Having the word bluegrass in your name can limit expectations about a band, particularly when that band is Michigan-based Greensky Bluegrass, one of the most open-minded string outfits to ever deftly weave rock, folk, blues, country and yes, bluegrass into their own resonant creation.
Over time they've resisted tags like bluegrass band or jam band, but the truth is they are also a bluegrass band and they do jam sometimes. “As we’ve gotten older we’re mostly just happy that people like us for whatever reasons they do,” says singer-songwriter-mandolin player Paul Hoffman. “I listen to a lot of indie rock and I like it a lot because as a genre right now it’s really attentive to the lyricism in a song. It’s poppy and people like it. It’s transcending into larger worlds but the integrity of the songwriting is still the focus without a lot of guitar solos and jamming. It’s like, “Here’s the song, here’s the lyrics, boom!” For example, The Lumineers are a song band, and some of their stuff is catchy but creative in a new way which snags peoples’ ears. I think we’re trying to cross that same terrain in our own way.”
Hoffman and his bandmates - Dave Bruzza (guitar, vocals, songwriting), Anders Beck (dobro), Michael Arlen Bont (banjo, vocals), and Mike Devol (upright bass, vocals) – pick at the expert level but the drive is to serve their soul-deep, Everyman songs not to just showboat as soloists. This pleasingly overlapping quintet moves with intense empathy, finishing one another’s sentences and rolling in a most conversational manner, as much a true group effort as any band has ever proffered. The result is a band with kinship with contemporary pickers like The Infamous Stringdusters and Elephant Revival but also modern rockers like Dawes, Blitzen Trapper and The Avett Brothers, where the challenges and dusky atmosphere of the human condition hover with ringing mountain music, Tin Pan Alley-esque ditties, bittersweet late night laments, rousing road songs and more.
“One thing about our band that I love is that you can always tell it’s us. You’d never mistake us for another band,” says Bruzza. “Every album has this growth and different feel to it. Handguns (2011) was very dark, and there’s some dark content to our upcoming new album in 2014 but there’s more light this time. It’s all over the board musically but also a little more accessible, a bit more poppy and ready to dance with folks.”
Evolution is part & parcel of what Greensky Bluegrass is all about, a palpable push forward evident in all things they put themselves to that’s appealing and compelling enough to make folks follow them wherever their hearts and muses lead them, be it the big stages of Bonnaroo, Telluride and Hardly Strictly, an intimate porch session, or whispering in one person’s ear who needs what they’re laying down. Wherever these boys find themselves it’s gonna be real and real damn good - count on that.
“I’m excited for people to hear this new album, which Paul has described as a cohesive mix tape. There are a lot of songs that push us in new directions,” says Beck. “As we evolve as a band and move away from the direct bluegrass thing into the Greensky thing it makes its own beast. There’s a little more of ourselves on the line. We’re all excited to see what happens next.”