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What acoustics did you use on the album?
Nershi: I played a bunch. Different guitars will fit sonically better than others. I have an old “FrankenMartin” D-28 that has gone through many transformations. I played that on some tunes. I just got a 1955 Martin D-18 that I played. I also had a Santa Cruz D-Nershi guitar on some stuff.
Tell me more about the “FrankenMartin.”
Nershi: It was a ’70s Martin that wasn’t built well. They had a period of time where they were putting out some odd guitars as far as where the bridge and saddles were placed. I’ve had a new bridge and new saddle installed. I brought it to Costa Rica and the neck bowed and just never went back. My luthier here in Boulder, Jon Eaton, told me it was time to cash it in and get a new guitar. By the time I had stopped crying, he told me he had some necks in the back room. He went back and brought out a selection of Martin necks. We picked one out and he replaced it. It’s had a tough life. I’ve played it hard for many years. [Laughs].
Michael, what’s on your pedalboard?
Kang: It hasn’t changed much over the last seven or eight years. The newest thing is that I go into a device made by Brad Sarno called a Steel Guitar Black Box. It’s basically an impedance matcher. Scott Walker, who is making me some custom mandolins right now, turned me onto it. I go directly into that and then it goes into the pedalboard, which is pretty standard. I have several Keeley pedals, a Maxon compressor, a Keeley-modded Tube Screamer, a Fulltone Full-Drive 2, a Line 6 DL4, and an old DigiTech Whammy Wah. I have a Voodoo Lab Ground Control that controls it all.
Basically, the core of my thing is the Two-Rock Custom Reverb I got about six years ago. I run that as a center channel through a 2x12 Bogner cabinet. I run stereo effects with a TC Electronic G-Force for a lot of tremolo, delay, or special effects-type stuff. Then I just have a couple single 12" cabs that run in stereo through a slave Groove Tubes D75 power amplifier. That’s pretty much the rig I’ve had for the last 10 years.
Bill, describe your acoustic rig.
Nershi: With my acoustic guitar it’s nice to have a stereo sound. I have two pickups in my acoustic. It’s a little complicated. I have the Sunrise magnetic pickup in the soundhole and the K&K pickups underneath the bridge because it’s nice to get a little bit of the wood sound out there. I need the presence of the magnetic pickup with the volume of the music that’s being played. I run through a couple of Avalon DIs with a stereo cable coming out of my guitar and one side runs to each DI. I can adjust the balance there and then I sum them into the back of my TC Electronic G-Force for my stereo effects.
Do you use any amps live?
Nershi: I don’t run through an amp with my acoustic for my in-house sound. I’ve got a couple of AERs that I use just for stage monitors. For my electrics, since the two guitars have such different gain structures, I run them into different amps. The Collings goes into a Fender tweed Blues DeVille, one of the older 2x12 combos. I run my Tele into a smaller, 40-watt Fender Blues Deluxe.
The group revisits the up-tempo bluegrass that fueled their early days with the opener from their latest album.
The band takes ride on one of their funkier tunes, “Miss Brown’s Teahouse,” during the Rothbury Festival—one of only two gigs they played in 2009.
“Let’s Go Outside” has a groove that wouldn’t be out of place at an EDM festival. When did the electronic influence creep in?
Kang: Over the years as we started playing these different festivals, maybe up to 10 years ago, we noticed more of the electronic element entering into the jam scene. On Untying the Knot, a producer who had produced a lot of electronic stuff took one of our fiddle tunes in that direction. It ended up being a trance tune with a four-on-the-floor house beat.
We didn’t really start adding beats in the band until Jason [Hann, percussionist] brought his computer onstage. Jason and Michael [Travis, drummer] have an electronic duo called EOTO where they just play live electronica. They definitely brought that into the group. Before then, there were songs that had that trance-like vibe but didn’t have the electronic beats. We just add it in spots and it’s another point that the kids are able to relate to. You know, we are all in our 40s and 50s and when we go to play a festival, the kids are like 18 or younger. We’ve always prided ourselves, to a certain degree, on taking people on a genre-bending experience when they see us live. Even from the early days, it’s been like that. I think that is just an extension of it. We will never be just an electronic band, that’s not going to be our thing. But it’s nice to have it in the arsenal.
I imagine with so many songwriters and influences in the band, the journey from idea to finished song can take a number of different paths.
Nershi: Yeah, it can be anything from a chord progression or a riff, to a verse and a chorus, to a completed demo that someone will construct in their computer. Depending on the level of completion of the song, it can either be played in its entirety as it’s written or it might be an idea that is brought into a rehearsal session and as a band we will arrange or even write lyrics or parts to it. There’s no rule of thumb. Generally, the band arranges almost all the songs, or they at least add ideas and parts to it. It’s rare that there’s a song written in stone and everybody is handed their part.
Which song on this album changed the most between inception and the final recorded version?
Nershi: “So Far From Home” ended up being a real fast gospel tune. It changed the day we recorded it. We had played it almost like an Allman Brothers-type thing. We realized it would be great if the Allman Brothers were playing it like that, but I said, “Let’s just play it double-time.” It changed on the spot the day it was tracked. It was hard when you have this idea of a song sounding like another band. It can be pretty limiting and frustrating, because of course, that’s a different band that sounds great. But you have to do your own thing and make songs your own—even your originals. When we did that and took it completely out of the vein we were working in, it was exciting and fresh for everybody.
Kang: I think we played it a few times at the slower tempo. Then once you suggested stepping on the pedal we were all like, “Whoa. That was fun.” [Laughs].