JamBase Questionnaire: Greensky Bluegrass

Welcome back to JamBase's baker's dozen to the bright lights of the music world. Last time we heard from Ryan Montbleau Band.

Without a lot of fanfare – as is the way of guys comfortable picking in parking lots, open fields and the back of overstuffed vans - Greensky Bluegrass have released a strong contender for String Band Album of the Year. All Access, Vol. 1 (released May 4) is as pure and satisfying an example of quality songwriting, strong, interlocking musicianship and savvy cover selection as any group of pickers are likely produce in 2010.

Captured in a single night last Thanksgiving weekend at The Riviera Theatre in Three Rivers, Michigan, All Access, Vol. 1 flows like a delighted river over the listener, the immediacy of the moment accentuated by the intimacy of the unfussy production, which makes one feel present enough to inspire no small amount of involuntary shufflin' & swayin'. Their picks from others' songbooks are choice – Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece," The Beatles' "A Day In The Life," Pink Floyd's "Time > Breathe Reprise," Bruce Hornsby's "King of the Hill," Townes Van Zandt's "White Freight Liner Blues" – but what really sticks are the fabulously sculpted, sharply honest originals, many tinged with a shadowy truthfulness that sets them apart from many in the too-damn-chipper acoustic crowd. The fast ones fly wonderfully but it's when Greensky nestles into a ballad or exploratory simmer that one hears all their carefully honed strengths emerge. And numbers like "Just To Lie," "200 Miles From Montana," "Nine Days," "Reverend" and lengthy but never dull ramble "All Four" more than hold their own against the top gun cover material, and their vocal blend cheerfully suggests a streamlined descendent of The Band's rough 'n' ready rightness. All Access, Vol. 1 is the ideal handshake for listeners yet to explore this reliably excellent, hard working string band. (Dennis Cook)

Greensky Bluegrass returns to the road in October, starting with a headlining performance at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, CO on October 13, followed by more Colorado dates (10/14-10-16) and then onto Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington and back towards Midwest. Find full tour dates here.

Here's what Paul Hoffman, Greensky Bluegrass' mandolinist, vocalist and lead songwriter, had to say to our inquiries.

Paul Hoffman by Eric Kinnally
Instrument of choice: Mandolin, words
Nicknames: Noodle, Big City, phoffman

1. Great music rarely happens without…
Inspiration. From other music. From Pain. From the audience.

2. The first album I bought was…
Hmm…probably a tape. Simpsons Sing the Blues? New Kids on the Block? Beatles? The Beatles were probably more inspiration than the others, but who didn't want to be bad ass like Bart? I even wore a spike for awhile.

3. The last song or album to really flip my wig was…
Not an album or song, but the David Rawlings Machine in concert totally flipped me. Love the way he phrases songs and builds solos. Check out the free podcast from NPR's Tiny Desk. Maybe Eisenhower by The Slip, too. The song arrangements are sweet and the lyrics are real unique.

4. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be…
Who wants to grow up? A screen actor, maybe, Big Hollywood or something. Don't think that would work now. I really just wanted to get paid to entertain. If only I'd known. My dad always says, "A big lottery winner." I like that, too. Now sometimes I say, "Retired and free."

5. My favorite sort of gig is…
The fun ones. Aren't they all? Sort of. Sometimes there's those factors though - great and less than great; long drive; no fans; no dinner. The gigs that surprise me are my favorite sorts of gigs, like when we threw an unannounced show at home and a great crowd showed up. Or when we drove from San Fran to San Diego and 13 hours later we loaded into the packed club while the opener was finishing. We just decided to go for it and it worked out. All good at 10 am? Whew. Or maybe 6am?

6. One thing I wish people knew about me is…
That I'm not afraid of sentence fragments. If they're reading. Still. The people. After all this.

7. I love the sound of…
Music. Is this a trick question? And feedback, of course. Why else would I keep trying to use delay with distortion and an envelope filter?

8. One day I hope to make an album as fantastic as…
I can. The people I admire are out of reach to me. Not in a bleak way. Records are timeless and unique in a way that I admire more than the music itself. The idea of documenting music in a breath of its development, it's like a musician's truest commitment. So, I hope mine can be as genuine as possible.

9. The best meal I ever had on tour was at…
Until recently, The Red Iguana has been a tour favorite. Salt Lake City mole. I know people who take it home on dry ice. Recently, we were able to eat at home on tour. Weird, right? Food Dance in Kalamazoo, MI has got to be my new favorite - breakfast lunch or dinner - although, SLC, if you're reading, have me back. I need some mole!

10. I always find the coolest audiences in…
The most unexpected places. I wouldn't alienate any of our dedicated fans, who are spread all over, by being specific. And I couldn't. The places where I had no idea it would go off are always the coolest. Those surprise gigs. Something so organic about them. No expectations.

11. The worst habit I've picked up being on the road all the time is…
What was your name again?

12. The Beatles or the Stones? Por qué?
The Beatles all the way. I was raised that way and I'm backing it fully now. Guess I couldn't get into the Stones' songs. Being named after Paul didn't hurt.

13. The craziest thing I ever saw was…
Ughh? Really? Who is reading this?

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[Published on: 9/30/10]

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