Anders Beck, dobroist for Greensky Bluegrass, admits that his band has struggled to succinctly describe its sound in the past. Now, he and the other four members of the quintet have decided that the sound is simply its own sound. Seamlessly melding traditional bluegrass with a variety of genres, Greensky Bluegrass has burst onto the jam band scene, a varied listening community that thirsts for the kind of improvisational music that Beck and his bandmates play.
On Thursday, Jan. 21, Greensky Bluegrass with return to Birmingham with a performance at Iron City. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades will open the 8 p.m. show. Greensky Bluegrass is currently touring in support of its latest release, If Sorrows Swim. At the onset of the Greensky’s current tour leg, Beck discussed the new album by phone.
Weld: What has the last year been like for your band, touring on the heels of If Sorrows Swim?
Anders Beck: We put a lot of time into the making of that album and we’re really proud of it. People seem to really dig it and I think it’s our best work yet. The way that Paul [Hoffman] and Dave [Bruzza] write songs, they can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, which I think is really cool. That’s the album that really highlights their good songwriting.
Weld: Does Greensky tend to play songs live before recording them or wait to play them live after leaving the studio?
AB: With us, it can kind of go either way. With If Sorrows Swim, we didn’t play those songs live. We put a lot of time in the studio and didn’t try them out live. Both ways have their merits, but this time we wanted to keep the songs secret until the album came out, showing a little more regard to our pop sensibilities and how normal bands release records [laughs]. It was an interesting experiment and in this case I think it worked really well. It made for a warmer reception to the album and it created an excitement around the album.
Weld: What about the evolution of the album’s material? Had these songs been around for awhile or were they mostly newer songs?
AB: A little bit of all that, honestly. As we got closer to the recording to the recording time, there was pressure to finish things up but I think that’s good pressure. On some of the songs, we went into the studio with a framework and we finished them on the spot. When you record a studio album, you’re trying to make the ultimate version of the songs that will stand the test of time. Being in a band that improvises a lot, the songs get different or get jammed-out. But when you’re creating a song for the album, you’re trying to create the one true version and it’s a really interesting process.
Weld: When your band gets mentioned, the variation of styles and influences is always part of the conversation. Can you speak to the mix of music that makes up your style?
AB: For the most part, we all share a love of improvisational music and the original jam bands because they were the vehicles for the improvisational music we were hearing when we were growing up. Also, we spent time listening to traditional bluegrass over the years and that’s why we play bluegrass instruments – we latched onto it as well as lots of other things. As a band, that’s how we came up with our pretty unique sound. There’s the bluegrass influence, but that’s not all there is – there’s jazz, rock & roll and all across the board. That’s where Greensky comes from. If you read into the name, “Greensky” is the opposite of “Bluegrass,” so we embrace bluegrass but also whatever the complete opposite is.
Weld: Like your band’s style, the jamband scene covers a lot of ground. How do you reconcile Greensky’s place in the scene? Do you like the “jam band” term?
AB: It’s an all-encompassing genre and there’s some negative connotations to the word “jam band” — people think of this noodly solo that just never ends [laughs]. But for me, the idea of a jamband is that you are improvising and taking musical risks and that’s the part of the term that I like.
Greensky Bluegrass will perform at Iron City on Thursday, January 21. The show begins at 8 p.m. For more information, visit ironcitybham.com.