The Overlook with Matt Peiken

Finding Their Collective Voice | The Steep Canyon Rangers

September 20, 2023 Matt Peiken Episode 90
Finding Their Collective Voice | The Steep Canyon Rangers
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
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The Overlook with Matt Peiken
Finding Their Collective Voice | The Steep Canyon Rangers
Sep 20, 2023 Episode 90
Matt Peiken

LISTENERS: Have thoughts about this episode? Send them my way!

The Steep Canyon Rangers embody and evangelize the Asheville sound as much as any musical artist. They’ve certainly had success with it.

Their collaborations with the actor, comedian and banjo player Steve Martin put them on the national map, and they won a Grammy Award on their own 10 years ago for best bluegrass album. Now, more than two decades into their career, the departure of co-founding vocalist and guitarist Woody Platt has pushed the Steep Canyon Rangers into new territory and compelled the band to find themselves all over again.

My guests today are the band’s remaining co-founders, banjo player and songwriter Graham Sharp and mandolin player Mike Guggino. We talk about the band’s early years, their work with Martin, how they processed Platt’s departure and the making of “Morning Shift,” their new album with new vocalist Aaron Burdett.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

SPONSOR: Asheville City Soccer Club home games run through June 29 for the women's team and July 13 for the men's team at Greenwood Field on the UNC-Asheville campus.

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Show Notes Transcript

LISTENERS: Have thoughts about this episode? Send them my way!

The Steep Canyon Rangers embody and evangelize the Asheville sound as much as any musical artist. They’ve certainly had success with it.

Their collaborations with the actor, comedian and banjo player Steve Martin put them on the national map, and they won a Grammy Award on their own 10 years ago for best bluegrass album. Now, more than two decades into their career, the departure of co-founding vocalist and guitarist Woody Platt has pushed the Steep Canyon Rangers into new territory and compelled the band to find themselves all over again.

My guests today are the band’s remaining co-founders, banjo player and songwriter Graham Sharp and mandolin player Mike Guggino. We talk about the band’s early years, their work with Martin, how they processed Platt’s departure and the making of “Morning Shift,” their new album with new vocalist Aaron Burdett.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

SPONSOR: Asheville City Soccer Club home games run through June 29 for the women's team and July 13 for the men's team at Greenwood Field on the UNC-Asheville campus.

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Matt Peiken: Both of you are North Carolina Natives, I was wondering, you guys formed at UNC Chapel Hill, you didn't know each other, I imagine, beforehand.

Were you both steeped in bluegrass and Americana traditions growing up or no? Mike, you're shaking your head, so Mike, tell me first. 

Mike Guggino: Absolutely not. I was not. I grew up. Playing other kinds of music, very musical household growing up. My dad played the piano a little bit and we had a piano and my grandfather played the violin.

So I was exposed to classical music and I was in the band program in middle school and high school. Like a lot of kids in our area are at Brevard high Brevard, middle Brevard high. Yeah. I played the saxophone and Graham actually. Did this did the same thing played saxophone in the band. We laugh about that a lot.

But yeah, I knew about bluegrass and Americana music I mean I heard it, but I didn't pay that much attention to it until I got to college.

Matt Peiken:  Graham what's your story leading up to your introduction to bluegrass 

Graham Sharp: and Americana? Yeah, strangely similar I mean we learned Bluegrass Mike and I pretty much just learned bluegrass together 

Matt Peiken: What were you doing before that when you were growing up in Greensboro?

Was music a big part of your upbringing or was it just something peripheral, like all kids listen to music and hear it? And what was music to you growing up in Greensboro?

Graham Sharp: I was a child of FM radio, all the great hits of the eighties and nineties were my bag. And you know, I got into the Grateful Dead, which sort of led me down the avenue Some of their roots influences, especially like olden in the way and Jerry, but I really didn't get in the bluegrass until I was in college. And I, our original guitar player, Woody had gone home to Brevard over the summer and he came back to school and he was like, there's this guy who plays mandolin in Brevard and he knows how to play the old home place.

And I was like, Oh man, he knows how to play old, the old home place. He's, he should be in our band. We got to get this guy. How'd you find him? Which is, which is uncommon, bluegrass is such sort of a hand me down sort of music that goes through a real. I don't want to say lineage, but it's an apprenticeship sort of music, 

The way we learn bluegrass was not typical, I think, for a lot of especially professionals. And just the way people usually learn bluegrass, usually it's learned. From somebody in the family or maybe in your community growing up. A lot of people in the bands that we've crossed paths with over the years, learn it from somebody who learned it from somebody who learned it from the guy, so there's lots of great Lineages in bluegrass that that, that came from a specific band leader or something like that. And we didn't have any of that. 

You know, 

We were lucky to have a few people around who were big influences and took us under their wing and showed us a few things once we were down the road on that.

But we pretty much just jumped into it blindly. I'm curious, 

Matt Peiken: You both were kids of eighties and nineties music, FM radio, as you said, you weren't steeped in bluegrass. I think it's interesting that at. At the university level where you would have maybe gone into a rock band or other contemporary music that you even found bluegrass, let alone decided to play it, you mentioned 

being a kind of a key to that.

What was it about bluegrass music that spoke to you to the extent that You wanted to make that kind of music. 

Mike Guggino: For me, interestingly, I was in a rock band at the time, in high school and in early college, playing electric guitar. I was actually a guitar major at Brevard College, studying classical music and jazz.

And I was getting... pretty frustrated with just what I was doing with that. I was I liked it, but I didn't love it. And I didn't see myself like wanting to do this for the rest of my 

Matt Peiken: life. Most people don't even think in college, I'm going to do music the rest of my life, unless you're in like a orchestral program or something, the chances, the odds of being able to do so.

You know, but when you started playing bluegrass, did it speak to you differently in a way that you found contemporary music? Were you disillusioned by it? What was the difference 

Mike Guggino: for you? No, I wasn't disillusioned by it. I had a really great guitar teacher.

He was a world class jazz musician and classical guitarist, and he was playing in restaurants all over the area. for like 100 and I was like, it was just depressing. I was like, this isn't right. And so I was like, I want to get out of this. And I ended up transferring over to UNC Asheville and becoming a history major and not being a music major anymore, but about, I had just met these guys at Brevard college from Kentucky and one played the banjo, one played the fiddle and they would always bring their instruments to parties and would pick.

And then there'd be other guys playing guitars and upright bass and stuff too. And I started bringing my guitar and playing with them. And eventually those guys, same guys, started giving me CDs. And tapes, this was the, mid 90s, to listen to of bluegrass stuff, of Olden in the Way, of John Hartford, of Sam Bush, of David Grisman, of anything in that sort of genre, seldom seen.

And I started listening to bluegrass for the very first time, and I just loved it. I loved, when I was listening to those recordings, what the mandolin was doing. So I... I stopped playing the guitar. I still play guitar, but I stopped focusing so much on the guitar, and I bought a mandolin and started learning how to play the mandolin.

Woody and I grew up together in Brevard, and we'd never played music together. And then he came home from summer break and had met Graham down there, and Woody's playing guitar and Graham's playing the banjo, and he's I met these guys Charles and Graham, and they play bluegrass, and I was like, I just bought a mandolin and I've been playing bluegrass, and I had learned the old home place and that was one of our favorite songs off that j. D. Crowe record with Ricky Skaggs singing it and Tony Rice playing guitar. And so we were listening to the same bluegrass music too. And it just all happened really organically. And the timing of it was just right. 

Matt Peiken: Once you got together and it sounds like woody was the connective tissue between all this. Were you as a collective writing music from the jump or were you just playing a bunch of old time songs and that's how you found your bond together as musicians?

Mike Guggino: It's interesting that you asked that because I remember the first time Meeting Graham and Charles, our original bass player, who went to Chapel Hill with Woody and Graham and they came up to the mountains and we just jammed over this cabin and we played a bunch of traditional bluegrass songs, and then they kicked into a song that Graham had written. An original song, I don't remember which song it was. 

Graham Sharp: It was probably like Big Jet Airplane or Summer's Gone or something like that. 

Mike Guggino: And I think you might've even done another one after that. And I was thinking to myself, why are they playing these original songs? Let's play the old stuff, the standards.

And, it just didn't occur to me that's, that was part of the tradition is to write your own. Your own music. I thought you just played songs that everybody knew. 

Graham Sharp: When we were starting, there was no difference if we were playing flattened scrugs or new grass revival or whatever.

It was all the same to us, so whether it's super traditional or really progressive, it was all the same to us. It was just the bluegrass that we loved and we didn't bother trying to parse it. And as far as, lyricists and songwriting, I think it's just, you're just a product of what you seek and what you listen to.

Matt Peiken: What was the scene like for you? Obviously there's a huge bluegrass scene around here. What did you find yourselves merging into? What was, were there other young bands, your age who were on the come up? Did you feel. Community around you. What was the scene like for you? Yeah, for 

Mike Guggino: sure I think when we started it was around the time of the Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

Movie phenomenon, and so bluegrass became like popular for A moment in popular culture, I'm a man of constant sorrow was on, major radio and stuff. And so there was this kind of movement of a lot, there was a lot of young bands around at that time. We'd go out to Colorado.

And places like that and play and there was like a lot of young bands like us out there and were you 

Matt Peiken: touring pretty quickly in your band life? 

Mike Guggino: Yeah, we were you know, we were young and we were Unmarried and no children like we most of us are now and you know We'd go we'd get in the conversion van and drive out west for six weeks sometimes 

Matt Peiken: Was it festivals were they were you opening for larger groups?

What was it like for you back 

Graham Sharp: then? It was pretty much anything we could get a and a, and a bar there. 

Mike Guggino: This was way before the days of computers and iPhones and things like that.

And I had a planner with the gigs written on it. We were going to play like maybe in a month and I would write the amount that I made for that. And I would circle it. And I remember one time we played at a pizza restaurant in Telluride, Colorado, and I made 56 and I wrote 56 and circled it. I just remember that. 

Matt Peiken: You guys all shared a place together here in Asheville.

Did you ever think we need to move to Nashville? That's where the industry is. Was that ever a conversation? 

Graham Sharp: Yeah, that was, it was always in, in the background. We've always had a really strong identity with this part of the world and felt like this is the wellspring of where our music comes from.

So it was never really considered too much. 

Mike Guggino: Yeah. Also, Woody and I grew up in Brevard or in Western North Carolina and I lived in Asheville for, Yeah. Yeah. years and I think we were both like, we're not moving away. Like we love it here. This is our home. And I think after Graham and Charles had been here for a while, they were like yeah, we don't want to leave either.

Asheville is amazing. You guys 

Matt Peiken: have been a very prolific band. You've made a lot of records in your life. I'm wondering if you can chart your creative arc and what, Shaped your music early on and how that evolved through the middle years.

What was your artistic growth like? What were you writing about? What did your music sound like? And how did that change over time or did it? 

Mike Guggino: I think at first we were like, we're trying to sound like a traditional bluegrass band but play our own music in our own way.

It's funny when you talk about traditional bluegrass, all the great bands, Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley brothers and Bill Monroe or Jim and Jesse, they all had their own sound, their own style, even though they're with. Within this tradition, what we call traditional bluegrass each band that came along had their own little twist, their own little take or a little regional variation, and so I think we thought, we wanted to play our own music like they did write our own music in the traditional way, have our own style. And I think we did that. But 

Matt Peiken: you were conscious of hewing to a certain classic. Sound classic bluegrass 

Graham Sharp: parameter.

Yeah. We, we tried to sound like third time out and we tried to sound like the Lonesome River band and we tried to sell and sound like the Del McCurry band and we tried to sound like new grass revival, I think your limitations, like John Hartford said, define your style.

I think we've learned to lean into kind of maybe what our strengths are. And I think some of our limitations have defined our style. We've never had. A really like high lonesome sort of bluegrass style singer. It's 

Matt Peiken: interesting that you put it this way that your limitations define your style.

And I wonder that can only be discovered over time, right? When you assess yourself and you said we try, we might have wanted to try to sound like this band or this artist. And it sounds like from what you were saying, Mike, you actually had conversations about that a little bit as a band.

Did it only take time to find your own identity to really be able to know what you as the Steep Canyon Rangers were did that take a lot of time? 

Mike Guggino: I think it did and like you said it's evolved over the years and we did talk about it, but we all, it also just happened to we were just trying to, like Graham said, sound like these bands that we loved and the sound that we loved.

And in that process, we made our own style, 

Matt Peiken: our own sound. And I guess that's the question. How do you distinguish yourself in a music that goes back scores of years? How do you distinguish yourself as an artist when you're picking out all the, all these other artists that you're.

In this lineage of what do you think distinguished steep canyon rangers early 

Mike Guggino: on? I think the songwriting is, has been a big part of it. I think Graham songs from an early stage of our band was important that we weren't able to sound like all those bands we wanted to sound like was probably the best thing that ever happened to us.

Matt Peiken: And so then Steve Martin, I think a lot of people Learned about steep canyon rangers through your collaboration of Steve Martin I'm sure a lot of obviously you had fans you were touring but on a Mainstream level that sort of I guess awareness of you. You must have been aware that oh We're getting certain kind of attention now.

We weren't before how did and I don't know this story. How did That even happened. Did Steve Martin, 'cause I know he had, he at the time, and I don't know what his situation is if he had a home in Brevard or still does, but he, did he discover you guys and reach out? What happened? 

Graham Sharp: We had met his wife through Woody's brother. And this was before they were married. Yeah, she lived in New York City. She lived in New York City and we had stayed at her apartment, like crashed on the floor once or twice and then she and Steve met and got married and he was releasing maybe his album The Crow at the time and he was looking for a band.

I guess he was going to do some shows and tour. And she brought up the Steep Canyon Rangers, who she had known and I think Mike and Woody ended up at a spaghetti dinner somewhere south of Brevard out there playing with Steve and charles Wood, a banjo player from South Carolina.

Yeah was there. Yeah. And then things just, from there it was. Maybe he came and sat in with us on a show in New York City and then we, he, hired us to do this one benefit show in Los Angeles. And I don't think any of us really knew, none of us knew what it was going to become. But I remember being in the van when we got the call that we were going on, world tour with Steve Martin. And it's felt. Really natural since the very first playing with him. We worked really hard to learn his songs and his album note for note. And he had never, I think, had the experience of working with a band, especially a band who really...

Had his music down cold because it's quirky. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah, talk about that a little bit he's obviously known worldwide as a comedian as an actor Were you already aware of his music before you were? Oh, 

Mike Guggino: Only because I grew up watching The Muppet Show And I'd seen him play the banjo on The Muppet Show And so I knew he played the banjo and I was I remember watching him on The Muppet Show being very young but thinking wow he's really good at 

Matt Peiken: that.

It's one thing to see somebody On the Muppet show and think, Oh, okay, maybe this is a novelty. Was it very clear to you right away? This is a serious musician who takes this music seriously. 

Mike Guggino: I had heard or read that, that he played the banjo seriously.

And that when he would do his standup comedy in the seventies and eighties, he would play the banjo as a part of his. Act and that it was actually really good banjo playing. It just wasn't like a shtick that he did. I mean, it was a shtick, but it was backed up by years of practice.

Graham Sharp: Yeah. And once you start learning the music you recognize that this isn't a hack. You know who can play this and compose this and put this together So it was evident pretty quickly that he took the music seriously And that was a big focus of those first tours was like we're not doing any comedy in these shows this is a Total break from that.

This is a music show and it was really, the idea was to be taken seriously as a musician. And that happened and that worked. And then it evolved from there into music and comedy. And you wrote music 

Matt Peiken: together. You quite a bit. Yeah. So that's another layer. It's one thing to tour and learn his songs.

It's another to write music together. How did that expand your world as a band , just writing with somebody who's. Not in your band, but you're making a full record with this person. What was different about that music and how did that stretch you or evolve you as a band? I think 

Mike Guggino: after we started recording some of the music, when we made our first album with him, which was the rare Bird, rare Bird Alert album. And it was definitely outside of the traditional bluegrass. Sound in many ways, and it felt like it gave us a license, I think to explore other sounds too. And it really, I think the real change in our sound that's occurred from when we started to where we are now, which are very different sounds, is that When we started working with Edie Burkell, Steve Martin and Edie Burkell made a record together.

There was a lot of percussion on that record. And the tour manager said they're going to hire a drummer to come out on the road and to play these songs like they're on the record with the drums. And we said wait a second. We know a guy here in North Carolina, Mike Ashworth, who is our drummer now that could do this.

And he ended up coming out on the Steve and Edie shows. playing percussion. And so we found ourselves backstage a lot just jamming with Mike with our songs with drums all of a sudden with percussion. And we're like, wow, this sounds really cool. And then we started asking Mike to sit in on some of our shows.

And eventually we just said, why don't you join the band? . 

Matt Peiken: And so you said, you just said a couple moments ago. Our sound has evolved a lot since the beginnings. Can you trace how it's evolved? What's different now than you could have ever projected a decade or two ago? 

Graham Sharp: The band right now is just we can play so relaxed. Early on and for so many years, it was just like, put your head down and just play hard and fast. Play hard and fast. It's just grind at it as hard as you can, and there's, I think there's a relaxation and when you relax, you can, you can swing too.

And there's, there's just a way the band can relax into the music now that is, I think is something 

Matt Peiken: new. Can you hear that in the music? Can you hear that on the record? I think so. I can, 

Mike Guggino: yeah. 

Matt Peiken: You can't, because that's really interesting too, because it's a meticulous process when you're in a recording studio.

It's not like playing a live show, you work to perfect your parts, or do you? Are you really a one take band in some ways in the studio? Do you try to keep things as live as possible? 

Mike Guggino: Definitely. We weren't able to do that early on because we just weren't. Proficient enough at playing and singing when we first started on our first couple records But now we love to be in the same room together and play live and try to take one take and sometimes One take is all, you know, you get it, cause sometimes when you overplay songs in the studio, they just lose the emotion, they lose the feel.

Matt Peiken: And you guys have gone out of your way to record at the same time in the circle. Yes. That's interesting. I know this is your first record without Woody. And he was a founding member of the band. He was the connective tissue why you are a band. When did it become clear he was going to leave the band and what was that conversation like among you guys when that was going to 

Graham Sharp: happen?

Yeah. It was very clear he was going to leave the band when we sat down and he said he was going to leave the band. 

But it really was like, it was that, like out 

Matt Peiken: of the blue. It was out of the blue. When was this? It's 

Mike Guggino: about two years ago, 

Matt Peiken: okay. So during COVID 

Mike Guggino: and Yeah, just coming out of COVID, but it was early 2022, I think.

Yeah. 

Matt Peiken: And you said it was out of the blue. None of you had any inkling that he was either interested in doing other things or Yeah. 

Mike Guggino: No, I remember he pulled me aside in Brevard. He and I did, we actually went and played music at his son's preschool. 

Matt Peiken: So when he told you what went through 

Mike Guggino: your mind. It was out. It was very out of the blue. He had already spoken to Graham like the day before maybe or a couple days before that.

And he just wanted to tell us individually and and he told me and I was very, I was surprised, and I was very, taken off guard by it, it took some time, but we We found Aaron and now Aaron's been in the band for a 

Matt Peiken: year. Yeah, let's talk about that a little bit.

So you guys talked, you guys digest, okay, we have, we need a new singer. Even though from what you're saying, he wasn't a main songwriter, at least over the course of the band. You're the principal songwriter in the band, Graham. But he's the voice. What conversations did you have about what's our next step?

Was there any question that are we still a band or is that instantly? We know we're still a band. We're just going to find another singer. 

Graham Sharp: Yeah, there's a lot of different scenarios. We tried, we ended up doing a show once we knew he was leaving, but we didn't have a replacement and he.

Couldn't make a show, but the band was already there. We were in Pennsylvania one night and the band was already there and he came down with COVID and we said and we'd already talked about this. We said, we'll just do it. The five of us, so Ashworth who plays drums mainly, he's a fantastic bass player, guitar player, whatever.

So he played guitar that night. And Barrett sang all the lead for Woody's parts. Really? And people still talk about that show, people will come up and be like, I saw y'all as a five piece in York, you know, whatever it was a year ago. And that was an awesome night, and that was wonderful and it felt great.

But it also, you know, and we talked about continuing as just a five piece like that. But that would have really meant, I think, going back. Yeah. Backwards in our sound a little bit, maybe we could have brought in a percussionist, we felt like 

Matt Peiken: how would, why would 

Mike Guggino: that have been a backward?

We would have just lost the drummer and 

just in he literally means like in volume to like, and being able to fill up a, like we worked real hard in the 2017, 18, 19 Mike started playing a full drum kit and we were starting to play like the at the arena here in Asheville and we wanted to make our sound just bigger, so it would have been a step back.

I see in that way. Okay. 

Graham Sharp: So then, and talking about, who we did want to bring in. It felt like an opportunity where, okay, a, you're going to bring in like somebody who's just a drop dead fantastic singer. Like you have an opportunity here to bring in, a G a great voice.

And also the other side of is you don't want this new person to like totally redefine who the band is. The band has a DNA, the band has an identity. You don't want. To all of a sudden be totally redefined by who this guitar player is. So I think a big part of it was people stepping up and especially, Barrett, our bass player really stepping into a role as a singer to where we're not just saying, Hey, here's, here's new Woody up here and he's going to be the leader.

Now it's feels like a very much more dynamic thing to where, okay, Aaron, yeah, he's singing a bunch of songs and he's really powerful and effective. But also Barrett's now stepping up and he's singing a lot of songs and I've always sang a handful of songs in the show So the idea to let's just democratize this whole thing in this process and bring everybody Forward a little bit.

Matt Peiken: You just said a moment ago, you were concerned at least a little bit. You don't want to change the DNA of the band. You have the existing DNA. Aaron is writing, and he's writing songs. His own lyrics. Did they meld easily into the Steep Canyon Rangers DNA?

Graham Sharp: Sure feels like it. Yeah, I thought, yeah, definitely. 

Matt Peiken: Talk about, then what has, what is different sonically about this record because of the shift? 

Mike Guggino: I think a lot of it's what Graham just said about the voices, there's different characters and there's also different voices for those characters, so Graham will sing lead on a few and Baird will sing lead on a few and Aaron will sing lead on a few. And it's not like this, like one lead singer dynamic that a lot of bands have. It's and we always joke that it's more like the band. Yeah. With where you just have these different lead voices, 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. And that's something you said, even though you sang a little bit previously but you didn't have that previously. It was more of a, that Woody was quote, the voice, whereas now it's more spread. Yeah. We had it 

Mike Guggino: some, but not like we do not now where it feels like, you look at the set list and you can say, okay, he's going to sing.

Now he's going to say it's like really spread out. The duties of who's singing lead can you 

Matt Peiken: talk about subject matter a little bit? How has that evolved in the songs have what you're singing about and writing about has that? Changed or are you very conscious to sticking with a certain? Bound of what Americana music is lyrically.

Graham Sharp: I hopefully I like to think that I've gotten better as a writer Over the years. So I don't know if the subject matter has changed, but hopefully I've just, it's just gotten a little better. 

Matt Peiken: So to be clear on that, it's not that you're writing about different things, but the way you're writing is maybe more efficient or cleaner language.

Graham Sharp: I think so. I think just trying to tell a story in a way that just shows it rather than tells it, and that's, common advice for writers. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. I was just going to say that's something that's age old. Is it a lot easier or did you used to tell more than show?

Mike Guggino: I think so. I think also. Being specific in language, I think goes a long way in helping, a reader or a listener hear put themselves in the story. I don't think the subject matter has changed an awful lot, honestly. But, I think our sonic landscape has changed and the way that we can present a song has changed.

I think there's a lot of opportunity in that. For the songwriting to 

Matt Peiken: evolve. Can you point to any songs on the new record that really typify what you're talking about? This expansion of voices 

Graham Sharp: There's a song on there called Birds of Ohio. Which, it starts off with just six voices singing this big chorus.

And then the verses aren't a lot, it's just got a couple that I do that are almost a couple spoken verses. So sometimes, letting the ensemble and the field tell the story rather than giving every single detail. And just grinding it into the listener, but just laying it out there And just letting the sound of it tell the 

Matt Peiken: story.

Any songs that come up for you, Mike, that really you think paves new territory for the band? 

Mike Guggino: Yeah, there's several songs on the record. Graham is playing a lot more electric banjo than, On previous records, and that's been a new sound and just within the last two records, I guess, with our arm and arm and now morning shift that's a big change.

And so it's like some of those songs are, I would say, lean more toward a rock and roll song than a bluegrass song for sure. So it's somewhere in the middle, 

Matt Peiken: is there anything we haven't talked about the new record or what's ahead that you think is important for people to know?

Graham Sharp: I should mention our producer on the new record and our engineer. We looked up to Daryl Scott as a writer and a singer and a player for years and years. He made a record with Tim O'Brien was my first introduction to him called Real Time. It was staggering in almost every way. So he was a really natural choice and we were going to produce his record ourselves until we got in touch with him and he agreed to do it.

He was hesitant to record the way that we wanted to record, which was just to rent the Batcave Inn and convert that into a studio. Yeah, talk 

Matt Peiken: about that a little bit. I, yeah, you, had you ever used the Batcave Inn and why did you choose that as a locale? 

Graham Sharp: Yeah, Barrett had been there. And we wanted somewhere close to home.

Somewhere where we could all stay and just have a live in sort of experience. It felt like maybe that would be a good idea for our first record together to not try to come into a big studio. Echo Mountain. Yeah, just somewhere where we could all just spend a lot of time together.

And in a fairly relaxed way, so that really, the only person that Daryl trusted to do that was the guy named Dave Cinco, the engineer from Nashville, and he's the best. So he came in, brought all the gear into the great room there in the back cave in and and that's how we cut the record.

There's videos. You can see there's a video for a song called recommend me where along the background. Of this video you can see the owner of the end sitting there and you can see nor our lighting engineer people were just sitting around in chairs and on couches while we're in this living room recording So the vibe of it I think was important to us in that moment Was 

Matt Peiken: the bat cave in used for anything else before that did they have to clear out things to make room for you?

They did, 

Mike Guggino: yeah, they had to clear out, I mean, it's like the, like I said, it's like the great room, it's like the gathering room of this bed and breakfast, so it's an active, 

Matt Peiken: it's an active inn. Yes. And they cleared everything out. That's fine. That's, like you hear about places and bands who've rented cabins and they all stay in there together, but it's not being used for anything else.

It's like, it's either a cabin for whatever, a bunch of people or they commandeer it for a studio. They cleared out an inn for you. That's whole 

Mike Guggino: thing for the, week, 

Matt Peiken: for just, it took a week. Yeah, that's a pretty fast process. Do you always work that fast? You hear about bands that take weeks to make 

Mike Guggino: a record or years.

Yeah. Yeah, the way records are made now is so different than the way records. Used to be made and part of that's like budgets too It's like people used to sell records and you know Make a lot of money by selling records because there wasn't streaming and all that stuff but yeah, the way we recorded like I said live mostly, you know in a circle Most of them one or two takes or three takes or something like that It makes it go quicker.

Graham Sharp: Yeah, unfailingly the producers that we've had through the years whether it's Joe Henry Or Jerry Douglas, or Darryl Scott or even Peter Asher for that matter. They want this band to play live. They hear us and they don't want us to just lay down separate tracks. They want this band playing together all at once.

Because that's really a strength, I think, from having played together for so long. That part of it was never a question. And I think that allows you to record a little quicker. 

Matt Peiken: So what can we expect in your full shows now? You have 20 years of music, 23 years of music, as a band. Are you playing from every era?

And are you trying to take listeners through the arc of your career? Or are you really leaning to more of the new stuff and you'll sprinkle in older stuff? 

Graham Sharp: Yeah, I mean it kind of depends on the audiences, but It's a great opportunity with this sort of reformed band to go back to old material and sort of work it back up and maybe breathe some new life into it and That's been really fun.

That's been wonderful But at the same time we're also, trying to take some of the stuff that you know We've been doing this a long time. So if we had something that's been a closer of ours for 10 years. We're actively like cycling that stuff out a little bit. 

You know, there are certain songs, in certain places that you need to play some of that stuff.

But I think we're all just a little bit caught up in the new momentum of what we have and what we're doing. Mike said, The range that the band has right now, and I think there's a new sort of emotional component to what we're able to do with some of these songs, that we're trying to really lean into that.

And I think you can feel it, when the crowd takes a breath and really leans in to what you're saying on stage. And connects with it in a way that's not just oh, I'm rocking to a bluegrass song, but in a way that's oh, wow, that just really hit me. 

Matt Peiken: Are you done with the restaurants and honky tonks forever?

Are there ever you know? Or is it just big stages from now on are you ever going to? Play a variety of venues 

Mike Guggino: anymore. I don't know that we would fit in a restaurant in those Tonky Tonks anymore. Unfortunately. 

Graham Sharp: We were at a festival two weeks ago where we got rained out from the stage.

So they ended up hosting, we went into the barn there and just played an acoustic set for everybody. Everybody just piled into the barn.

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