By Brian Turk
The Infamous Stringdusters are a band that has taken a different path in the bluegrass world, and since changing direction, they’ve settled into a well-established groove.
The group wowed the Nashville scene with their first record Fork In The Road in 2007, receiving multiple awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association and establishing their roots in the traditional environs of bluegrass. They then followed it up with a self-titled album, which reached number one on the U.S. bluegrass charts, solidifying their reputation of being authentic and talented players of traditional acoustic bluegrass. But around 2010, the band began to branch out, and hit the road looking for what was beyond the traditional routes and ways. And their most recent studio effort, 2012’s Silver Sky, represents the road this band has traveled, as well as the one ahead.
Through their management, The Infamous Stringdusters were introduced to Billy Hume, who started his career as a folk songwriter, but now finds himself in studios with hip-hop artists most of the time. “This record is the first time we worked with Billy Hume, who comes from a hip-hop background. So it was a revelation working with an engineer who didn’t even know how to mic a dobro or how to get good banjo tone,” said Stringdusters bassist Travis Book in a recent interview with The Marquee. “He was really wide open and free. He came into the project without a lot of preconceptions about the music. And also he wasn’t in it to mix a bluegrass record, he just wanted to mix a record. The whole approach really freed us up to obsess less about the tone, and just worry about the performance.”
Working with a hip-hop producer who has a folk background may not be what most bluegrass bands do, but The Infamous Stringdusters aren’t most bluegrass bands. The recognition they got right from the start enabled them to lay a foundation on which they could build whatever they damn well pleased. “It was huge. It enabled us to book gigs inside of the limited but vibrant bluegrass world, and could sustain our careers. We didn’t have to work day jobs. We were able to just focus on the music. It also gave us a real sense of legitimacy in that scene. It didn’t take us very long at all before we realized as far as a career trajectory went, we needed to go a lot further than that, and spread a lot further than just playing bluegrass concert series and little bluegrass festivals,” Book said.
The Infamous Stringdusters could have just built straight up on their base, but instead they decided to build out. “We all got into playing bluegrass because it’s a great music to play — not just to create and record, but to play. So in order to find a way for our music to have a life of its own on stage, we had to go right out and start playing a lot of shows. We spent about five years playing the wrong kinds of shows. Playing to seated audiences in listening rooms and that sort of thing. It was fine at the time — it paid the bills and it got us out there, but about two to three years into it we realized that wasn’t going to be our scene, long term. We opened up for Railroad Earth a couple of times and realized that these are our people, these are our fans. We started making a lot of changes, including our business model. We actually took a big step back. We went from playing 800 to 1,000 person listening rooms, to playing 200 person rock clubs. We had to re-establish what it was that we did. In the last three years we’ve gained crystal clear focus about what it is we want to do as artists, musicians and people. In a lot of ways it feels like our band has only really truly come together in the last couple of years. It’s been seven years we’ve been playing together, but the last three have been the most productive” said Book.
The upright bassist is well versed in bluegrass, but he also knows a thing or two about Colorado, having lived here for the first 25 years of his life. “The people who move here are usually the most highly motivated people from their own communities,” said Book. “They are also the people who connect their old friends to the new music. That’s why bands like String Cheese, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon, those bands almost couldn’t have happened anywhere else. But they started in Colorado, and all those Coloradans would go back home for the holidays, or they would go home to see other shows back home in Wisconsin or Iowa or whatever, and they would turn their friends on to new music. Because they were the most inspired people from their own circle of friends, people would look to them to be the tastemakers. I’m biased. I think Colorado is an absolutely fantastic place, and I think the people who choose to live there are just really great people.”
:: The Infamous Stringdusters ::
:: Fox Theatre :: February 15 and 16 ::
Recommended if you Like:
• Greensky Bluegrass
• Railroad Earth
• The Del McCoury Band