Interview with Paul Hoffman from Greensky Bluegrass

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paul hoffman, greensky bluegrass
Paul Hoffman from Greensky Bluegrass

Interview by Scott Preston

Photos by Susan J Weiand

Performing at festivals, theaters, clubs and listening rooms all over the US, Greensky Bluegrass‘ rare traditional sound is piquing the interests of not only bluegrass enthusiasts, but lovers of musicof all genres. It is their unique “fusion of tradition and enthusiasm for improvisation” that has come to define the band’s creative and tangible compositional style.

In November of 2007 the band released it’s first live CD Live at Bell’s, recorded at Bell’s Brewery in their hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Just over a month later Greensky Bluegrass added Anders Beck to the line up, replacing Al Bates on dobro. His playing is adding great depth to their existing material and opening many doors to new songs.The new quintet will be recording a studio album in the late spring of 2008.

Live performance is central to Greensky Bluegrass’ presence in today’s eclectic acoustic scene. Touring extensively since 2005, Greensky has developed great versatility in the performance arena, earning audiences nationwide. The mixing of original compositions with traditional bluegrass numbers gives the band a broad spectrum in which to display their driving technical chops, vocal abilities, and lyrical insight. A spirit of improvisation remains evident in live shows, which contributes to an ever-growing population of returning fans and avid show traders. (from http://www.greenskybluegrass.com)

Cincy Groove: I understand you are working on a new cd. How is that coming along?

Paul Hoffman: Its starting to get rolling, we have been rehearsing , getting ready. Our engineers are getting everything all ready for us. I think we are going to start recording in about an hour or so. We plan on recording it all in a couple days. Going to have a marathon session. We are actually up in a cabin in Hoxeyville, Michigan recording the cd. Its very secluded, very little cell phone coverage. Its really the way we like to do it. We have never recorded in a full blown studio where you record for a few hours and go home and come back the next day.

Cincy Groove: Will there be any special guests on the new cd?

Paul Hoffman: We haven’t decided for sure yet. The album is being produced by Tim Carbone, the fiddle player from Railroad Earth. He may play some fiddle, but we haven’t decided yet.

Cincy Groove: How long has the band been together?

Paul Hoffman: Since about 2000. We picked up the bass player we currently have in 2003 and soon after that we started touring more full time. Just this past January we picked up our dobro player. We have just been a 5 piece since January. We have been touring nationally since 2005.

Cincy Groove: Does the new cd have a title yet?

Paul Hoffman: Not yet, we are still thinking about that. Theres some new material on it that we are really excited about. There’s some new songs that nobody has heard before. There’s a couple old songs that haven’t been recorded and a few that we have been playing live for a few months.

Cincy Groove: Where was your live cd record at?

Paul Hoffman: It was recorded at Bells Brewery here in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We multi tracked 2 shows last summer , one in June and one in August. One of our recording engineers we have right now did all the multi tracking and mixing.

Cincy Groove: Does the band have any favorite places they like to play?

Paul Hoffman: There is the northwestern New Jersey area where Railroad Earth is from. We have some really dedicated fans in that area. The Pacific Northwest is an area we have only been to a couple times but the response has been really good. We played this really great room in Petaluma, CA which is just north of San Francisco. It takes a long time to get everywhere. It takes a show or two to start building it up to the point where people are coming back and knowing the tunes.

Cincy Groove: Who are some of the bands influences?

Paul Hoffman: Our early bluegrass influences are bands like Old and in the Way, Seldom Scene. More recent bands are Railroad Earth. I have also started listening to Mark Knopfler, which has nothing to do with the mandolin or bluegrass (laughing). I had never been into Dire Straits and now I’m into this huge Knopfler kick. I think they got played too much on the classic rock radio stations, which is probably why I didn’t listen to them much as a teenager.

Cincy Groove: Its great to see Greensky Bluegrass added to the spring hookahville lineup.

Paul Hoffman: I am really excited for hookahville. I think the festival scene has really developed in the last 5-6 years. It didn’t seem back then there were this many multi-genre music festivals as there are today. What I think is really great is the guys in ekoostik hookah have this really great appreciation for bluegrass music. They put on this great festival with bluegrass, americana, folk music during the day and then they do there thing at night which is totally different.

It really gives the fans more credit for appreciating so many different types of music instead of throwing 15 jambands at them. Something I found out that they don’t tell you when you join a touring band is that you don’t get to go see shows anymore (laughing). When summertime comes around we play a lot of festivals, so we get to see a lot of great bands. Especially at hookahville, being a mandolin player, some of my favorite players are going to be there, Drew Emmitt, Sam Bush. So we are very excited.

This has kind of come full circle for me, I went to hookahville the first time in 2000. We went to hookahville in 2000 on my last day of high school. We had graduation and then I drove straight there. The big thing for me was seeing the David Grisman Quintet. At the time I was playing acoustic guitar being a teenage songwriter and recording music in my bedroom. I saw David Grisman for the first time and really had no experience with bluegrass music. I was really floored by the mandolin. I thought to myself, everyone plays guitar, maybe it was time for me to take a step in a different direction. Before I went to college a few months later I bought a mandolin.

I literally met the rest of the guys in Greensky Bluegrass (or what would become Greensky Bluegrass) only a few months after I bought the mandolin. I asked if I could play with them and they said yes. One thing then led to another and here we are.

Greensky Bluegrass:
Michael Arlen (Bont) Bont – banjo, vox
Dave (Cookie) Bruzza – guitar, lead vox
Mike (Sugar Bear) Devol – acoustic bass, vox
Paul (Noodle) Hoffman – mandolin , lead vox
Anders Beck – Dobro

 

Upcoming Greensky Bluegrass tour dates:
for complete show details visit greenskybluegrass.com
05/11/08 Northwestern University Evanston, IL
05/24/08 Hookahville Thornville, OH
06/06/08 Bell’s Brewery Kalamazoo, MI
06/07/08 Bell’s Brewery Kalamazoo, MI
07/03/08 Rothbury Music Festival Rothbury, MI
07/13/08 Aspen Mountain Aspen, CO
07/17/08 GoodFoot Lounge Portland, OR
07/19/08 Horning’s Hideout North Plains, OR
07/26/08 Hoxeyville Music Festival Hoxeyville, MI
08/01/08 Sleeping Bear Dunegrass & Blues Festival Empire, MI 08/02/08 Silver Maple Music Festival Comstock, MI
08/03/08 Sleeping Bear Dunegrass & Blues Festival Empire, MI
08/15/08 YarmonyGrass Music Festival Bond, CO
08/31/08 Arch Park Gardiner, MT