Greensky Bluegrass: Collaboration, Improvisation Make the Music Come Alive
Even with seven albums -- including their newest project All for Money, out Friday (Jan. 18) -- under their belts, bluegrass jam band Greensky Bluegrass' studio presence is still, and will always be, secondary to their live show.
"[We've had a wide range of reasons for making albums] over the years," band member Dave Bruzza explained to The Boot during a recent interview. "For me, since we are more of a live band than anything else, it's mostly just to have more music to play."
Greensky Bluegrass' genre-bending, improvisational sound thrives in a live setting. According to Bruzza, All for Money sets out to bottle some of that onstage magic, encapsulating the group's personality and, to some extent, demarcating the blend of influences that make up who they are as musicians today.
The large cohort of Greensky fans who get into the music for its free-flowing, improvisational style are probably too busy rocking out at their live shows to spend too much time on genre classifications. Still, songs such as "Do It Alone," the first single off the new project, interweave playfully between bluegrass and rock 'n' roll, opening up each of the two genres to fans who might typically prefer the other. Lots of people don't tend to think bluegrass can rock hard, and plenty of others would never call rock 'n' roll virtuosic, but "Do It Alone" marries the two genres so smoothly, it augments each one.
"I think there was talk of it being a driving type of song, as in, like, tempo and feel, because bluegrass is really in your face," Bruzza goes on to say. "But we definitely don't all come from a really traditional bluegrass background. We all come from rock 'n' roll.
"[A lot of] people who don't know bluegrass, or categorize music in that way, don't think of acoustic music as being so rocking, or slamming, or in your face," he adds. "And it's definitely something, as we worked on the tune in the studio, that took on that life, that drive. It went to a whole new level."
Bruzza recalls the process of writing "It's Not Mine Anymore," another of the album's tracks, as another prime example of how a song unfolded out of improvisational collaboration. He may have started out as the track's primary songwriter, but the true heart of the music emerged in the arrangement.
"You know, when we went into the studio, I had a totally different arrangement: different key, different feel to the song completely," he recalls. "But the song was arranged by me and Mike DeVol, our bass player, primarily. I'd go in a little early and kind of demo it with different feels and vibes, and [DeVol] picked up on the certain intro of it, picked it out and showed it to me, and I didn't even realize that I did it."
The result veers into near-metal musical territory. "It's just an angry song!" Bruzza relates. "It's probably the closest thing to a political [song] I've ever done ... It was shortly after the presidential election a couple of years ago, and I don't try to be political, but this is ridiculous. I'm angry, and I think other people are, too."
If songs first come alive in the studio, however, once Greensky Bluegrass start to play them, they continue to grow, change and evolve as the band incorporates them into a live set. "We're not that kind of band that goes out there and says, 'Here's the record note for note,'" Bruzza says, explaining that improvised additions and spontaneous revisions are important parts of creating a song that happen right there onstage, in front of the fans.
"Anything can and probably will happen," he continues. "I've seen a lot of our catalog from years ago evolve and change into new things. You come up with new arrangements. Sometimes it changes key. Sometimes it takes a completely left turn. Sometimes the lyrics change. Everything under the sun, you know.
"But as Led Zeppelin put it, the song remains the same," he adds. "Yes, they do take on a life of their own. But at its core, it's the same song."
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