DAVE RAYBURN: The Infamous Stringdusters draw comparisons to the high and lonesome sound of Ricky Skaggs and Ralph Stanley all the way up to more contemporary jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. To someone who has never heard your music before… if you had to pick three artists that, in combination, best reflect what you do… who would those three descriptors be?
CHRIS PANDOLFI: The list of collective Stringduster influences is long and very wide ranging, but the Grateful Dead are definitely toward the top of the list. The Dead are hugely influential in a musical sense, with their amazing songwriting and experimental jams, all designed to translate in a live environment. But they are perhaps even more influential in a business sense, with their tribe of loyal fans and the organic growth it creates. Another huge influence would be Strength in Numbers, the iconic supergroup of progressive pickers that pushed the boundaries of what the bluegrass instruments are capable of. I’d also put Tony Rice high on the list of influences. Tony embodies all the best parts of bluegrass music, with his astounding playing and innovative style, combined with a soul factor that outshines his unreal technical prowess. He had the songs and he had the soul, and those are both things that we are always striving to achieve in our music.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: EASY WAY is now ready for release. How are you feeling about the project and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
PAGE BURKUM: Getting a new record out in to the world is a great feeling. People are playing “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy” on the radio and our new songs seem to get a good reaction at our live shows, so hopefully that’s a good sign!
DAVE RAYBURN: Gearbox Records is much more than a record label. As the founder, how would you describe the range of the company’s capacity and its dedication to the music?
DARREL SHEINMAN: The label was created from a sonic technical angle. Initially we were vinyl only, so the studio I built has a collection of the best vintage and modern mastering and lacquer cutting equipment. As the label has grown, we now do all formats, so we have taken our digital side up to being able to handle 192 khz on 64 channels simultaneously too! I also wanted to be able to offer all products from creation to playback, so we built a turntable packed with tech and with great sound at a sensible price point. My belief is that if the sonic quality is excellent, one will hear excellence in the music regardless of the genre and whether or not it is your thing.
SPAZ: When writing an album like SUN ON THE SQUARE, do you tend to let the compositions flow naturally and reveal the album’s direction over time? Or do you have a preconceived idea on where you want the album to head, musically?
KAREN PERIS: We don’t usually have a plan, especially in regards to writing songs. So many songs, for me, begin and then fall away. So, an album builds slowly out of the songs we remain close to after a period of time.
As Luna reassemble with their first new music in thirteen years, the group’s founder took time to discuss the band’s pair of simultaneous releases; an instrumental EP and an album of covers.
DAVE RAYBURN: With A SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION and A PLACE OF GREATER SAFETY you provide an outpouring of new music than Luna fans might not have been expecting. Why did you opt for an album of covers and an EP of instrumentals for the band’s return to the studio?
DEAN WAREHAM: I know what Andy Warhol answered when asked why he was making short films instead of painting. “Because it’s easy.” Making covers is easier of course because you don’t have to write the songs. And ditto with instrumentals, I don’t have to write any lyrics (the hardest part). So I thought an album of covers would be a nice way for us to record together after 13 years apart. Also we’ve done a lot of covers over the years and people like them. Sean Eden insisted we should do something more, and that’s how we came to record the instrumentals. So it’s cool, we’ve got two things that we’ve never done before, and personally I think that’s more interesting to people than “oh, these dudes got together and wrote some new songs.”
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Your self-titled album is about to be released. How are you feeling about the journey to make this album and the reaction to it so far?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Well, the people that normally like my records like this one, so far. And that’s it really – if you like this one, you’ll probably like the others. If not, I’m not your flavor. That’s why the record is simply my name. The journey? Well it was the lucky coincidence of my moving to Nashville at the same point that Brendan Benson was getting in touch, asking if I’d like to come and record with him there.
DAVE RAYBURN: The new album is titled WESLEY STACE’S JOHN WESLEY HARDING, and is your second record under your given name that you’ve reverted back to. I understand that, among several factors involved in choosing the title, there was a bit of a nod to Jeff Lynne in the mix. Can you elaborate?
WESLEY STACE: I can. My last album, SELF-TITLED, was the first released under my real name, Wesley Stace, but I felt the word didn’t quite get out, so I thought it was worth clarifying. Secondly, I happened to see the new version of ELO. For whatever legal reason, they are billed as “Jeff Lynne’s ELO”, presumably partly to differentiate it from any other rogue version of ELO. This reminded me that, though I had, in a sense, broken up John Wesley Harding, I didn’t want any interlopers touring under that name, playing my songs and pretending to be me, when I was elsewhere being me too, playing those same songs (better). With WESLEY STACE’S JOHN WESLEY HARDING, I am reminding you that this version of John Wesley Harding is the only version that counts. And finally, I wanted to differentiate myself, once and for all, from the Bob Dylan album of the same name. I have many times been mistaken for this album, due to a certain similarities between the name of this artifact, an LP from 1967 made of vinyl and cardboard, JOHN WESLEY HARDING, and my erstwhile performing name, John Wesley Harding. Obviously, it’s a ridiculous mistake, but still. So this isn’t Bob Dylan’s JOHN WESLEY HARDING; it’s Wesley Stace’s JOHN WESLEY HARDING.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: STITCH OF THE WORLD is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the album and the journey you took to make it?
TIFT MERRITT: I’m feeling really proud of this writing, these performances. I feel really, really lucky to have worked with this cast of characters. Marc Ribot is my favorite musician and one of my favorite human beings. He’s plugged into the sun. And I am forever grateful to Sam Beam for his input and generosity. To be in conversation with him about songwriting gave me a new eye on lyrics, on what to look for in third verses, on countermelody. But honestly, I don’t know that I ever truly have perspective on my work. I just have the sense of having had a creative experience that hopefully opened me more and will inform my next creative experience. I think that is what it is all about.