For Greensky Bluegrass Fans – Nothing but Blue Skies Ahead
It’s ok if you’ve never heard of Greensky Bluegrass until right now. They’ve always found new fans organically – one at a time along the course of an intense touring schedule that includes America’s most prestigious music venues and festivals. But act fast if you want to appear avant-garde amongst your friends. With over 87,000 Facebook fans, thousands more across other social media and an extremely devout fan base buying up every available ticket to their shows, these native Michiganders are anything but a small town bluegrass band. In fact, Greensky Bluegrass are leading the pack of incredible musicians keeping one of America’s oldest music forms alive and inventive.
Ahead of their headlining slot at Shinola’s big Block Party last weekend, I tracked down band members Anders Beck, Mike Devol and Paul Hoffman to talk shop about their humble origins and evolution, their growing allegiance of fans (including right here in Washington, DC) and their experiences sharing the stage with America’s most cherished music legends.
SPOILER ALERT: Greensky Bluegrass takes nothing for granted, sounds amazing and they’re only getting better.
1. Despite growing notoriety on a national scale, you guys manage to evade pressures to pump out pop hits like mainstream acts. And with such an intense touring schedule, a lot of your material can exist to your fans without ever even appearing on an album. What compels you to take a break from the road and head back into the studio?
Paul Hoffman: “I view the studio and live performances as two separate art forms, in a way, and we really value both of them. Being in the studio is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my entire life… Creating the image of a what a song can be and committing to it is a really beautiful art form. In a live setting, we do take a similar approach to committing and taking risks, but in the studio, being able to make those choices, being able to create things that we can’t in a live setting is really amazing.”
2. It’s safe to say that you guys have come a long way in a decade. In 2006, you won a battle of the bands to score a slot performing on the main stage of the 2007 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Just last weekend, you were back on that same stage amidst that amazing landscape, but this time performing as the festival’s headliner. To have gone from a group that won a competition to get there to the headliners of such a massive music festival, how does that feel?
Mike Devol: “If we were looking for some kind of affirmation that we should, in fact, be doing what we’re doing, and that we’re on the right track, Telluride Bluegrass Festival is it. All of our experiences playing Telluride serve that same purpose, where we’re surrounded by these legends who we learned bluegrass from and contemporaries who are a part of this same movement of bluegrass that we are. We’re just so honored. To have won that competition, and then to be asked back year after year has been a nice nudge for us. It feels amazing.”
3. And speaking of Telluride, I think it was you, Paul, who last weekend during that headlining set mentioned a new album coming out this fall. That was the first I’ve heard about it. Can you elaborate on the context of influences on this new record and the impetus that propelled you back into the studio for that ‘separate art form,’ so to speak?
Paul: “We do have a new album coming out and we haven’t said much about it yet because the attention span of media in this industry has really changed over the years. It used to be a big deal to promote an album for a long time – but like you mentioned we don’t have pop singles and all of that – so we’ve waited a little bit to talk about it. It’s pretty much done, and it was produced by Steve Berlin – our first time working with him. There’s lots of new songs, including three that we’ve been playing live recently: “Living Over,” “Take Cover,” and “Fixing to Ruin.” The rest of it is all unheard material. It may sound like a cop out, but I really mean it when I say that, for me, a new album is the next big step for us. It’s an opportunity to explore new things and collaborate on cool stuff. This [new album] is going to be more of us, with some bigger sounds, some more delicate sounds, and all of the spectrum in between.”
4. You guys play timeless but nonetheless non-mainstream music, but your social media statistics are really impressive. You fellas have 83,000 followers on Facebook, 18,000 on Twitter, and 23,000 on Instagram. Collectively, you’ve probably got well over 100,000 people using social media to stay actively engaged as fans of your music. For a band that’s playing non-mainstream music and staying away from mainstream record labels, what role does social media play for you in sustaining a devout fan base?
Anders Beck: “We’re lucky to have social media as a tool because we’re a band that has honestly gotten each of those fans one at a time. It’s not like we had one hit song and then everyone started liking us. We used to play in bars to 20 people, and then the next time there would be 80 people there. Things have grown incredibly organically for us, which is amazing because, I think, all of those 80,000 people really like us. They actually care; they aren’t just clicking a button on their computer. They seek us out. It’s been amazing. Every time we go back to a city, there’s twice as many people there as before…hopefully, ha. Social media has been integral to our growth. We’re lucky to be living in a time where there are these tools compared to not.”
Mike: “I think we’re kind of a word of mouth band. We don’t have that huge media presence and we’re not some huge rock and roll band on a major label. So the fact that social media exists so that everyone can constantly be communicating and sharing what they find with each other has helped us a lot.”
5. You guys have shared the stage with some really legendary and incredible people, from legends like Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead to bluegrass pioneers like Del McCoury and Sam Bush. It’s more than safe to say that your fans freak out when a “sit-in” like that happens. How does a collaboration like that come to be, and are you guys freaking out on the inside as much as your fans are in the crowd?
Paul: “Ha, certainly sometimes, depending on the circumstance. When we played with Phil Lesh, for example, he stood out in front of the stage to watch us practice “Eyes of the World,” and it felt like we were auditioning for the Grateful Dead or something, so that was pretty nerve-racking. Other things have been really organic, like our collaborations playing with Sam Bush. And damn, if he isn’t the coolest dude we’ve ever met. It’s still stunning for me to play with this guy [Sam Bush], one of the main reasons I play the mandolin. It’s so cool, and it’s so great to find that he is such a sincere and nice guy.”
Anders: “I told someone that if there ever was a sixth member of our band, it’s Sam Bush. How crazy is that? He’s played with us more than anybody else. He’s our musical hero, the reason Paul plays mandolin, and now he’s like an extra member of our band. That’s so amazing.”
You should definitely start following Greensky Bluegrass on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Don’t sleep on tickets to their next show in DC, either. They’ve sold out every performance they’ve ever played at the 9:30 Club.