SARAH VOS’ w/ DEAD HORSES

>>>>> Most musician’s early influences are in some way tied to family in some way, is that true for you too?  Absolutely. Both of my parents are very musical; they both sing and play piano and organ. I grew up in the church so there was a strong emphasis on hymns and psalms and singing in general. I was also in a handbell choir in middle school! The choirs taught me about music theory and performing with others in time and in dynamic. ​

>>>>> As kids, many creative types often flounder a bit until they find their muse as it were; was this true for you at all?  I’m still floundering in many ways. There was, however, a definite switch for me during adolescence where music naturally became central to me over any of the other activities I was involved in. It wasn’t until my twenties when I decided to pursue music fully, and that helped me feel a lot of fulfillment. I had spent my college years trying to figure out how I could play music instead of what I was doing. 

>>>>> What singers did you try to emulate when you first started singing / writing / playing and what was the first tune you learned to play and sing on guitar comfortably enough to play for others?  I never consciously tried to emulate anyone while singing or writing or playing. When I first got a guitar- around ten years old or so- it was a vehicle for me to write songs. I taught myself how to play by looking up guitar tabs to songs I knew online. I’m really not sure what the first tune was that I played and sang in front of others, but I think one of the first times I played in front of others was at an open mic that I asked my mom to take me to because I wasn’t old enough to drive yet. I remember being pretty terrified but excited because I always knew while writing that I wanted to share too.

>>>>> What was your first album purchase and concert viewing respectively and how do you think they may inform your music or general approach today?  My first album purchase was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” by the Beatles. So epic! I bought it on cassette, and I would listen to “A Day in the Life” over and over again. It’s interesting how that’s two different songs melded together. I’ve done the same thing in my writing many times.

>>>>> Some who hear Dead Horses may find the songwriting, beyond folk, as decidedly southern: where does being from the Midwest & Milwaukee figure in to that mix you think?  I think it might be related to how I grew up listening to old gospel hymns. 

>>>>> How does the songwriting process work for you and Dead Horses; has it evolved or do you have a tried and true formula at this point?  No real formula per se. I usually have the skeletons (or more) to songs and I bring them to Dan and we work on them together. It’s always evolving and I welcome that.​

>>>>> How do you get in the right mindset pre-show or is that not a concern for you day to day?  Funny you should ask, as I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. It’s so important to be flexible because you never know what you’re going to have to work with from show to show or festival. Maybe you’ll have a quiet place to warm up in, maybe you won’t. A couple of weeks ago we drove five hours to a festival, got out of the van and immediately took a golf cart to do a session on a porch, and then we rode back to our stage where we played a full set

I am curious about how it might help to spend time getting in touch with body before a set- meditating, stretching, breathing. ​Some of the best advice given to me were “Use your nerves.” I really appreciate the nerves I get before most shows, because they serve as a source of energy and a tangible recognition by my body of what’s about to take place. 

>>>>> The ‘Critically Acclaimed Album’ seems to remain the spark point in the Americana scene for artists looking to make it to bigger stages: How do you manage / ignore the pressure to ‘one-up’ your prior release?  I feel that I’m at the beginning of my career and that there are many records to come. I think there will be ups and downs in how people perceive our work and also how I will feel about it. I think it’s great that anyone is paying attention to the writing because it’s one of the most fun parts for me.

>>>>> Could you ever see yourself doing a big Nashwood-type presentation were you to headline the Sheds soon? Is that a fear as you’re name grows; preserving what you have without compromise to keep climbing?  I do definitely have a strong attachment to this desire to stay “authentic.” I have been asking myself what that really means, as it has caused me some inner conflict. I think you have to do your best; decisions are often not black and white. Things that we hang onto with our whole being are often ego-based, but a level of integrity is so important- especially in this field. 

>>>>> You encounter a lot of great young, new artists on the road: when you meet those you really believe in, do you engage them? and what sort of advice do they tend to seek form you?  Definitely! If I can. Today someone was asking me about how to get rolling with music. He’s a great player but doesn’t play out ever. I told him it’s a community and you’ve got to get involved! Find some people you want to play with who are playing music you’re interested in.

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DAVE GROSS w/ BLUE PLATE SPECIAL

—– What were your favorite bands in high school and how do you rank them today?  I was into The Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, David Bromberg, Poco. New Riders of the Purple Sage in high school, but when I would listen to The Allmans I would say “Who is this Robert Johnson?”, and look him up. I was heading towards roots music as a teenager. When The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” it had a major impact on me and my friends. That is how we discovered Doc Watson,  Vassar Clements, and Merle Travis. Doc became my sign post to all that followed. He had such great taste and style. From blues, bluegrass, swing, Doc had it all. Then Garcia, Grisman and Vassar released Old and in the Way, which also led us towards Bluegrass. New York radio had great non-commercial radio that featured bluegrass, Irish, jazz and blues. That was my education.

—– You started out as a drummer – what’s your first recollection of the mandolin and when/how/why did you pick it up?  I started playing mandolin because there was one in my house. My Dad played violin and mandolin (all by ear). Mandolin seemed like a good idea because everyone played guitar.
I played drums from 4th grade through high school.

—– What do playing drums and playing Mando have in common for you?  I think it helps inform my mandolin playing because mando is percussive and plays on 2 and 4 in bluegrass.

—– Did you take Mando lessons or are you self-taught?  I taught myself mandolin at first, but eventually studied with Barry Mitterhoff. (Skyline, Hot Tuna). I still study and take lessons from various people via skype.

—– I assume there are go-to guys that Mandolin players hopes to emulate – who were they for you initially and who are you in to today?   To discuss influences, any bluegrass mandolin player must mention Bill Monroe. I love Sam Bush, David Grisman, Doyle Lawson, Ricky Skaggs, Jethro Burns and the list goes on. Although I am sure I am influenced by many people, I don’t think I emulate anyone because mostly I learn from other instruments, like guitar (Django) fiddle and even piano or horns. I have recently become obsessed with the music of Django Reinhardt sometimes called Gypsy Jazz. I released a CD called Mandology and lead a band of the same name.

—– What is your Mando of choice and how did you settle on that as your ‘ace’ of choice?  I play an instrument made for me by the great builder A. Lawrence Smart. It is modeled after an F-5 Gibson.

—– How did Blue Plate Special come together and how would you describe the bands dynamics on stage, and off?  Blue Plate Special started in 2001 after Tom Wise (Bass)  and I were playing together for a bit. After kicking around a few band configurations, Tom’s wife Jay Friedman began playing fiddle and man can she sing! (Who Knew?) The three of us started learning some tunes and we all began to write. We added some musicians who have come and gone. Fortunately, about 7 or 8 years ago, we hooked up with some amazing young musicians James Hempfling (guitar) and Dan Whitener (banjo).
At this point we are all best friends.

 

—— Do you guys feel you part of the Nu-Grass movement or are you more traditional?  I wouldn’t say Blue Plate Special is a traditional bluegrass band. Bluegrass is an ever evolving and growing genre with some bands keeping it really traditional and others taking liberties. This has been true now for decades. I feel like we do what feels right, what the song tells us to do.  Sometimes that means keeping it traditional, sometimes not. We play swing, blues and some rock covers. What ever feels like fun and sounds good. What characterizes our band I think, are the arraignments. I really don’t like to cover a tune without making it our own. We work very hard to find a sound for each song often with three part harmony.

—— How does the writing process work in BPS?  When someone comes in with an original song idea, we arrange very carefully. It is really fun to see a song evolve in that fashion. When I write a tune, I sometimes hear the music almost fully formed. Maybe with a word or two or a concept. The lyrics usually follow.

—– Blue Plate Special are to perform at the CMAs in the ‘honorable mention; Bluegrass” category, what tune do you guys do, what do you wear, and how would the choreography work?  If we were to perform at the CMAs we would dress up in our finest clothes(I would have to go shopping) and try to smile a lot.