Greensky Bluegrass is an unassuming name, but it isn’t your typical mountain music band.
In 2000, Greensky Bluegrass began playing on the boundary between bluegrass and rock.
Four albums and 13 years later — and after sharing the stage with such bluegrass giants as Bela Fleck, Yonder Mountain String Band and the Avett Brothers — the band is finally getting recognition as a pioneer in the progressive bluegrass scene.
The Red & Black chatted with Dobro player Anders Beck.
Answers have been edited for clarity and length.
The Red & Black: You call your Dobro the “drop steel.” Why?
Anders Beck: It started as an inside joke, which I’m trying to make an outside joke now, I guess. One time, I was playing music with some friends of mine. We were doing soundcheck, and the sound guy was a total idiot. It was just a bad situation. He kept trying to ask me to play some music onstage so he could check the levels and whatnot. And he called it a Dobro, a pedal steel, I mean, he kept calling it all these different phrases, and we were just looking at each other like, 'What the hell is going on here?' And finally, he called it a “drop steel.” The name just kind of stuck. And I’ve always liked it. So that’s the half of it.
The other half is that the instrument company bought the name “Dobro.” A dobro used to be a kind of instrument. It’s now a trademarked brand name by the Gibson company, and I don’t play a Gibson brand Dobro. So, you know, technically, it’s not a Dobro. So I figured if it’s not a Dobro, I’d have to make up some other name for it. So that’s the other side of the story as well.
R&B: Bluegrass-inspired bands like Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers and the Lumineers have been increasing in popularity. Do you think Greensky Bluegrass fits into that niche?
Beck: All those bands that you mentioned are really cool. We share a lot with those bands you mentioned because in a way, there aren’t really any rules to the music we play. We’re just trying to sound like ourselves. And all those bands you mentioned have gotten incredibly successful doing that. Which, hopefully, we will as well. But if not anything else, it’s encouraging for us to see people with banjos and acoustic guitars and upright basses getting extremely popular.
R&B: Bluegrass is becoming more popular among people who didn’t really grow up with it. Why do you think that is?
Beck: It often gets called a roots music. Everything kind of leads back to some sort of string band in a way. Our fanbase has gotten into bluegrass music sort of backwards through the jam band scene. There’s just a lot of over-produced crap that’s just shoved down your throat on the radio. So when people hear something that is based on acoustic instruments and voices and that’s about it, I think it’s really refreshing to people.
R&B: The band gets labeled bluegrass, newgrass, jamgrass, etc. Do you guys aim for a particular sound?
Beck: I often tell people we’re not trying to be anything. We start out bluegrass and then sort of see where it will go. We use three to five minutes as kind of like a jumping-off point for improvisation. We’re as likely to play a 15-minute song as we are a three-minute song. But I think they’re equally powerful. The reason that a 15-minute song is a 15-minute song is because in our mind, that’s what it calls for. It’s not just jamming for the sake of jamming. It’s jamming for the sake of the song.
R&B: You’re writing a novel. What’s that about?
Beck: It’s just a novel. It’s just a story, you know. It involves a guy and his dog and bank robberies and moral dilemmas and all sorts of different stuff. But it’s not anywhere near close to done. So it could change at any point.
When: Jan. 16, 8 p.m.
Where: New Earth Music Hall