Interview: Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass. Photo by J. VanBuhler

By Mackenzie Gilchrist

USD Radio is currently holding a contest to win a pair of tickets to see Greensky Bluegrass on November 8 at Porter’s Pub! This phenomenal string quintet is known as one of the most progressive and entertaining groups in the bluegrass scene today and they are touring like crazy. Mackenzie Gilchrist recently got the chance to chat with Dobro player Anders Beck while the band was on the road to Colorado to begin their Fall Tour.

Mackenzie Gilchrist: The Dobro is not an instrument that you see in every band, but it certainly gives you guys one of your coolest distinguishing characteristics. How did you get started playing it?

Anders Beck: Well when I first started I was playing the electric guitar. Then, when I started getting into bluegrass music I started playing with an acoustic guitar. I was definitely enjoying it and wanted to continue but then I sort of just realized I was not that good at bluegrass guitar. So, I tried the Dobro and I was good. The thing that is great about the Dobro is that it has got a lot more sustain. It helps cover the whole band because bluegrass can be a bit choppy. In any given song it can be the banjo, it can be the fiddle, it can be everything. I think it fills a unique roll and helps us sound like we do –just more original.


MG: I know as a group you don’t really define your style within any specific genre lines. Do you think having the word “bluegrass” in your actual band name has an effect on how you are perceived?

AB: I think having the word bluegrass helps us and hinders us at times. Obviously everybody that likes bluegrass already is going to gravitate towards us naturally. But, I also think that if you’re not a fan or if you don’t know you are yet, then the word might turn people off. When I think of bluegrass sometimes a hokie sort of thing comes to mind. For us though, it is more about the instruments—like having a banjo and mandolin. We are just taking it our own direction and creating music that is just as much rock and roll or jam band or jazz as it is actual bluegrass.


MG: You guys travel quite a bit, you played in different venues and festivals all over the place this summer. Is there any particular part of the country or particular atmosphere that you enjoy most?

AB: You know, it is hard to say. I feel like my favorite festival is whatever one we were just at, and my favorite part of the country is where we just were. Right now I’m excited to go play in Colorado because I love it there and love our fans. But then, I am excited to get to California because our fans there are great too and we get to be on the coast.  I can’t really say I have a favorite because we travel so much.  I guess the answer is that I have serious ADD about my favorite part of the country, but in a really positive way.


MG: The lineup for Stagecoach was released recently and I saw that Greensky Bluegrass is listed. That festival attracts many of the country music fans from our school. How does that sort of environment contribute to your style or the feel of the performance?

AB: Well we actually played at Stagecoach two years ago we had a great time there. It is definitely a unique and different experience to us. We’re usually at more jam band and rock type festivals representing bluegrass and getting to do it at big country festival is really cool. It seems to be the sort of Coachella of country which is pretty hip.  Last time around we just went and did what we do playing an original kind of music and people liked it and dug the bluegrass vibe. They liked our songs because they are lyrical and that is what country music about anyways. We had a great time. We ended up stealing a bunch of Kid Rock’s beer which was cool. He is from Michigan too, so I think it was ok.


MG: You guys are known as one of the most progressive bands in the “newgrass” movement today. Do you think there is anything in particular that gives you that sort of recognition?

AB: We don’t try to be anything in particular. We meld all of our musical influences to make something that we want to. It sounds simple, but it works. Our music comes out unique because all five individuals are unique. People latched onto us as being one of the more progressive probably because we take chances and just jam a lot. We put ourselves out there. We spend a lot of time in our shows improvising and just ripping bluegrass. It has a lot to do with improvisation and musical risk taking and it’s pretty cool to see how people appreciate it in our live shows. We play so much together that luckily risk taking and jumping off cliffs doesn’t sound so much like jumping off cliffs anymore because we’re good at it. We try to write songs that provide a springboard for improv. Instead of just doing it for the sake of doing it, we want it to work within the context of a great song.


MG: The variety in your music opens up opportunities for a lot of different covers. Is there any particular group that you like to cover?

AB: Ah yes it does, but it totally just depends. We do everything from the Grateful Dead, to the Talking Heads, to Pink Floyd, it’s all over the place. That is what makes it fun. It is not necessarily as much about the actual bands were covering as it is just a really good song. Just sort of let’s play that song because it should be heard again.


MG: As you said when you perform it is a lot about improv and sometimes your songs can stretch up to 20 minutes long. With your new album Handguns you still managed to maintain the sort of jammy, free flowing style within the time limits of a studio album. Was it a challenge to get your sound to translate within those boundaries?

AB: Well, that was our goal to do exactly what you said. We play the same stuff that we play live and make it concise but still have that feel of one of our performances—that jam feel. We produced the record ourselves, so we all had that goal going into it and it just made sense. I guess that if it was that tough or if it didn’t work it would have sucked, but it came out well so it couldn’t have been that hard.


You can catch Anders Beck jamming on his Dobro with the rest of Greensky Bluegrass on November 8 at Porter’s Pub. It will be the first show of their Fall Tour in which they will be joined by their friends and fellow bluegrass band Hot Buttered Rum, and Anders assures us that there are “lots of collaborations and sweet jams” in store. Keep an eye on the USD Radio Facebook page for a chance to win two tickets to the show!

Check out the band’s FREE 5-song EP with tracks off their new CD “Handguns” here