It seems like now would be a great time to belong to Greensky Bluegrass, a Michigan-based band that's been called (by the Northern Express weekly in the quintet's home state) “star of the 2011 festival scene.”
Greensky has probably grown accustomed to accolades; among its other achievements, it won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival's Band Competition in 2006. But its new album, “Handguns” is garnering heaps of new praise. And new fans, to hear Rolling Stone tell it.
In the magazine's recent feature on the band's appearance at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Benjy Eisen wrote that Greensky Bluegrass — known for its rock affinities, lyrical creativity, great songs, etc. — most embodied the festival's eclectic spirit, and described the band as “coming offstage from a set that literally won over tens of thousands of new fans, instantly.”
Literally! And at that festival crowded with stars from Merle Haggard to Broken Social Scene, Greensky Bluegrass had the weekend's best-selling CD — “Handguns” — in tow. (Hear five of its tracks at www.greenskybluegrass.bandcamp.com.)
The 14-song album is clearly taking Greensky Bluegrass places, including Bend's GoodLife Brewing Company, where they'll share a bill with Bay Area newgrassers Hot Buttered Rum on Wednesday (see “If you go”).
“We're really proud of how it came out,” bassist Mike Devol said of “Handguns.” He spoke to The Bulletin by phone last week as Greensky's tour van whisked the group through “a bit of a sandstorm” outside Tucson, Ariz. (Just more grit for a band whose sound The A.V. Club website described as “dusty four-part harmonies.”)
Devol says the band's team-like approach to making “Handguns” “was a blast,” and that Greensky walked away from the recording experience feeling like it had accomplished its finest work yet.
“We're excited for people to hear it, and we're glad to hear people are digging it,” he said. “We were trying to push the envelope a little bit ... (and) do some creative stuff that we can't really accomplish in the live setting.”
At the same time, they also wanted to avoid straying too far “from who we are as a band,” Devol said.
“A lot of people are talking about our album right now, and we're stoked about it. We put a lot of work into it. But I really feel like the true Greensky experience is what the crowd gets live,” he said. “We play songs, and some are less open to improvisation than others, but we maintain a real sense of improvisation on stage, and go to places we could never find again after the show started. It's a fun thing when we jam and segue into a funk song.”
He continued: “I hate to think of us as a jam band; I won't lie. It's hard not to feel like the world is over jam bands. But I've always thought that in improvisational settings, you get to see musicians be the musicians that they are, on stage. And it's not about hearing the song that you love from the record just like it is so you can sing along, but actually, like, being there in that one moment where the band and everybody in the room are in this one set of circumstances that have never happened before and will never happen again.”