By Ray Chelstowski
Greensky Bluegrass are a band that is as playful as they are real “players.” There’s an inherent sense of fun to what they do that makes them more approachable than almost any other band whose sound leans toward bluegrass. They’ve just released a new record, Stress Dreams that was cut during the pandemic at Guilford Sound, in Vermont. It was a new place for the band to lay down material but that change seems to have ignited a creative energy that’s resulted in one of the band’s most touching and personal collections of music so far.
The band began in Kalamazoo, Michigan and has since followed a path that has won them awards and has placed them on some of the world’s biggest stages. They are appearing at Drew Holcomb & The Neighbor’s Chattanooga, Tennessee Moon River festival in September alongside acts like Band of Horses, Leon Bridges, and Keb’ Mo’. It’s a reflection of how open their sound has always been and how far reaching their appeal continues to be.
Goldmine’s Natural Funk Projekt caught up with Greensky guitarist Dave Bruzza to talk about how this new record was made, named and constructed. We also talked about how the band has always been an approachable access point to bluegrass music, balanced by footholds in the world of jam, rock, and more.
Goldmine: It doesn’t seem like the pandemic slowed the band down as much as it seems to have for others.
Dave Bruzza: Well, kind of in a way. We all live in different places and we kept in touch sharing what we were recording at home. Since we couldn’t tour we figured that it would be a good thing to be productive, stay sharp, and make a record.
GM: How did you decide to record in Vermont?
DB: Well, it was tricky because a lot of places still had quarantine protocols in place. Our engineer found Guilford Sound in Vermont. We wanted to changes things up a bit because we had worked a lot at Echo Mountain in Asheville, N.C.) . With Vermont we didn’t have to quarantine for two weeks when we got there. That right away gave us two weeks in the studio. Guilford Sound is just beautiful and has a wonderful API room. They have housing on site and the grounds cover over 100 acres. They are so isolated from the world that it allows you to really dive into these songs. It gave us a really fresh perspective.
GM: How did you decide that “Stress Dreams” would be the title track?
DB: I can’t speak for the other guys but I love that song. Our bass player composed it and it’s the first song he ever wrote. It really doesn’t surprise me how great it turned out because he is a wonderfully accomplished musician. He has always been integral in arranging our songs and brings a lot of great ideas to our music. So when he started those demos I wasn’t the least bit surprised that he would write something so incredible. It seemed to really capture what was going on with us and the world. The icing on the cake is that our friend Holly Bowling was travelling through and was able to put some keys on it.
GM: The song “Grow Old together” is like a “welcome mat” for people who aren’t that familiar with bluegrass. It’s very accessible.
DB: As far as creating accessibility for the listener that doesn’t regularly listen to bluegrass that song is a great example of what this band does so well. We have definitely learned from the bands that have come before us who were able to turn people on to blue grass. I’ve never taken that for granted. I love bluegrass and I am proud that we have helped people discover it. When we were recording that song we tossed around a lot of ideas. What we ended up with was something that we do really well. The way that that song moves is a comfortable space for us musically. So instead of shying away from it we just leaned in and went for it.
GM: While drums are a bit of a bluegrass “no no” have you ever thought about adding a kit here and there to widen the audience net even further?
DB: It’s not an issue. We’ve done electric shows and I’m actually a drummer. That’s where I started. I learned how to play guitar when we were just starting Greensky because it was a fun thing to do. All of the drums that you have ever heard on one of our records is me. And a couple of years ago we did some sets that were all electric. But I don’t think we need to add anyone else to the band to fill that role.
GM: Is it a difficult decision to add songs with titles like “Give a Shit” to records that have a lot of heavier messaging and deep themes?
DB: No, that’s pretty much us. We’re comfortable with our duality of being really dark and then being very lighthearted and fun. That song is a great example of Paul’s sense of humor. It’s totally tongue and check and it’s fun. We like having a good time and have no qualms about song titles like this if they are fun and cool. I think satire is a very important form of communication and art I don’t have any issues about it (laughs).
GM: You mostly play festivals with really diverse bills. Is that intentional?
DB: We don’t do a ton of bluegrass festivals. We’ve performed at Bonnaroo a few times on the main stage and I feel that we are comfortable in those kinds of multi-genre areas because we aren’t a straight ahead blue grass band. We definitely push that boundary.
GM: The band has participated in a wide range of collaborations. Is there anyone that sits at the top of your wish list that you’d love to perform with?
DB: That’s a great question because the things that I have been able to do across my career are more than I could ever have expected. We got to perform with Phil Lesh and we all love the Grateful Dead. The list of people we have been able to play with is incredible to me. I’m always overwhelmed when I think about those moments. I am humbled and thankful for all of the great opportunities I’ve been given.
GM: As you look at your summer tour are there any new venues that you are excited about playing?
DB: Well, we’ve played a lot of places. We’ve played forty nine states. Ironically the one we haven’t played is Delaware, the first state. We got to go to Japan a few years ago which was great and I’d love to play Europe. In 2020 we were schedule to go to Australia, but that was cancelled for obvious reasons. Any stage though that allows me to stand and play in front of people is what makes me happy.