Interview: Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass
By Mackenzie Gilchrist
Greensky Bluegrass is still touring like crazy all across the United States and they are coming back to San Diego! This fabulous group of bluegrass musicians will be playing at Winstons in OB on Saturday, April 28, and USD Radio is giving out 2 FREE tickets! USD Radio contributor Mackenzie Gilchrist spoke with singer/songwriter/mandolin extraordinaire Paul Hoffman about why the band has returned to San Diego, his contribution to the group and some of the exciting festival performances they have coming up.
Mackenzie Gilchrist: You guys were just here in November, but you’re back so soon and we are thrilled! Is there anything in particular that keeps you coming back to San Diego?
Paul Hoffman: We just like San Diego. You know, it’s warm you can swim in the ocean. And of course there is Winstons. It is the first place we played at in San Diego. We have played a couple other venues too, but Winstons is always just a really fun place to play. It’s in a cool town too, OB.
MG: So it sounds like Winstons is your favorite venue to play in San Diego?
PH: Yea, we’ve had a couple shows there that were definitely some of the more memorable shows I’ve played. It is a fun room and has good energy. We also have friends that live around there so it is cool to see them.
MG: The last time you were in town you had just recently released the new album Handguns. After these last couple months on tour how would you say the fans are reacting to the new stuff?
PH: It’s been good. The fans have been getting to know the tunes. With some of the ones we are playing more often we have definitely noticed that reaction to them has gotten greater. People are actually signing along with us. I think all of that just shows that people are listening to the record and enjoying it which is always really flattering.
MG: You are one of the primary song writers for the group and I just have to ask you about one song in particular. “Just to Lie” off the album Five Interstates is one of my favorites. My friend and I always kind of giggle about the lyrics when we listen to it, wondering where it came from. Can you comment at all on your inspiration?
PH: (laughs) Well, I wrote it with Anders, our Dobro player, but I wrote the lyrics. We were kind of just joking about the whole situation, so I guess that song was born out of a joke. But in the end it becomes kind of poignant. I never wanted it to be…well. It’s about what you think it’s about. I didn’t want it to be shallow though, I wanted to preserve that little romance.
MG: I know there are many, but do you have a favorite song that you’ve written?
PH: It kind of varies. I like certain things for different reasons. Right now, “Handguns” is my favorite lyrically. It still really hits the whole image and message, and is really powerful to me when I sing it. Something you learn as young songwriter is that it is hard to commit to words and to continue with that. It becomes difficult to not want to change it and just accept the lyrics and I’m really happy with my choices with that song.
MG: You used to play the guitar – what made you switch to the mandolin?
PH: It was on a whim actually. I just wanted to spend some money. (laughs) To burn a little dough, so I bought a cheap little mandolin and it worked out pretty well. I met these other guys and started playing with them and the more I got into it the more I realized I was never going to be a great guitar player. I had more potential with mandolin because it just fits my style. (laughs) It is definitely a smaller pond to swim in because there are so many great guitar players out there. I still play guitar but my skills are just better on the mandolin. I mean I’ve been playing the guitar since I was twelve so you wouldn’t think it would be like that, but I guess so.
MG: You guys have quite a few festivals lined up for the summer—High Sierra, Summer Camp, 80/35 and many more. Are there any in particular that you’re really looking forward to?
PH: I’m definitely looking forward to going back to Telluride [for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival]. It is kind of like a family reunion of sorts for us. We’ve played it several times. This will be our 4th or 5th time… or something like that. But yea, that one is great and has kind of a home vibe.
MG: I know you’re also playing Stagecoach which is coming up soon. This is definitely a different kind of festival than Telluride and all the others you have lined up. How does it compare for you?
PH: Well I think the best way to put it is that it is just different. They have a bluegrass tent so there are two days of bluegrass within that. Something I love about our band is that we have the ability to cross over to different environments. The wide range of our catalog can apply to so many different things. It’s nice to be able to go different places and work off of different reactions. We actually played there two years ago and so did Kid Rock who is a huge country star. He is a Michigander just like us and he split early and so we went onto his trailer and we drank all of his Bud Light Lime. (laughs) Definitely our favorite Stagecoach story.
MG: Oh yea, Anders told me that story too, but he didn’t mention it was Bud Light Lime.
PH: Oh yea. He was drinking the BLL.
MG: I know it’s kind of a cliché question to ask but everyone’s answers are always so different so I do it anyway. Do you have a favorite part about being a musician or being up on stage?
PH: Um, I think it’s the exchange of energy from fans to us. It’s really an unexplainable and priceless thing. I am reminded so often of how great my job is and how lucky I am. But there are lots of little things that you don’t think about too. For example we have a fan that has become a friend from Colorado. She became a fan in Pittsburg and moved and now one of her best friends in Colorado is someone she met at our show. She always thanks us for introducing them. It is little powers like that that we have to bring people together. I feel like people work hard in their jobs all week to take time off on the weekends and do something fun like see some music and I’m just so happy that I get to provide that for them.
Don’t forget to check out the show on Saturday 4/28 at Winstons in OB and go to USD Student Radio Facebook page for your chance to win free tickets!