Emmitt and Nershi: Taking A Step Back

 
This is way more of a bluegrass band. No drums and that makes everything different. You know, how we play and how we approach the music is really different because there is no drummer and, uh, you know, you have to... I think there's a lot more, you have to have your head in the game at all times because if anyone lets up, if any of the four of us lets up or loses focus, then the whole ship could go down at any moment.

-Bill Nershi

 
Photo of Emmitt-Nershi Band by Bubba Jackson

In March of 2002 tragedy struck when Leftover Salmon banjoist Mark Vann succumbed to the cancer he'd been struggling with for months. With the loss of one of their founding members (and one of the greatest banjo players the world has ever known) the band decided to move forward, recruiting banjo prodigy Noam Pikelny to take Vann's spot. But when Pikelny left to play with the John Cowan Band, the remaining members of Leftover Salmon decided it was time to call it quits. That was in 2004, and they haven't toured since, but have done a few shows and made several festival appearances.

Bill Nershi
The same year that Salmon broke up, String Cheese was still going strong, and in the fall was joined by auxiliary percussionist Jason Hann, who would soon become a full-time member. But as the band continued to evolve and move towards an increasingly electronic sound Nershi found himself struggling to find his role in the group. In the fall of 2006 he announced he was leaving The String Cheese Incident, and after a final summer tour in 2007 the band officially dissolved.

But with death comes life. The breakups of String Cheese and Salmon, however unfortunate for the fans, were a necessary step for the artists. Each member was now free to pursue his own musical interests. From the ashes of these two great bands a number of side projects and collaborations emerged: Vince Herman's Great American Taxi, Jason Hann and Michael Travis' EOTO, Michael Kang and Panjea, Keith Moseley and Jeff Sipe with Keller Williams and The WMD's, and most recently Kyle Hollingsworth's DNA Land.

Then there's Emmitt and Nershi, who got together shortly after the members of String Cheese had parted ways. After some discussion it soon became clear that both men shared a mutual interest in playing bluegrass again. The decision was made to put together a group and, after enlisting the aid of Grant and Thorn, the Emmitt-Nershi Band was born.

For Nershi, the new outfit marked a departure from the highly experimental nature of String Cheese. "Well this is way more of a bluegrass band. No drums and that makes everything different. You know, how we play and how we approach the music is really different because there is no drummer and, uh, you know, you have to... I think there's a lot more, you have to have your head in the game at all times because if anyone lets up, if any of the four of us lets up or loses focus, then the whole ship could go down at any moment," he says with a laugh. "So you really have to stay focused and we've just been really digging into the next layer of figuring out how to do that, how to make all these different kind of tempos and songs work without a drummer."

Drew Emmitt
Emmitt was also glad to get back to the music that caused him to pick up the mandolin all those years ago.

"It's really fun for me 'cause I've played in bluegrass bands since the early '80s, and I did the Left Hand String Band for like nine years before Salmon ever started, and played a lot of bluegrass. It's really nice for me to get back to playing bluegrass, especially in this arena because we bring a lot of different things to the table, and I think it's really exciting for people to see the two of us playing together from these two different camps and making this new band."

And like Nershi, Emmitt also views the absence of a drummer as a welcome challenge.

"What I love about it is that we are a four-piece," Emmitt says, "without drums, without amps, without electric guitars. And we get it kickin' just with these little acoustic instruments, and we get a whole dance floor boogie-in'. And to me that's really fun because it's a given that when you get up there with a full band with drums and electric guitars you're gonna rock it out [and] people are gonna dance. But with a bluegrass band it's not so much a given, and it's really very satisfying to see people gettin' down to a bluegrass band."

The group also allows the musicians to play more of the music they've written. Nershi, an avid songwriter, was glad for the opportunity. Many of the songs he wrote while in String Cheese, such as "Black Clouds" and "Restless Wind," were originally conceived in a bluegrass format. There is also a greater freedom when it comes to producing and performing new material. "We can play more of our music with this band than we could with our other bands because there's not as many people with a lot of material," says Emmitt. "The main focus is our material and some other stuff brought in by Andy and Tyler, but the main bulk of the material is our stuff. And that's real enjoyable to be able to not just have two or three songs a night but to really get a lot of our original stuff out there."

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