OnTheDL Photo - Dylan Langille
When we spoke to Greensky Bluegrass dobro player Anders Beck at the end of last year, the group had just wrapped one of its best years ever. Early in 2019, it released its latest studio album, All for Money
, and on a tour in support of the disc, it played three shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado.
“Honestly, it feels like there have been a ton of highlights, which is a good sign,” says Beck in a phone interview when asked to reflect on the past year. Greensky Bluegrass performs with Town Mountain at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17, at the Agora
. “Those Red Rocks shows are always a pinnacle for me every year. That venue has always been really important for me. It’s a magical place, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t believe too much in magical places. That blows my mind each year. Getting to play three nights made me wonder who the hell I am.”
Last year also saw the second year of the band’s summer festival, Camp Greensky. Acts such as Del & Dawg (Del McCoury & David Grisman), Stephen Marley, Billy Strings, Hiss Golden Messenger and Circles Around the Sun performed at the event, and the group has announced dates for this year’s festival too.
“It’s cool to facilitate our own thing and build our own festival after playing millions of other festivals,” says Beck. “To do it the second year and have it grow was really great for us. As cheesy as it might sound, the highlights are just great nights of good music. I’m lucky enough to play music with four of my best friends. Every night is good, but being an improvisational band, we take chances every night. Sometimes, it really clicks, and it’s hard to describe. It could be a random night. It can happen anywhere at anytime, and that’s the stuff I live for. It sounds cliché, but it’s true.”
While the band didn’t necessarily improvise while recording All for Money
, it did take that improvisational approach to the studio.
“I see us as two bands in one,” says Beck. “There’s the live band, which is an improvisational jam band. We rock and take chances, and songs might be 20 minutes long. There’s the studio side of the band. I think we’re strong on both sides. There’s great songwriters in the band. Creating albums is really fun, and with our last album, that’s the closest we’ve come to merging the live side with the studio side. It’s almost like we were writing a setlist for a show.”
The band worked off what Beck describes as “frameworks” as it assembled the tunes.
“[Singer-mandolin player] Paul [Hoffman] or [singer-guitarist] Dave [Bruzza] will bring a song to the band,” says Beck. “At that point, it’s just a guy and a guitar. The band together turns it into a Greensky song. All of us tweak it a little bit. We finish them up in the studio and work on them that way. We don’t go in with nothing, that’s for sure. I know some people do. That sounds stressful to me. When someone tells me, ‘Check out this song. I just wrote it today,’ my immediate reaction is ‘keep working on it.’ Songs don’t get written in a day in my opinion.
They cut the album with producer Dominic John Davis, a guy they’ve known for years. He played bass in Steppin’ In It, a Michigan band from “days long ago,” as Beck puts it.
“[Davis] grew up with [singer-guitarist] Jack White and when Jack needed a musical director for the last project, he called Dominic,” says Beck. “It’s funny because everyone asks us, ‘How’d you get Jack White’s bass player to producer your record?’ We respond by saying, ‘How’d Jack White get our friend Dominic to be in his band?’ We knew him as our buddy. He was doing musical director stuff in Nashville and has a great ear. He’s a voice of reason, and he can tell us when to stop and is someone we can listen to and trust. He won’t tell us what to do. He’s more of an advisor. He’s known our music for so long that it’s not some outside influence. It’s an extra guy on the team.”
The album opens with the moody "Do It Alone," a song that benefits from its bellowing vocals and atmospheric interludes. It might just be the strongest single in the band’s catalog.
“It started as a strumming guitar song,” Beck says when asked about the track. “Paul [Hoffman] wanted to write an arena rock-like anthem, which is hard to do. The premise is that we can’t do it alone. A lot of the album is about our experience with our lives and our fans. I think of that one as being about if things had gone a different way. We could be sitting our couches playing music for our friends but instead we’re playing for 10,000 people at Red Rocks. It involves so many more people than the five of us. We’re so lucky to be in the position we are, and we’re so grateful for it."
Greensky Bluegrass, Town Mountain, 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $27.50 ADV, $32.50 DOS, agoracleveland.com
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