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Q&A: JJ Grey on His New Album & Upcoming Show at NYC’s Terminal 5

February 19, 2015
JJ-GREY-1369LowerResCreditJim-Arbogast

JJ Grey & Mofro – Photo by Jim Arbogast

On February 24th, Jacksonville-based JJ Grey & Mofro will release their seventh studio album, Ol’ Glory (Amazon, WSJ Speakeasy). Hailing from the same hometown as The Allman Brothers, Grey and his band have taken their blend of soulful blues and southern rock around the world for more than a decade. They’ve been grouped in all kinds of genres, but have mostly been defined by Grey’s down-home songwriting and stand out voice – not to mention Mofro’s massive stage presence on the festival circuit. While the band’s sound falls somewhat outside of the normal parameters of this blog, it’s that voice, that stage presence and the authenticity of album that really drew me in.

This Saturday, Grey & Mofro perform at Terminal 5 with Marc Broussard. I chatted with JJ by phone from his home a few weeks back about the new album and upcoming show.

You’ve previously talked a lot about the way your hometown and the land you live on come through in your writing. How did that play out on Ol’ Glory?

I think it shines through in its own way and its own time. It effects me whether I realize it or I don’t – even if I’m not even singing about it. A song like “The Island” is about a place right near my home that I love. And then the song, “The Hurricane,” is about standing outside and seeing it happen. It’s kind of like, you can feel the wind but you can’t see it. I think this place does that to you – every aspect of my life. I’m breathing it in and it’s always affecting me.

olgloryMore specifically, I put the deer and the persimmon tree on the album cover with the sun behind it. For me, that was my own little ode to this place…and life itself. There’s this glory shining through all of these things and speaking to me – as long as I’ve got my ears open.

It seems like this album captures the experience of your live performances better than your previous records. Why do you think that is?

I think it does a little bit more. Not to sell everything else I’ve done short, because that wouldn’t be true either, but this feels more lived in. In the past, I’d go into the studio with my songs demoed and I’d sent the songs to all the musicians. This time i revisited my tunes over and over during the sessions – something that normal people do that aren’t lazy like I was. Sometimes when I listen to some of my older stuff, I think, “damn, I wish I could re-record that.”

My friends that are the biggest fans of yours are all jam band kind of folks. Is that representative of your fan base or is it broader?

This might sound self-serving, but it’s honestly a lot broader. I’ve never had any experience with the jam world. I put out Blackwater, my first record, with Dan Prothero at Fog City Records and he was working Galactic, which isn’t really a jam band either, but we both were invited to play were at those types of festivals. I still have never figured out what a jam band is, but do think there are jam fans.

When I signed with Alligator we instantaneously became a blues act. I had never had anyone call us a blues act. They had said we were bluesy, but that’s it. Everybody’s got an idea of what something is and it’s all personal. I feel like tomorrow if I sign with a big time indie rock label – and it’s way to late for that and that’s not going to happen anyway – but if we became Pitchfork darlings then we’d be an indie rock band.

This happens to all bands. Everyone tries to figure out what they’re listening to so they can describe it to their friends. That’s fair enough. I don’t mind either way.

Are you doing the same thing you’ve always done? Do you feel like your genre has changed over the years?

No. I’m not into genres. I don’t set out to sound like one genre. It’s just like talking. I just open my mouth and talk. I don’t try to make it more funky or bluesy. I just do it.

How do you like playing New York?

I love it. The first time I went there I felt like Levon Helm in “The Last Waltz.” You go into New York, get your ass kicked and leave so it heals up, then you come back and eventually you fall in love with it. When I visit, I can feel the electricity in between people and in the life there.

The first time I played New York was on my first tour back in 1990 and it was a different place. I was a really young kid. It was rough. I didn’t mind the grit and dirt, but it wasn’t fun for someone who had never been to a big city. Later I moved to London and got used to to the city and being around people. Now I can come to New York and relax and I love being there.

Marc Broussard is opening up for you on this tour. That’s a lot of soul for one stage. Have you guys crossed paths before?

We’re really good friends. We do Southern Soul Assembly together with Anders Osborne and Luther Dickenson where we just get in a circle with our acoustic guitars and go around each playing our songs, and tell stories about each of the songs.

The first time we did that, I’d never heard Marc live. When I heard him, I was floored. I told him that he was the best singer I’d ever been on stage with. I mean, he can sing. So, he’s joining us at Terminal 5, then a show in Boston and then we’re touring Europe with us.

Tickets for the Terminal 5 show are still available. Check out the full tour schedule here.

Carl Anderson On His Simple Gospel Song “Hurricane Wind”

February 3, 2015
Carl Anderson

Carl Anderson

On Thursday, Charlottesville native and Nashville-based singer-songwriter Carl Anderson plays The Living Room in Williamsburg, opening up for Mary Bragg. Typically performing alongside his wife, Ellen, Anderson is a songwriter that has been celebrated in folk circles for his deeply honest storytelling – a trend that continues with the release his sophomore full length album Risk of Loss, which is due out in April and follows his 2012 debut, Wolftown.

With an early listen of the new album, I was drawn in with “Hurricane Wind” – a song that Anderson wrote two years ago when he was going through a rough patch. “I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere with my music, I had no money and was feeling pretty discouraged about everything,” he told me in an email. “It’s a simple gospel number that came to me at a time when I was feeling hopeless. I wrote it to try and lift myself up and to this day, the song encourages me to keep going, to keep doing what I love even though it can be hard as Hell.”

Anderson said the song took on a new life when his band hit the studio to record the album. “I had first imagined it with just guitar and voice and some light instrumentation, but when my drummer kicked in with that beat the whole vibe changed. For the first time I put down my guitar and just focused on capturing a really honest vocal performance.”

Catch both Carl and Ellen at The Living Room on Thursday at 7PM. Tickets are $10.

Q&A: Kristin Andreassen on Her New Solo Album and Upcoming US Tour Dates

February 2, 2015
Kristin Andreassen

Kristin Andreassen

Kristin Andreassen traveled the world her previous projects Uncle Earl and Sometymes Why, but this year the Brooklyn artist embarked on the first headlining tour supporting her solo work. The tour is timed with the release of Gondolier (Amazon), Andreassen’s first solo album in six years, which similarly ventures into new territory than her prior work with its songs that cross throwback old time with more modern and adventuresome folk. Due out on February 17th, the album, stunning both lyrically and musically, features accompaniments by an all-star cast from New York’s bluegrass and folk scene, including Aoife O’Donovan and Ruth Ungar Merenda (Mike + Ruthy) on backing vocals, as well as Chris Eldridge & Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers), Jefferson Hamer, Alec Spiegelman and others in the backing band.

I caught up with Andreassen over the weekend to get the skinny on the new album and more.

You’ve had a bunch of great projects since your last solo album, but was there anything holding you back from putting out a follow up?

Great question. I think there are two answers. The simple one is Miles of Music Camp. I started this all-ages music camp five years ago, and while it’s been incredibly rewarding, it definitely took my focus away from my own music career. To be completely honest, If I’d known how much work it would be, I probably wouldn’t have done it! But now, the camp is doing well so I have some free time again, and it turns out that the people I met through camp are some of my biggest supporters in putting this new album out. Being a part of this community is now giving me lots of energy to create again, and in that sense I think I’ve spent this break exactly how I was meant to.

The second answer is a little more complicated and psychological. I’ve always loved writing and recording, but the truth is I’ve been ambivalent about promoting myself as a solo artist and band leader. My bands Uncle Earl and Sometymes Why ran their course around 2009, and while my first album was doing pretty well on the radio, I knew exactly how much work it is to launch a solo career and I just wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted.

Then Robin MacMillan came to me about two years back and convinced me that I was hoarding songs and I just needed to record and share them with people. He wanted me to do it for the sake of making art, with no specific timeline for releasing an album. That sounded easy enough, and we slowly created the core of these recordings. Eventually, I thought “Yeah, I would like to share this music with people. That would be fun.” That’s why I thank Robin more than anyone else involved in this project. He really helped me get past the question of “Why?” and instead just ask “What should it sound like?”

You wrote most of the songs for Gondolier on an island in New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee – the site for your annual Miles of Music Camp. Why’d you choose to make that your writing place?

Miles of Music Camp 2014

Miles of Music Camp 2014

So actually, it worked the other way around! First I was invited to this magical island for a writing retreat with about a dozen other songwriters from Boston (I had just moved from Boston to Brooklyn at the time). My dear friend Laura Cortese and I were both on that retreat, and as soon as we saw the island, we said, “this is where we should start a camp!”. So we did. But I still get to go to the same island each year for a week before Miles of Music Camp to write with these friends. We call ourselves the Sub Rosa Collective because initially we were all involved in a sort of underground open mic curated by the great songwriter Rose Polenzani. Session Americana’s Dinty Child was a part of that scene, and he also happens to be the off-season manager for the island, so he brought us all up there. I write there now because of peer pressure!

While there isn’t a title track on this album, you reference a gondolier on “The Boat Song” – a song that seems to be about destiny and navigating a world of choices to find the life we desire. Is that about right? Is that theme threaded throughout this album?

Um, yes. I think my dad is still wondering why I’m not a journalist. People who worked with me as a community economic development facilitator in Cape Breton are no doubt baffled that somehow I’m making my living as a singer-songwriter. And when I’m hustling the load-in after a long drive to some crazy gig, I’m definitely thinking about both of those alternate paths. Isn’t this true for most of us? Fate or choice could have brought us to a very different place.

That idea is all over this album for sure. “The Fish and The Sea” is about realizing what you have when you don’t have it anymore. “The New Ground” is about the sacrifices that are necessary for new opportunities to emerge. “Lookout” is about how time is the one true enemy army. Yeah, I think you hit on one of the central themes for these songs and, not surprisingly, for me as I was asking the question “How did I get here?!” (except The Talking Heads already nailed that song so I had to write different ones).

Many of those playing with you on the album are your closest friends in New York. What sort of impact does that have on a project with your name on it?

I just feel grateful and honored first that I have so many talented friends, and second that they would be willing to lend their skills to my songs.

What was it like having your boyfriend, Chris “Critter” Eldridge, perform on and serve as executive producer of this album?

Andreassen and Eldridge at The Summer Hoot

Andreassen and Eldridge at The Summer Hoot

This album wouldn’t be what it is without Critter’s work. He didn’t have an official title till the moment I was typing the liner notes and I realized he’d put in as many hours as any of us. He heard every rough mix and, in addition to playing guitar on several songs, he also played the critical role of telling me when the recording was done and when it wasn’t. When you start a recording project that’s as open-ended as this one was, it can be very hard to find the end! So Critter had important suggestions all along the way, from tiny details (he edited several tracks on his laptop while on the bus with Punch Brothers) to the biggest picture of choosing which songs should go on the record and which to leave behind. I’m beyond grateful.

The other person that can’t go without mentioning is Lawson White, who produced and played drums on “The New Ground”, “Some Do” and “‘Simmon”. I brought Lawson in to finish these three songs last spring when Robin got especially busy with other projects. I couldn’t have called anyone better, and Lawson just poured his soul into these tracks. He’s got incredible ears and so much soul. He really seemed to get the music and I couldn’t have finished the album without him.

Also, Alec Spiegelman! His woodwind arrangements add a layer of spice to your live performances that are pretty hard to replicate without Alec Spiegelman. Are you taking that kid on the road? Who else is hitting the road with you?

Spiegelman & Andreassen

Spiegelman & Andreassen

Alec arranged these gorgeous trio parts for bass clarinet, clarinet and flute. He’s a totally brilliant musician and  ton of fun to play with live so yeah, he’s playing with me as much as he can! We just got back from this crazy radio tour playing Mountain Stage, Woodsongs, Music City Roots and a few more shows as a quartet with Alec filling the bass role with the clarinet and also Jefferson Hamer (guitar and harmony vocals) and Rosie Newton (fiddle and harmony vocals). That band is both rocking and pretty unusual in its instrumentation.

For these official CD Release shows coming up (Northampton, Boston, NYC) I’ll bring the full album band which includes Jacob Silver (bass) and Robin MacMillan (drums) plus Alec, Jefferson and some chicks on the harmony vocals. Aoife will sing in NYC. Ellie Buckland, Isa Burke and Mali Obomsawin (three awesome ladies I met when they were campers at Miles of Music) will sing in Boston and open the show with their new band The Wiles.

In April, I’m touring on the west coast as a duo both with Chris Eldridge and with Jon Neufeld (of the band Black Prairie). Planning a Colorado tour in May with my old Uncle Earl bandmate and friend KC Groves on bass!

I’m working on the summer now. It’ll include some fun festivals with various combinations of the above cast. (Got a gig for us? Gimme a ring!).

How long do we have to wait for the next one?

Way fewer than six years.

Check out Andreassen’s calendar for tour dates, including a number of Concert Window shows. One unlisted here is her House of Love show in Red Hook, Brooklyn. For a taste of her live performances, here are a few vids of a session I caught in the Pewter House at last year’s Summer Hoot.

Q&A: Mipso on Carolina Bluegrass, Their Forthcoming Album & Show This Sunday at NYC’s Mercury Lounge

January 23, 2015
mipso

Mipso – (Left to Right) Joseph, Libby, Jacob and Wood

Chapel Hill-based string band and gcb favorite Mipso recently wrapped up the recording of their sophomore album – a follow up to their 2013 debut, Dark Holler Pop. While the band is pretty tight-lipped on the timing and details on the new album, I caught up with them this week in advance of their performance at the Mercury Lounge on Sunday with Brooklyn’s Jus Post Bellum to see what I could get out of them. Here’s what I got.

You are the only band that has played my backyard. What has this done for your career?

Libby Rodenbough: Let me put it this way: We’re still driving around in a minivan with a broken DVD player and no interior lighting.

Classy. You’ve had quite a ride since you graduated from UNC and then almost immediately released Dark Holler Pop in the Fall of 2013. What’s been the most exciting or surprising thing from the last year or so?

Libby: The biggest surprise for me personally has been that I got a job, right out of college, without so much as a summer on my parents’ couch. Although, since then I have spent a lot of time on a lot of people’s couches. And it’s a pretty fun job, at that! I don’t want to get too schmaltzy on you, but I think the guys would agree that it is continually surprising and exciting to be doing what we’re doing for a living.mipso2

Joseph Terrell: Yes, definitely that. Bringing Libby on full time has helped us keep honing in on what we sound like. Also one especially gratifying moment was playing UNC-Chapel Hill’s 1,400-seat performing arts theater, Memorial Hall, with the Steep Canyon Rangers last fall. We’ve seen people like Bela Fleck and Merle Haggard on that stage while students at UNC, so it was surreal to walk out there ourselves. And actually have people clap for us.

While people rightly hold Carolina bluegrass of yesteryear on a pedestal, you’re a part of a pretty strong community of great modern string musicians around North Carolina’s Research Triangle – many of whom are playing more progressive material. What’s your take on the scene there?

Libby: It feels like a great time to be making music in North Carolina. Actually some of the bands we most look up to live right in our neighborhood. We love Chatham County Line. And Andrew and Emily from Mandolin Orange are close friends—we really look up to them. And they live three blocks from Joseph! There’s one of my favorite songwriters ever, Mike Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, the Cook brothers of Megafaun fame, the Rangers…that list goes on and on.

Joseph: There’s definitely a sense of collaboration rather than competition. Andrew Marlin is the lynch-pin of the acoustic crew around here. He’s always organizing a jam or a one-off show. And folks respect and admire the early greats like Earl Scruggs, or whoever else, but no one is enforcing an exclusive, preservationist mindset, either. I think it goes back to Doc Watson’s idea of “traditional plus,” which is a pretty good description of what we’re going for.

While I know you can’t dive into the details of the album yet, what can we know about what’s to come? Any details for the good people?

mipso3Joseph: Here’s sort of a spoiler. “Dark Holler Pop” was very much us, but it was pretty bluegrassified. It was our main course with a bluegrass garnish, if that makes sense. Guest fiddlers and three-finger banjos. While making this record we talked more about old time as a reference. It’s rhythmically tight. It prioritized simple melodies rather than flashy breaks. Libby’s fiddle playing helped take us in that direction. Andrew Marlin produced the record, and he’s is featured on clawhammer on most tracks.  But it doesn’t sound old or stripped down, either. Some of them are just…lush, layered, big pop songs.

Libby: Not exactly Tommy Jarrell meets Prince, though. That would be blasphemous.

You guys have gotten behind a number of causes in the last year with benefit shows. Are there some regular issues you’re getting behind or were those more one offs?

Joseph: We were proud that we did a show against Amendment One, which was the anti gay marriage bill in North Carolina. And we’ve done two big shows to raise money for female cancer patients in western North Carolina. Both things we care a lot about.

What are your set lists like these days? Mostly the old stuff or are you working in the new stuff? What can we expect to see at the Mercury Lounge?

Libby: These days we’re doing all the hits of yesteryear and trying out some new material, too. We have begun to refer to this phase as “guinea pigging.” If people throw tomatoes during one of the new ones, we might reconsider album inclusion. So please do bring your tomatoes Sunday.

You’re on the road a lot. What’s your favorite place to stop on the highway?

All Band Members in Unison: Sheetz.

Libby: The pretzel bun cannot be beat. At least for under $3.

Joseph: Yes, the classic Sheetz vs. Wawa debate. Sheetz wins. Hands down.

Tickets for Sunday’s show at the Mercury Lounge are still available. Here’s a video of the band performing “Louise,” a favorite off their debut, with Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin on banjo.

Q&A: Brittany Haas & Nic Gareiss On Their Fiddle & Dance Collaboration

January 21, 2015
Brittany Haas & Nic Gareiss - Screengrab from video by Jason Elon Goodman

Brittany Haas & Nic Gareiss – Screengrab from video by Jason Elon Goodman

Fiddler Brittany Haas (Crooked Still, Haas Kowert Tice) and the much-celebrated percussive dancer Nic Gareiss (This is How We Fly) performed two shows in the Boston area over the weekend. One of those shows was at the Old Schwamb Mill in Arlington where photographer Jason Elon Goodman shot a great video (below) before the duo’s stunning performance there to benefit the Mill – the oldest continuously operating mill in the U.S.

The video has been making its way around social media this week, so I caught up with the Brittany & Nic for a quick backstory. Here’s what they shared.

How’d this duo come about? Is this the first time you’ve played together?

Brittany: This was our first time doing a full duo gig in the US. We’ve done little bits in fiddle camp concerts over the years, as well as touring in a band called 4TET for the past couple years, and playing one duo show at a festival in Canada several years ago (at which I made my dancing debut on stage as part of a square dance with the Asham Stompers, a dance troupe of jigging champions from Manitoba. We got to dress in their full costume, which included a garter for me!). Nic is incredible and completely unique in the way that he is extremely involved in the music side of his performance. He learns the tunes too, so that he can dance the exact rhythms instead of just doing steps that look cool along with it. That’s why it feels so dynamic to collaborate with him, and the more we do it, the more we each know what the other might be about to say next in the musical conversation. It’s also fun and challenging for me to be providing all the harmonic content. I’m constantly trying to grab double stops that wouldn’t be necessary for chordal outlining if there were a guitar or cello or some other non-percussive instrument.  Nic is also a secretly (but not-so-secretly-anymore) great singer, and so much fun to sing harmony with.

Nic: Britt and I have actually known each other for nearly seven years.  We met originally at Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddle School in the Redwoods of California and our travels have facilitated chance meetings and collaborations in other disparate and inspiring cultural milieus. Given the wide variety of the sites of our meetings, it’s no wonder that our music pulls from so many different traditional vocabularies.  We’re inspired by music and dance from many locations and feel at the heart that they speak to our own identity, not only as North Americans but as creator+adventurers in THIS time and THIS age.

Will you guys be doing more performances/touring together so more of us can see this damn fine stuff?

Brittany: Yes, we’re certainly planning on it. The next time we’ll be meeting to make music will be in March with 4TET, which also features Cleek Schrey on 5×5 fiddle & pump organ and Jordan Tice on guitar. We’re also excited to schedule more duo performances as soon as possible!

Tell us about this song you chose.

Brittany: We learned this song from The Cantrells, Emily and Al. The song is written by Emily.

Nic: The piece was made during a week of development; Brittany and I went into a dance studio for four days and asked questions, made pieces, composed new music, and created new movement together.  The opportunity to collaborate with fiddle, voice, and percussive is dance is something that feels stripped down, yet seems to get to the heart of the questions we were asking during that week together.  It’s challenging and invigorating and we’re excited to share it.

Zach Williams of The Lone Bellow On Finding New Inspiration

January 15, 2015
The Lone Bellow - Photo by Steven Sebring

The Lone Bellow – Photo by Steven Sebring

Frontman Zach Williams of The Lone Bellow recalls a conversation with the president of one of the major labels about eight years ago when he was asked, “Hey, man, what are you going to do when you don’t have some terrible experience to write about?”

Williams poignantly recalls what the man said next: “He straight up said, ‘I don’t think you can do it.’”

His response? “I said, ‘I don’t like you.’”

Williams, who looks back at the incident with laughter, admits the time has come.

The Lone Bellow’s first album, self-titled, was a moving tribute to the grief Williams endured after his wife was involved in a horseback riding accident that left her a quadriplegic. The album contained notes of self struggle and strife after tragedy and the balance of keeping a healthy marriage. Eventually, Williams’ wife healed and the couple have overcome. The band is hitting its stride — his life on solid ground. Now he faces the beauty of day-to-day life.

“There’s a beautiful challenge in the art and creating out of the mundane,” Williams said.

That’s exactly what the Brooklyn- based Americana band has attempted with its sophomore release Then Came the Morning (Amazon) due out on Jan. 27.

If the name is any indication of direction, the album would make for an optimistic study of life beyond anguish.

“We are these eternal souls,” Williams said. “I think the record is a celebration of that.”

Williams, along with band members Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist have been filling those blank sheets of paper about balancing what can be a spectacular life on the road and the mundane moments of being friends, being family members. Pipkin’s husband Jason rounds out the band as a full-time member.

Williams said it wasn’t just his songs they brought to the table this time around.

“I think it’s important to share the responsibility of creating together,” he said. “Everybody in the band is so talented.”

The churning harmonies of “Watch Over Us,” written by Elmquist, which has been in the band’s live repertoire for more than a year, makes an appearance on the new album.

It’s Williams’ deep friendship and connection to Elmquist, which came about during Williams’ time of healing, that push the three minute heartbreak into an arm wrestle between personal struggle and strife. The song doesn’t just make an appearance, it makes a loud announcement that it’ll be staying awhile.

“I’ve loved singing that with him,” Williams said. “I love to share those moments with him.”

He also points to the songwriting capability of Pipkin, who Williams also considers a dear friend.

“She’s written some real humdingers,” Williams said.

Throw the incredible personal growth with musical thickening along with a new producer in Aaron Dessner, frontman for The National, into a skillet, and it’s become the big sound Williams envisioned moving forward into the second release.

“He has such an eye-opening approach to making sounds,” Williams said. “It was such a life experience.”

The album was recorded at Dreamland Studios in Woodstock, New York, which isn’t exactly the place that provided the vibe Williams was going for.

“I kind of wanted to go for this Vegas- Elvis vibe,” Williams said.

They’ve hit the road to showcase that vibe and while it’s been a challenge preparing for, Williams admits, the band is taking advantage of the opportunity.

“We all learned new instruments. Being able to take that out on the road, we would need way more money,” he joked.

It’s a cup of optimism from a man whose personal sadness led to an incredible triumph in the band’s debut release. It’s steps up a tall mountain that Williams decided to climb, with Elmquist and Pipkin, long ago.

“I’ve experienced some incredible healing,” he said.

That healing has allowed Williams to dig deeper into his life around him to create more story lines for the upcoming album. Such is the case in “Fake Roses,” which paints the picture of his mother-in-law.

“She’s just this incredible human being that raised my wife,” he said. “It’s about her and her sister going through the same thing. They know eachother so well, they know exactly what each other were going through and they didn’t have to talk about it,” Williams said referring to the two being single mothers and the connection of being sisters.

The song book is expanding. Williams said the band wrote 35 songs for the upcoming album. They recorded 19 of those songs and ended up shaving it down to 13.

The band, who often considers themselves a Brooklyn country music band, isn’t sure how the songs will be received in Nashville. With the emergence of acts like Sturgil Simpson and Jason Isbell, Nashville seems to be shifting — and Williams recognizes that. He’s glad to be a part of it.

“To be considered in the same conversation as Sturgil or Jason is an incredible honor,” he said.

Williams points to a show in which The Lone Bellow opened for country legend Dwight Yoakam.

“The response from his crowd was amazing,” Williams said.

It’s that crowd response the band draws so much energy from night to night. The waves of playing content from its first album and new content yet to be released has Williams and company working harder than ever before.

“It’s been a whole smorgasbord of emotion,” Williams admits.

The range of audience has been incredible, according to Williams. One night it can be 10,000 people, the next night 15, the following show can be in a room of 500 people, he said.

“It’s kind of all over the place.”

Being all over the place means playing the likes of the Jimmy Kimmel show and a date at The Hangout Music Fest in Alabama in May.

“We’ve got some fun stuff coming up,” Williams said.

However, Williams makes it clear about what he’s looking most forward to.

“We really just want to finish this cycle of this record.”

Q&A: 10 String Symphony on Their Forthcoming ‘Coming of Age’ Album

January 12, 2015
10 String Symphony

10 String Symphony

Last week, we caught up with 10 String Symphony – the Nashville duo of five-string fiddlers that was one of our favorites at CMJ last fall. Christian Sedelmyer and Rachel Baiman started busking together in Nashville two-and-a-half years ago, put out an album shortly thereafter and have since toured the nation together. The band is currently in the midst of a two week recording session for their sophomore and self-described “coming of age” album, so we bothered them in between sessions to dig into that one a bit.

It’s been a little over two years since you released your debut. What have the last couple years been like?

Rachel: When we created our first record, we were both heavily involved with other musical projects, and while we will always work independently, this new record is born of a mutual decision to really make a go of 10 String Symphony and prioritize it heavily in our careers. The past two years have really been about becoming a band.  We’ve toured quite a bit, both in the US and abroad and have worked really hard on our live show.  As a duo, it’s a bit harder to create a really compelling live performance that feels energetic and full at all times.  We’ve grown a lot in that regard and as a result have started playing some bigger stages such as the Strawberry Music Festival.  We’ve had some incredible times–a five week tour in New Zealand, and numerous tours on the West Coast.  Throughout that time, we were both kind of experimenting with how much of a role we wanted this band to have in our careers and gradually we both decided that it felt good and that we really wanted to commit to it on a larger scale.

Christian: Arranging has always been a primary focus of this band – the two 5-string fiddle thing can sometimes get in the way if not aligned thoughtfully – but the material for this new record really emphasizes a newer focus on songwriting. We’re really excited to see how it will all turn out – so far, pretty pumped.

10 string symphony2You entered the studio again last week to record your sophomore album. What can fans expect from this one? How’s it different than your debut?

Rachel: This new record is sort of a “coming of age” for us.  We’ve found a really unique sound, and have had time to explore so many different arrangements.  We are much more relaxed and confident as people, and I think that will come across.  This record will also be largely original material, while the last was more based on traditional folk songs.  As a result, I think listeners will find it more personal, more revealing, and more vulnerable.

Christian: I definitely think we understand how to meld together more instinctively this time around. The content of the songs is a little more timely and relevant to our lives the past couple years as well. It almost feels like the process of recording our first record was learning how to become a band, and this one is more of a concentration of how we create together now – having played that many more gigs, listened to that much more music together, and drunk that many more hundreds of coffees.

Are you writing together or independently? What’s your creative process like?

Rachel: We create the arrangements together…it’s a painstaking and excruciating process.  Some of our roommates, who have been victims of such rehearsals would attest to that.  One thing that we’ve realized, with such exposed instrumentation, is that usually a song sounds absolutely terrible up until the point where it sounds amazing.  There is really no middle ground.

Christian: Rachel wrote most of the lyrical content for this album – and it’s awesome. She’s taking writing very personally now – not just as a reflection of what’s going on in her life, but in analyzing why she likes the songs she likes; and she’s really quick at it. I co-wrote one of the songs with Josh Britt, the mandolin player and one of the songwriters in The Farewell Drifters, the band I used to play with. That was a great experience – I had an idea and a feeling I wanted to create, and working with him to capture what it is I was really trying to say in an accessible way was a great learning process. Some sort of hybrid of emotion and rational thought. Rachel and I have always arranged everything together, and I think our arrangement sensibilities have aligned to a place where even though it can take us a while to arrive at a final arrangement we’re happy with, the depth of those arrangements seem much stronger now.

10 string symphony3Has there been any notable inspiration source for this album?

Rachel: So many! But it’s not a concept album or anything, so it would be hard to answer that question really.  I will say that we’ve been listening to a lot of Blake Mills and LAU.

Christian: I’ve found a lot of inspiration in my life experiences over the past couple years – traveling a lot, meeting lots of new people, and hearing lots of different, interesting music. We’ve both dealt with some difficult times, and I think our shared love of making music together has shined through and is sort of subtly pushing this album past our expectations.

Who are you working with on this one?

Christian: Our good friend Mark Sloan is producing. He has a bit of a genius musical mind – very well informed, but doesn’t let it get in the way. I think that quality is also a big part of the music I’ve been listening to lately – I love the new Blake Mills record, I think he’s a ridiculous player.

You’re fundraising for this one on Indiegogo (one week to go). How’d you decide to go that route?

Rachel: In this day and age, it’s hard for me to imagine how bands get off the ground without crowd funding.  Even if you work with a record label, the new model is, record the album, THEN present it to a label.  Working independently, you maintain complete creative control, and avoid the risk of being locked into a record deal that doesn’t benefit the band financially.  On the other hand, we really wanted to invest in this project, make it as good as we possibly can, and we knew we would need some serious money to do that.  Crowdfunding is a great model because you not only raise the money, you develop close and personal relationships with your fans, and you also promote the new project.  It is hard to ask for money, but I really feel that if it’s done in the right way, it should be about people contributing because they want your music to happen, and they want a copy of the record, not because they feel sorry for you.

Any exciting perks?

Rachel: Yes. Home roasted coffee by Christian.  If you enjoy good coffee, you will LOVE Christian’s home roasts.  He can tell you more than you’d ever want to know about coffee!

Looks like you’re hitting the road after recording?

Rachel: Yep! We have a great West Coast tour lined up in February, then Folk Alliance and some East Coast dates in March and April.  We recently started working with a great booking agency called Prater Day, and it’s looking to be a big year for us!

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