An Interview: Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass)

Photos By Rex Thomson

J-man: Anders, I appreciate you taking the time to do this. So you went from playing in Broke Mountain, to playing in the Wayword Sons, to Greensky Bluegrass; tell me a little bit about each of those projects and what they’ve down for you musically.

Anders: Yeah. Well, with Broke Mountain, that was a traditional Bluegrass band that we started in Durango, CO and it actually involved a lot of people that sort of went on to be in much bigger projects. It was kind of like a farm team, for a lack of better words. Sort of, as far as the bluegrass/jamgrass kind of thing. Travis Book played bass, he’s now in a band called the Infamous Stringdusters. Andy Thorn was the banjo player in that band, and he now plays with the Emmit-Nershi Band, Leftover Salmon… He played with Larry Keel for a while. John Stickley was the guitar player, he plays with Shannon Whitworth who is an amazing singer/song writer. Robin Davis played the mandolin. He played with the Wayword Sons for a little while and has been involved in all sorts of projects. I think for a lot of us, it was about learning how to play bluegrass. Andy and John were from North Carolina and they had come to Durango, sort of on vacation. We ended up picking a bunch and decided that we should start this band. that’s where Travis and I learned a lot about how to play bluegrass music. All of a sudden we had these badasses from North Carolina teaching us how it’s supposed to sound. (Laughs) So that was kind of like a bluegrass boot camp for a lot of us. That’s where we learned how to play and we were playing all day everyday and we were gigging as much as we could. We won the Rockygrass contest and eventually, t sort of ended up that we parted ways because everyone started to get offers to do other stuff that was bigger and national, instead of just regional.

At that point, Robin and I started the Wayword Sons with Benny Galloway; who is in my mind one of the countries best songwriters. He does a lot of work for Yonder Mountain String Band. They recorded a whole album of his tunes. He’s got songs on about every hit bluegrass album, in the past five years or so, I feel like. We decided we wanted to start a project which showcased those songs. That band was kind of unique. We had a really unique vision for it; we didn’t want it to be super bluegrassy. So we had a guy named Greg Andrulis playing piano and keyboards on it. So it was sonically really something different. So we had all of these killer songs and then we tried to create a totally different soundscape out of it. I think for me, that was also a real sort of learning experience because it got me out of the traditional bluegrass theme that I had been focusing on so much; the technical aspect of playing and things like that, and more into sort of stretching it out and playing of the piano. That band, we sort of decide that it was not set up to be a full time touring band.

So I ended up trying to figure out what to do next and Greensky became what happened. I still think that the Wayword Sons, in theory is one of the coolest bands that I have ever heard. Our execution wasn’t always perfect (Laughs) but when it was on point it was a really interesting sound. I liked getting to write tunes with Benny and getting to hang out with him and learning about that side of things. I got to the point where I was sort of looking for another project that would be full time and I had been picking with the Greensky guys at festivals and stuff and we had played some shows with The Wayword Sons and Greensky. I ended up approaching them and just saying… Well, I had made a list of bands that I could kind of see myself being in, or bands I felt I could add something to. A big thing for me was the band having good songs, because coming from a band with Benny, the bar was set pretty high. So it really came down to good songs, for me.

One of the things that really attracted me to Greensky was that I really liked their song writing… But they were also working their asses off, and clearly had the drive to sort of; make it to the next level. We all got along really well, and musically we all got along really well and I think shared a lot of the same visions. I consider myself pretty lucky to have found that band… But then also to have it work out (Laughs) you know, where thee are interested in having an extra member and they realize that it could be good for the sound.

J-man: What do you think will come of Greensky Bluegrass and what are your hopes for the band’s future?

Anders: I hope that we will be playing large arenas… No (Laughs). I think for all of us, the main thing is really to continue to create good music. I think that as a musician, and a band member, that by default has to be the number one focus. Then all of the things that you aspire to… As far as bigger venues, bigger crowds, all of that stuff, will come; hopefully. So, my real hopes for the band are just that we continue to make really good music. I feel like that’s something that’s happening. We’re writing a bunch of new tunes, that are awesome and exciting. Just sort of, learning how to play like ourselves and we’ve got good management and a good booking agent in place. All of the right things, officewise that enable us to do our job as musicians.

Beyond all of the stuff like; all I want to do is play Red Rocks before I die, (Laughs) I try not to focus on that side of it, and more just focus on the musical side of it. I figure if we do that really well and just, stick with it; all of those other goals will come into their own.

J-man: Relatively speaking, you haven‘t played the dobro for very long, yet your playing is extremely prominent and you’ve played and sat in with so many top notch bands; what do you attribute your musical success to?

Anders: Umm, not many people playing the dobro (Laughs)…

J-man: (Laughs)

Anders: I attribute it a lot to working really hard at getting good at the dobro in the early years of playing. I would play six hours a day for the first, almost year I started playing dobro. Just because I was really into it. Then, I attribute a lot of it to Broke Mountain. That band, I was just surrounded my musicians who were much better than me, and also my best friends at the time. So I was sort of forced to get good; fast. Then from there, working with Benny was really helpful because he has a really incredible ear for the way dobro particularly, fits into a song. Also learning about melodies and things like that… and still just practicing all of the time. I think as far as getting to the point where I was the guy always sitting in with a lot of cool bands. I think a lot of that has to do with, that I was apart of the Colorado scene for a while. You know, getting to know the Yonder guys and the Leftover Salmon guys, through Benny and other avenues; just doing a lot of hanging out and pickin’. Then, when it ends up time to get on stage it’s kind of like, well we’re doing it in the “green room” we might as well do it on the stage, kind of thing. (Laughs)

The dobro is an instrument that can fit in to a lot of musical scenarios very well. Kind of like the fiddle in that aspect, it fills the role. It helps that a lot of bands don’t already have a dobro obviously. But then, it’s kind of like a filler instrument, you know?

J-man: I do. It’s extremely melodic and bright sounding. It adds quite a bit in any setting.

Anders: Yeah, it’s a great instrument to add to any setting. Which I think I end up getting to play with a lot of different situations. It’s pretty unobtrusive, you can add a dobro and you get dobro solos and those notes kind of playing off of what the singers doing. So, it’s a great instrument to add to to a lot of different situations. As far as getting to sit in with a bunch of cool bands, I mean… When I was just learning how to play I went to see Leftover Salmon and things like that. Then, this year getting to play a whole set and a half of music with them at High Sierra, was kind of mind-blowing. Afterwards it was like “Did that really happen?”

J-man: That’s great…

Anders: (Laughs) Those guys are all my friends, which is super-cool… It was just one of those things where I was wandering around High Sierra and saw Drew and he was like “Hey, let’s pick!” Then I saw Vince and he was like “Go get your stuff, we’re doing sound check.” All of a sudden we’re hanging out there sound checking for two hours. It means a lot to me that those guys think enough of my playing that they would want to have me there. It’s kind of a nice… Sort of a nice… Umm…

J-man: … It validates what you’re doing.

Anders: Yeah.

J-man: Those are some of the top guys on that scene… and they’ve helped to elevate a lot of bands. Such as Vince Herman has done for Yonder. It’s great to see those bigger artists helping out a lot of the lesser know bands.

Anders: Yeah, I agree and I think “validates “ is a really good word… It’s just a nice reminder that what I am doing, I am doing somewhat right.

J-man: This segues into my next question; Who are some of your favorite musicians that you have gotten a chance to pick with?

Anders: Well, I would say that Drew Emmit is probably right there at the top of it all. That guy is a badass… He’s probably my favorite mandolin player and probably my favorite singer. So anytime I get a chance to play with him, not just with Leftover, but with the Drew Emmit Band and the Emmit-Nershi Band… It’s just so fun. It’s kind of Surreal.

Getting to play something like “Breaking Through”, a song like that with Drew singing and playing it’s just like; I almost don’t even want to touch my dobro, I just want to hang on the stage, and realize that I have the best seat in the house. (Laughs)

J-man: (Laughs)

Anders: But Drew is right there at the top of it all. Playing with the Yonder guys is always super fun, just because the energy of their crowds, and they’re so good at what they do. It’s always super fun for me. They really have that energy transfer between them and the crowd going on where it’s the perfect situation for playing because you can explore a little bit more on stage because it’s so rock solid.

J-man: That being said, what are your thoughts on traditional bluegrass and newgrass in relation to the cross-over that a lot of bands are doing, including Greensky Bluegrass?

Anders: It’s really interesting and strangely enough I have a sort of love/hate relationship with traditional bluegrass.

J-man: I can understand that.

Anders: I used to listen to it so much in order to learn the fundamentals of bluegrass, that I know it all really well and then I realize that in some ways it can be quite limiting. A twenty second dobro solo is (Laughs)… Once you’ve taken a five minute dobro solo; it just seems a little strange at times… In Greensky we play a lot of traditional bluegrass tunes. We play three minute songs, but we also get to explore. So it’s the balance that makes it really good, to me. If it were a super traditional bluegrass band, I think I would get bored. If it were a total jamband I think I might get some what bored too.

J-man: So you’d say it’s about finding a comfortable balance in between the two…

Anders: Yeah, absolutely. It’s all about the balance and I think that one of the things that I really like about Greensky is that we recognize that it’s not just about jamming for the sake of jamming. If a certain tune that we write, should be a concise three minute bluegrass song, because that what serves the song best; then that’s what we do. If it’s a tune that feels like it should be jammed out and stretched out and has the room to be interesting; then that’s what we do with that. In some ways it’s become a whole “traditional vs. jamgrass” in a lot of ways. I don’t really always see it that way…

J-man: … That’s part of the reason why I like band like the Del McCoury Band. Those cats are extremely traditional, yet it’s great to see them reach out across that barrier. There is definitely a stigma that comes from traditional bluegrass that jamgrass is not accepted. It’s great to see someone like Del, who is a staple on that scene; being open to what else is out there…

Anders: Yeah, definitely.

J-man: … Even down to the Opry. I wish the Opry was more open to the cross-over, because there is so much to it. Additionally, I think it would help the traditional bluegrass scene a little bit…

Anders: I agree. I think it’s a weird time, because there is a big gap between the fans of traditional bluegrass, and the fans of jamgrass… When everybody is doing something that is pretty close to the same thing. (Laughs) I was at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IMBA), their conference/party/pick fest. I saw a panel… I walked by a panel, I didn’t have a pass to get in, I was just hanging out… But, I walked by a panel and the thing on the door said “How to market your band to college audiences.” (Laughs)

J-man: (Laughs)

Anders: (Laughs) I just thought it was the funniest thing, because it’s all of these traditional “suit” bluegrass bands trying to figure out how to market their product to a younger generation. For some reason it just seemed really ironic… It’s not a marketing thing… It’s a musical thing.

J-man: Have you heard of the Henhouse Prowlers? They’re a band that sort of bridges the traditional “suit” bluegrass as you call it, and incorporating a little bit of that younger bluegrass sound. I don’t want to say jamgrass, but a youthful sound.

Anders: Yeah, I have. They’re bringing energy to it, from what I’ve seen…

J-man: Yeah.

Anders: On my Ipod I have a Del McCoury Band show from the Bonnaroo, whenever that was…

J-man: I believe they did 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009 or 10 I believe…

Anders: Yeah, and it’s like; there you have it. To hear the crowd roar after a traditional bluegrass fiddle tune, and to hear how much the Bonnaroo/jam fans loved it; that was a real validation for me to hear. It is possible and we’re talking about the most traditional band out there just rocking the hell out of Bonnaroo. Not to say that it’s not about all of the history behind the Del band.

J-man: I heard that the first year, they had them set up with the traditional one mic set-up. But, because of the enormous turn out and high volume of people that came out to see them. They were left scrambling for additional equipment, when they realized what the situation was. It’s cool because it speaks loudly to the possibilities of traditional bluegrass.

Anders: Absolutely. I can’t stress enough how much we try to do both sides of it. To take what we’ve all learned from traditional bluegrass and then stretch it out… Because that’s not our only influence. I think the fan base is the same way; they like bluegrass, but they also like the Grateful Dead, Les Claypool and Wilco. It’s all across the board. It’s the same way for use as musicians… We love bluegrass, but we also love lots of other music. We’re not trying to fit any sound, we’re just trying to use all of our influences that we have as individuals and as a band. We’re trying to create this music that is us. If it comes out sounding like jamgrass or newgrass then by all means, we can call it that. But, it’s more about just trying to create what we like.

J-man: Sure. That being said; how has the Grateful Dead effected you, both musically and as a person? …And the same question in relation to Phish.

Anders: Well, first of all I am really excited to go see Furthur tonight (Laughs). So that will be fun. The Grateful Dead is like the majority of what I have listened to for a long time. My parents were cool enough to let me go see, like thirty some Dead shows… I’m only thirty two, but this is when I was like sixteen, fifteen, fourteen when they were letting me do that. They would let me go to multiple night runs at the Philly Spectrum, because they knew it was about the music for me and I was a guitar player. I still thank them for that to this day.

So, I don’t know; I just really loved the music. It’s hard to describe what it was but, it was the first band that I really connected with. Before that it was all classic rock and stuff like that, that my brothers were listening to. But that was the first band that was like, my band. Where I knew every single song and everything about it. Just the jamming aspect of it was what really appealed to me… and the killer songs. To this day… We listen to the Grateful Dead station on XM/Sirius, more than we listen to anything else in the van (Laughs). It’s just on by default, and then it just stays on because it’s so good. The music is just so damn good.

J-man: Indeed.

Andres: … Then with Phish… Around the time I was getting into the Grateful Dead I was listening to Phish as well. It was really the technical aspect that really appealed to me… And the fact that it just rocked so fucking hard. That band, still to this day, if you listen to anything from 92’ to 96’; that music is the most technically awesome music to me that you can listen to.

J-man: Hmm...

Anders: It just rocks so hard. I don’t know how else to describe it. So for me, something about it captured me. I saw my first Phish show in 1992 and once I saw it live, I was just like “Wow, there is nothing that I want to do other than go see that show again.”

J-man: (Laughs) How many Phish shows have you seen?

Anders: It’s like a hundred and forty something…

J-man: (Laughs) Good god…

Anders: I sort of lost count. The majority of those were before the year 2000. I went on a couple of Phish tours with my brother and some of his friends in 96’ and 97’. I sort of got to see the transition from the super rock band psychedelic Phish into like the funk version of the band. It was really an interesting time to see a lot of shows. Sometimes I listen to Phish and it’s really frustrating to me because it’s hard to hear that and go back to playing the dobro.

J-man: (Laughs)

Anders: The dobro is the closest thing to the electric guitar that you can get in acoustic music, in my mind. I try to steal stuff from Trey, but it’s just so on a different level that sometimes it gets frustrating to me when I try to translate it to dobro, because it really has to change a lot. Those two bands were sort of like my jambands, over the years.

J-man: Have you guys ever thought about doing a cd Tribute to the Grateful Dead? I know you guys do a lot of Dead songs. It would be cool in a live environment. It might help gain some new fans as well…

Anders: Yeah, we’ve talked about trying to do something like that, or trying to bill a show as like one set of Greensky and one set of Dead music. But, for me; it just seems a little bit fabricated. We love playing Dead tunes, because we all know them so well. I think beyond that our focus on our original music is so strong that we’re kind of nervous about getting pigeon-holed into that. But, I think you’re right. I think it would expose us to a lot of new fans.

J-man: What are your thoughts on the festival scene,? Did you ever think that this is where you would end up playing?

Anders: Yeah, I sort of figured that would be… It’s what we do in the summer. The festival scene is a very vibrant part of this culture. It’s amazing. I love festival. Not in the plural sense of the word, just in the singular, general sense of the word. (Laughs).

J-man: I can relate to that…

Anders: It’s the best… The best time you can have. You go there and hang out all weekend and play music all weekend… You get to party with your friends and see all of your buddies That you haven’t seen in a while. You get to mix it up and play with other bands.

There is a huge crowd there. You have all of these bands that bring in different fan bases, so for us as a band we get to turn a lot of new people on to our music. It’s a great time. It’s one of the few times where we actually get to stop and hang out for very long. On tour, you play the show that night, and the next day you’re on to somewhere else. So to get to hang out and listen to music is pretty awesome and rejuvenating in a lot of ways. Also getting to be the token bluegrass band a lot of these festivals is always great.

J-man: If you were given a open set at a festival to throw together a “super group”, which musicians would you surround yourself with?

Anders: (Laughs) I’ll keep it somewhat realistic. Let’s see… Drew Emmit would be on mandolin and Travis Book would be the bass player, from the String Dusters; who is a great friend of mine and a killer musician. And then… Let’s see, Jeff Sipe would be on drums... and man, the guitar slot is a tough one. We’ll lose the realism for a second and put Trey on acoustic guitar and then Page on keyboards (Laughs).

J-man: (Laughs) There it is…

Anders: Oh, and we need a fiddle player too… Probably go with Stuart Duncan on the fiddle because he’s a complete badass.

J-man: Yeah, he’s a beast.

Anders: That’s a pretty good band, huh?

J-man: I’d go see that…

Anders: … I wouldn’t take any solos, I would just hang out (Laughs).

J-man: (Laughs) Which festivals will Greensky be playing this summer?

Anders: Well, we’re going to be at Delfest this year for the first time, which we’re really excited about. We’ve heard great things about it. Also the whole McCoury music family is just amazing… And there will be a lot of good bands there. Our buddies Yonder will be there, Cornmeal will be there, Keller will be doing something, Lots of Del; it’s going to be a blast.

We’re also doing Rockygrass this year, which we’re also excited about. That’s put on by the same people that put on Telluride. It’s their more traditional festival. I think Greensky feels a little bit more a kin to Telluride, just because it’s a little more of a music festival than a traditional bluegrass festival. But, I’ve learned how to play a lot of music at Rockygrass and went to the Rockygrass academy years ago and spent a lot of time there, so I’m really excited to get back there. I think we might be kind of the token, weird jam band, a little bit more jammy than the usual band there. But, I’m excited to do that because it’s in Colorado, where they just like music. (Laughs) I can’t think of any others off the top of my head right now, but there are a bunch more that we’re working on getting confirmed up. But those are the two that I am really excited about.

J-man: I’ll be at Delfest. I’ll see you there.

Anders: Yeah, man.

J-man: I appreciate you doing this and have fun at Furthur tonight.

Anders: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. Take care. Check out their new live cd "All Access Vol. 1" Recorded live on Nov. 27th at the Riviera Theatre, Three Rivers, MI.

Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band Live at The Cosmic Coffee House on May 13, 2005.

The Wayword Sons Live at Horning's Hideout on August 25, 2007.

Greensky Bluegrass Live at Mt. Tabor Theater on March 20, 2010.


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