. In concert “All Four” is even more of a beast, regularly stretching past the fifteen minute-mark. And let’s be honest your parent’s bluegrass does not regularly include fifteen-minute spacey jams that jockey for position on the interstellar overdrive highway.   It is this mix of the old and the new that has enabled Greensky Bluegrass to explode over the past couple of years and establish themselves as leaders of the new jam-grass movement.

Since forming in 2000 in Kalamazoo, Michigan around the trio of banjo-picker Michael Arlen Bont, guitarist Dave Bruzza, and mandolinist Paul Hoffman, the band has seen a steady, rapid growth.  They added bassist Mike Devol in 2004 which was soon followed by a win at the prestigious band contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2006. Shortly after, 2007, they rounded out their line-up when they added Dobroist Anders Beck.  The addition of Beck helped solidify the band’s progressive take on bluegrass. DSCN2452edited

In 2010 at the annual Delfest the band had a coming-out-party of sorts. They played three sets over the course of the weekend and with each set seemed to see their audience increase in size each time. The three sets also served to showcase all the far-ranging aspects of Greensky’s diverse musical personality. They started the weekend playing along with Del McCoury and host of guests when their main stage set was rained out and they moved inside to the Music Hall and played as part of the songwriter showcase.  Their set inside ended up being more a showcase for Greensky and their traditional chops as they played a set that was nothing but old covers and bluegrass songs. The following morning the band started the day again inside the Music Hall playing a set list that was entirely made up of rock covers that do not normally rear their heads in the bluegrass world, which allowed the band to exhibit their unmatched ability to meld completely diverse styles of music into something wholly unique. Greensky’s final set of the weekend was to a packed field at the side stage during which they played nothing but original material. It was the perfect capstone to the weekend as the band had shown all facets of their vast musical spectrum over their three sets and defined what truly makes up the music of Greensky Bluegrass, a mix that Hoffman describes as “our material, bluegrass, and those weird covers and other things we bring to bluegrass or we bring bluegrass too.”   2014-09-07_12-16-01

This diversity of the band’s musical persona is perfectly captured on the band’s latest album, the stunning If Sorrows Swim. The album, like the band, veers from style to style, yet does so while maintaining an identity that is wholly Greensky. The album was built around the skeleton of twelve songs written by the band’s primary songwriters Hoffman and guitarist Bruzza, yet arranged by the whole band. Hoffman says the band’s approach this time was different than on previous albums. “We had worked on the songs some before we got into the studio, but this time more than any other album it was undecided what the shape of it would be until we got into the studio. It was pretty drastic sometimes. We would say, ‘Let’s play this song bluegrassy, let’s try it halftime, folky, swingy,’ there was a lot of freedom and possibilities.” The songs slowly developed and took shape both on stage and in the studio. For Hoffman one of the toughest things was finally saying a song was finished, “Each song morphed and changed and that is one of the hard things of making a record, that commitment to the song and the final draft of it.”

The final draft of If Sorrows Swim is a schizophrenic mix, bouncing from the heartfelt lament of album opener “Windshield,” toGSBG the classic banjo roll on “Letter to Seymour,” to the rocking one-two punch of “Kerosene,” and “Demons,” but a schizophrenic mix that has a unifying, cohesive feel to it. “Working song arrangement and order was a challenge with this record,” explains Hoffman, “This is not a concept album where clearly this song goes before this one and leads into this one like Dark Side of the Moon that is all in the key of A and B and all relative pitch wise and it just goes the way it goes because that’s how it goes.” To help with the sequencing of the album, Hoffman says the band thought of it like one of their lives shows and paced it like they would a set list. “When we write a set list we pay attention to how it’s going to flow and where to put the fast ones in and where to put the spacey ones in. So I think the album flows like that.” This approach to pacing and song-order was born from the band’s desire to always keep things interesting on stage. “Early on we didn’t want to just play bluegrass all night long because that would be boring to just go chucka-chucka all night,” says Hoffman, “Sometimes we want to go boom-boom!” This live set list approach to the sequencing of the album rewards a long attention span, as it moves and peaks like a concert and takes the listener on a sonic, emotional journey.   DSCN2458edited

The album opens with the slow-burning build-up of “Windshield.” “Windshield” is a powerful opener Hoffman describes as a “real four-on-the-floor, downbeat, back chop which is sorta the opposite of what we are supposed to do.” It is precisely the kind of huge song U2 would have written in the eighties if they had decided to ditch their pretentious rock-leanings and grab acoustic instruments and pick some bluegrass. The song is a compelling statement from Greensky about what they are capable of and where they are going musically. While it hints at the band’s bluegrass roots, it highlights their ability to take those roots and push them all over the musical map. The rest of the album follows this exploratory template laid down in the first song. Over the course of If Sorrows Swim Greensky uses inventive song structures, tasteful melodic phrasing, and unique sonic textures to create an album that pushes the limits and boundaries of bluegrass-inspired music into the stratosphere, going to realms never visited by the banjo and mandolin before.

The dynamics of having two primary songwriters, with Hoffman’s more rock-styled tunes and Bruzza’s elegantly traditional sounding songs, help create a contrast of themes and styles that work to flesh out the personality of the album. Hoffman DSCN1483editedmentions some of the new ideas and chances he has been taking in his songwriting and how they have been influenced by some unlikely musicians:

I like to listen to something that I can get an idea about song structure and melodic tendencies from because folk and bluegrass stays pretty formulaic. What’s great about our band is I can write great songs that stand alone with me singing and playing guitar, but we are also a rock band that does all this exploratory stuff and can open it up and explore every night and there is a real balance between the two.

I listen to an album by a band like Alt-J and it is all about textures and I love the feel and mood of the music. Then I will listen to Jason Isabell’s new record and be like, man, this guy can write some friggin’ lyrics and I am inspired by both things in a different way.

DSCN1736editedGreensky Bluegrass has been on a steady trajectory upward since their first days as a band. They have seen half-full venues become packed the next time they visit, they have seen early-afternoon side-stage timeslots grow into main stage headlining slots at festivals, and they have seen their fan base organically grow as Hoffman proudly declares, “a handful of fans at a time.” With the release of If Sorrows Swim and the way it will appeal to a broad spectrum of fans, those fans will most likely grow at a rate much greater rate than a handful at a time. If Sorrows Swim seems to herald broad, new horizons for the band; Hoffman says that while they are excited they look took to keep things in perspective. “I hope this record gets as much attention as it can get, but we don’t want anything we don’t deserve. I would love to see some more of that crossover to fans of something like Jason Isabell who didn’t think they liked bluegrass, but they really like one of our songs or a fan of Alt-J who can listen and think ‘Wow, these guys can make some nice textures.’ Just like I cross over in my tastes, I want people to not be afraid that we are a bluegrass band, so that they will actually sink in and realize they like it. And that seems to happen more and more every year and the more that happens the prouder I am,” Hoffman pauses before finishing his thought, “It is all about good music. It is either good or it is not.”

Mike Farris on His Quest for Joy

farris-1.jpgMike Farris knows both the highs and lows that can come with a life in rock-n-roll. 

From the highs of his early career with the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, the alcohol and drug abuse that often accompanies early major label success, to the depths of despair after your band breaks up and you hit rock bottom, Farris is a musician that has truly seen the extremes in life.

Though hardly proud of those lows Farris is willing to share, knowing that his new found joy has the chance to inspire others.

Continue reading Mike Farris on His Quest for Joy