Interview and Photos by Scott Preston
Hailing from all around Kentucky, the 23 String Band pays homage to the deep roots of American traditional music, while pushing forward with genre-bending, hard-driving originals and distinctive arrangements. Their youthful brand of “original hillbilly music” weaves in and out of old-time, bluegrass, acoustic roots, and anything else that strikes their fancy — it’s not uncommon to hear a Beastie Boys cover by these boys. It’s a contagious conglomeration that’s entertaining and energetic, and will get you on your feet and dancing every time!
The 23 String Band will be playing a FREE show on Saturday 1/8/2011 at Arnolds Bar, 210 E 8th St, Cincinnati, OH. 8pm
Cincy Groove: How did The 23 String Band get together?
Scott Moore: I guess you could say we got together through a series of friendships and jam sessions. Chris and Curtis met at a mutual friend’s house in London, Kentucky, and hit it off. Curtis and Dave knew each other through the Louisville music scene. By the time I joined the band, there was already an album, but the fiddle player had moved away. I’d met Dave at concerts and a few bluegrass jams, and I played my first 23 String Band gig in the summer of 2008. Martin came on board in the fall of 2010; he moved to town, heard us play, and knew we were looking for a full-time bass player; we got together with him and it was instant awesomeness. So music and friendship brought us all together — which makes sense, since we have a great time not only playing music, but just hanging out too.
Cincy Groove: Where does the band name come from?
Scott Moore: Everybody wants to know! It’s very complicated, and has to do with string theory, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, William S. Burroughs, and the origins of the universe. One theory is that there were originally 23 strings total in the band: guitar (six), banjo (five), mandolin (eight), and bass (four). Or you could count the mandolin as four distinct strings, and throw a fiddle in there — except that I play a five-string violin now, so that doesn’t work.
Cincy Groove: Is the band recording any music for a new album?
Scott Moore: Yes! We’re really excited about getting into the studio in March to record a new full-length. We’ve been working up a bunch of new originals and arrangements, and I think it’s going to be a really good record, with a lot of variety, but always sounding like the 23 String Band. I think we’re going to have more original material than we know what to do with, which is great. There’ll also be a traditional tune or two, and one particularly funky surprise cover. We’re tracking at The Funeral Home studio with my good buddy Kevin Ratterman, who’s recording the new My Morning Jacket record.
Cincy Groove: What’s the songwriting process like for the band?
Scott Moore: Everybody contributes to the process. Everybody in the band writes, and we all contribute arrangement ideas or help tweak lyrics or whatever. Once we get a song roughed out and rehearsed, we’ll sort of break it in on stage. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t — back to the drawing board. Sometimes the light bulb just goes on, and a little change to the arrangement makes a song come alive. That’s happened even with songs we’ve been playing for years.
Cincy Groove: Do you enjoy the setting of recording in a studio or would you like to record a live album?
Scott Moore: I’ve always loved recording — as a little kid I’d get the Casio tape recorder out and record myself playing music or talking or whatever. Over the years I’ve been able to do a lot of session work, and always find that really exciting; my musical background is pretty diverse and I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating versatility, so recording in a variety of settings and styles is really fun and challenging for me.
As a band, we’re all really excited to get into the studio again, and I know it’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s just nothing like a recording session, when the vibe’s right and the music is good — it’s a combination of being focused and letting go to capture the moment, paint a picture, tell a story, whatever. You just feel the magic happening, and it’s like nothing else.
That said, there’s also nothing like a live performance, and for the 23 String Band, that’s really our bread and butter. Usually the first word that we hear from people talking about our show is “energy,” and we definitely play with a lot of drive and enthusiasm. And then you start feeding off the energy from the crowd, and your eyes roll back in your head, and everybody’s dancing — look out! We’d love to do a live EP or something, after the album. Maybe that’s how we can get some more of these originals out there…
Cincy Groove: Who are some of your influences?
Scott Moore: As a band, I’d say we’ve been influenced by everything from Appalachian folk music to 70’s rock to contemporary classical music, and we each bring a lot of individual influences to the table. As far as roots music and music that’s stylistically related to ours — if you come to a 23 String Band show, you might hear echoes of past greats like Robert Johnson, Bill Monroe, John Hartford, or Old & In The Way. You might also hear similarities to more modern acts like Old Crow Medicine Show, Crooked Still, the Avett Brothers, or Nickel Creek. But I think you’ll agree that most of all, we just sound like the 23 String Band.
Cincy Groove: With the year coming to an end, what have been some highlights for the band in 2010?
Scott Moore: 2010 has been a great year for us. We had a great time performing at regional festivals like the Master Musicians Festival, Forecastle, ROMP, and Terrapin Hill. We went to the IBMA conference in Nashville, where we not only had a blast jamming late into the night and going to seminars and conferences during the day, we also made some great new friends and received invitations to come play in a lot of new places for us — including Europe and the western US. We’re looking forward to even bigger and better things in 2011!
Cincy Groove: What has been one of the most unusual gigs for the band?
Scott Moore: Let’s see. We played at the World Equestrian Games this fall, which was a little weird — lots of very expensive horses, and people who are really into expensive horses — which could have been fun, except we weren’t allowed into any of the official events, and the Rolex and Hotel Dubai pavilions didn’t hold much interest for any of us. A couple of years ago we played an awards ceremony where we got paid quite a bit of money to play two songs — and one of them was “Uncle Pen.” It’s a good song, but I’m not sure why you’d hire the 23 String Band just for that, when we have so many originals. But we played it!
Cincy Groove: Does anyone in the band still have “day jobs” ?
Scott Moore: Martin and I are full-time musicians — other than the 23 String Band, we both do orchestra gigs, jazz and rock gigs, a variety of session work, and some teaching. (Any Cincinnati musicians need violin/fiddle/viola/string quartet/upright bass/electric bass sounds for your project? 🙂 Curtis is an auctioneer, Dave works sales at Louisville’s largest musical equipment store, and Chris teaches fifth-grade math. We’re working on getting to the point that the band is a full-time job for everyone.
Cincy Groove: Aside from your bandmates, if you could put together a dream band, who would be in it?
Scott Moore: Whew, that’s a tough one. I might have to have a few dream bands. I’d have a country band with Bobby Keys on sax, Levon Helm on drums and vocals, Dave Holland on bass, Billy Preston on keys, Keith Richards on guitar, and Hank Williams on vocals and guitar. I’d have a rock band with Jack White on vocals and guitar, Paul McCartney on vocals and bass, and John Bonham on drums. I’d have a freak-out blues band with Art Blakey on drums, Robert Randolph on pedal steel, Robert Johnson and Skip James and Jimi Hendrix and Lou Reed on guitar and vocals, John Medeski on B3 organ, Chris Wood on bass, and Tom Waits on weird percussion and piano and vocals. There are so many other great musicians I’d love to play with, or go back in time and meet, that’s just scratching the surface — I could drive myself crazy thinking about it…
23 String Band Tour Dates
Fri Jan 7: 10pm
Sat Jan 8: 8pm
Arnold’s Bar & Grill
Fri Jan 14: 7:30pm
International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM benefit concert)
Fri Feb 11: 9pm
Wed Feb 16 through Sun Feb 20
International Folk Alliance Conference
Performance Alley Official Showcase (day/time TBD)
Sat May 7: 8:30pm
The Purple Fiddle
Sat June 25
Fri July 15
Bluegrass on the Bay
Great Falls, MT