He has a great sense of humor, and we just clicked with him. He got what we're doing, our lifestyle and our jokes. He was a kindred spirit right away.

-KC Groves on John Paul Jones

Photo: (left to right) John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page from www.johnpauljones.com

Whole Lotta (Sisterly) Love

Uncle Earl by Yoshiko
Our culture still makes note of it when a group is comprised of only women. We haven't quite absorbed the simple idea that the human race is made up of men and women and there's not much more to it than that. Still, there's chemistry that occurs when one isn't dealing with messy boy energy.

"For some reason, I'm drawn to the all-female configuration for various things in my life. I was in an all-female a cappela group in college. There's just something about being with all women. I absolutely love it," says Washburn.

"I'm not sure if it's because we're women or just the chemistry between the four of us but it seems to be working," says Groves. "We all have our little jobs in the band. If there were even one guy I'm not sure it would work as smoothly. We have this Midwestern, nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic. We're a bunch of overachievers, and hard working, ambitious women. The four of us together are kind of a force of nature. Undoubtedly, that dynamic would change if there were men."

Few in the bluegrass/string scene even make note of it, basing their reactions on the breathless musicianship and endless quality of Uncle Earl's work rather than any idiotic gender bias.

Abigail Washburn by Maria Camillo
"We all stay with each other and pick till the odd hours of the morning. It's like family after you've been at it for a few years on the string band circuit. As soon as I see say the Red Stick Ramblers or Old Crow Medicine Show, I yell, 'Dudes!' It's our family on the road," Washburn explains.

"We had a jam session last night in Rayna's kitchen. I'd had a horrific travel day with three flights to get to North Carolina. It was ridiculous," says Groves. "Then I walk into Rayna's place and it's filled with music. Someone handed me a whiskey and a mandolin and I was instantly better. No set up involved. Sit down on that chair, here's your pick and away we go!"

Wearing And Tearing

Uncle Earl pickin' at home
"Rayna has a collection of 78s. We always have our ears open for that one cool tune no one has rediscovered and brought to light. It's almost like a competition for who can dig the deepest, what hasn't Bruce Molsky recorded yet," Groves chuckles.

Throughout Waterloo you hear Uncle Earl pulling away from tradition. There's the natural ache one finds when leaving a first love behind but evolution ain't no sittin' contest.

"We're moving in the direction of writing more original material. That's been really fun," Groves tells us. "We sometimes get together for a retreat where we sit around the house and jam and drink coffee all day. We're starting to write more together, and by the next record we're hoping it's mostly originals."

A bit like Nick Cave, Uncle Earl take older styles and transmute them. However, when dealing with traditional sources is there a fear of overstepping one's boundaries?

Uncle Earl by Dan Loftin
"It used to really inhibit our writing but recently we've discovered that when we take material we've written for other projects and put it in the context of this band it sounds old timey," says Groves. "We've been together for almost four years with this lineup, and I guess it all comes out sounding like Uncle Earl. We don't have to write something that sounds modal or old or has lyrics that aren't about our lives. We can tell our own stories and it comes out sounding like us."

Besides their work in Uncle Earl, the four players are all active in other musical settings. Andreassen has worked with folk mainstays James Leva and Pierce Woodward. Groves has several solo albums under her belt. Gellert has recorded with Otis Taylor and Pete Seeger, and Washburn has solo albums and fields the Sparrow Quartet which includes banjo deity Bela Fleck, who's also producing her next release.

"For the last two weeks it's been me putting my [solo] music out there. We'd sit together and come up with ideas on how to treat these new songs. In some cases, I had a little piece of something and we'd develop it," Washburn says. "It's a little scary because I have a pretty independent streak that thinks all my accomplishments have to come from me. I'm trying to break out of that but I'm in the uncomfortable part of this change. There's been moments of absolute elation where I feel all this discomfort has been for a reason, but then I go back to feeling very strange. But, you couldn't ask for somebody better than Bela to go through this with!"

Uncle Earl by Aaron Farrington
What one learns exploring their various tributaries is there's no telling where these women will find inspiration.

"I was big into '80s New Wave," offers Groves. "My favorite band was XTC. I always thought Uncle Earl should do 'Love On A Farmboy's Wages' but I could never figure out how [Andy Partridge] did it. Then I used YouTube to find video of it, and it's mostly focused on his hands! Ah hah, that's how he did it!"

In the end, like all bands that endure and contribute something to music's unbroken chain, Uncle Earl sounds like no one but themselves.

"There's an overarching vibe that holds us together. The vibe is the foundation," muses Groves. "Now we're getting into groove. When you play together so much for so long there's this thing that happens when the mandolin and guitar work in a certain way, or the fiddle and the banjo become this little machine together. We want to work on making that groove deeper and fatter but still have this vibe of having fun and loving each other. We're four women who have a blast when we're together."

JamBase | String Land
Go See Live Music!

Uncle Earl will appear at Bonnaroo in June and are a headliner at October's Joshua Tree Roots Music Festival. For full tour dates click here.


[Published on: 5/15/07]

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aburtch starstarstarstarstar Tue 5/15/2007 08:30PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


The g'Earls were excellent at Merlefest. John Paul Jones even came out and picked a few tunes with them. Abigail also played a set with Bela Fleck. Uncle Earl is the newest thing in old-time music and the real deal. Good article.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/16/2007 05:12AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

If u like the duhks, or crooked still and just love old time bluegrassy music.. Uncle Earl will make u happy!! peas...

garbaz starstarstarstarstar Wed 5/16/2007 08:04AM
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Uncle Earl = amazing

Tasteful old time bluegrass ... Capt Obvious says they are easy on the eyes as well. :) Seriously, they are real down to earth, charming as can be ... good people.

They were the best band at ROMP (Bluegrass Fall of Fame Fest) the last 2 years ... and the line up was stellar.

Best of luck to a band that is seeing some daylight after driving around in an old van with old music ... hard work ... and making it happen.

Marcsmall Wed 5/16/2007 08:44AM
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HB Woodrose-- Of Course JPJ can pick. Who did you think was playing all the mandolin parts in Going to California and That's The Way?
Uncle Earl is the shit. I've seen them a few times at Oskar Blues, including late-nite after Rockygrass. Also, I beleive I saw them open for YMSB at the Fillmore, if my memory serves me correctly. Boulder folks have known about them for a while, but it's very heartening to see them get some national exposure. These gals can play.
I'd like to see them co-bill an entire tour with Yonder.

sunnbear starstarstar Wed 5/16/2007 09:24AM
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If JPJ likes it, I will like it! By the way, JPJ can play anything. He is one of the premier musicians in our time...possibly all time!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} Wed 5/16/2007 02:47PM
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woow. marcsmall likes bluegrass. holy shiiitt..
and here I thought he wanted to turn his hat sideways and go in circles like a lab rat to sts9... ahhhhhaaahhahahaaa
just yankin the chain.... :P GO UNCLE EARL.. peas....

manida Thu 5/17/2007 09:33AM
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I first saw Uncle Earl in Ramah, NM at the annual Road to Rich's Tye Dye party....(which happens to be this weekend!)
They played all night with everyone that wanted to play with them...all skill levels included. Great girls. I just wish that Sharon Gilchrist was still playing with them (but she'll be at Rich's this weekend as well!)

So, if your in the NM area, let me know if you'd like to attend, I can send along some information to you.

rastallama starstarstarstarstar Fri 5/18/2007 11:39AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Sharon Gilchrist played with Uncle Earl last month at the Boulder Theatre.

jcskolman starstarstarstarstar Sat 5/19/2007 08:42AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I agree with ABurtch. They were awsome at Merlefest. They really were one of my fav's this year. There harmonies are awsome. They are some great pickers too. Can't wait to see them when they come to Raleigh in the next few months.