Interview by Scott Preston
Steep Canyon Rangers
with Buffalo Wabs and The Price Hill Hustle
20th Century Theater, 3021 Madison Rd, Cincinnati, OH, (513) 731-8000
8pm, Seated Show, $20 main floor/$25 orch, Buy Tickets
When the time came for the Steep Canyon Rangers to record the follow-up to 2012’s Nobody Knows You, they headed north to Woodstock, NY, to Levon Helm’s famed studio with Grammy-winning producer Larry Campbell and engineer Justin Guip. This was a departure for the band, and they gave Campbell full control over the recording rather than act as their own co-producer.
Over the months before they started to record Tell The Ones I Love, they sent him several dozen new songs to consider. And while the Steep Canyon Rangers were certainly open to recording songs by other composers, or to dip into traditional material, Campbell ultimately had them record all original tunes, based both on the strength of the songs and the band’s arrangements. This seems fitting for a band whose stellar reputation is based on performing original material, and who had just won the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy Award for Nobody Knows You. There’s a backstory here, too: last year, the band played Levon’s Midnight Ramble, and impressed Helm enough that he invited them to come back and record at the barn. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen before his untimely passing, but they still felt his joyful, creative spark and subtle influence while working in his studio.
The band wanted Tell The Ones I Love to reflect the spirit of their concerts—an original, freewheeling, high-energy approach to bluegrass that rests mainly on the songwriting of Graham Sharp and Charles Humphrey. They recorded the album almost entirely live, using few overdubs. “We wanted it to be different from our last album,” explained banjo player Graham Sharp, “and create something more raw and immediate.” Guitarist Woody Platt added that they headed into recording with “more confidence and momentum” from both their Grammy win and their unrelenting touring schedule. (from steepcanyonrangers.com)
Cincy Groove: I see the band is coming up on 15 years together. How do you think you guys have been able to keep it going for so long?
Woody Platt: First of all we are friends. Graham, Charles and I were friends in college before we even started playing together. Then Mike and I grew up together. There is a long rooted friendship which I think allowed us to keep the bond strong in the band. The fact that the friendship predates the band is very important. We have also accomplished certain goals along the way which has given us energy and confidence to keep going. Everyone in the band has been willing to make similar sacrifices to keep the band going and it really helps we are all on the same page. I think it would be easy to quit if you weren’t accomplishing certain goals we set for ourselves.
Cincy Groove: How did you end up hooking up with Steve Martin?
Woody Platt: His wife is a friend of ours. They came to our hometown for a dinner party and they invited us over to have an informal jam session. We played music with Steve and it went really well, we had a blast. We stayed in touch and one thing led to another.
Cincy Groove: What was it like when you won the Grammy award? That had to be unexpected.
Woody Platt: It’s definitely the biggest thing we have accomplished. It was a surreal moment. When you start a bluegrass band with your friends in college, there are a lot of goals you set. But winning the Grammy Award usually isn’t one of them. It does give the band a certain amount of credibility.
Cincy Groove: How has your festival season been so far?
Woody Platt: Our festival season is just gearing up. We have played Merlefest, Suwannee Spring Fest so far. There are some in June, but when July comes around it seems we have at least one every weekend. We really love the diversity of the music at the festivals we to get perform at. There were times when we played 2-3 festivals in a weekend. As soon as we checked in and performed we went right back on the road and on to the next one. We only had 2 sets at Merlefest and Suwannee so we were able to see a bunch of other bands play.
Cincy Groove: I know your most recent record just came out last September, but is the band working on any new projects?
Woody Platt: We are talking about it now and looking to get something together in the winter time. The songs are starting to come together and usually we try to cut a record when we have some down time. Graham and Charles are our primary songwriters, and they are starting to write some new songs.
Cincy Groove: How does the band write up a set list before a show?
Woody Platt: We typically try to get Graham to do it and then we all will weigh in with our ideas. It’s a group effort, so if someone doesn’t want to play a song, we don’t play it. We try to do everything in a very democratic way and it has worked very well for us.
Cincy Groove: What do you like to do when you are off the road?
Woody Platt: I love spending time with my family, but I am also an avid fly fisherman. So when I’m off the road I spend as much time as I can in the water and streams in western Carolina
Cincy Groove: Have you had a chance to perform with any of your idols?
Woody Platt: Bluegrass is really great, it seems to be a little easier to get to know your idols. I was able to meet Earl Scruggs a few times before he died. We are a big fan of Del McCoury and have performed with him several times. Sam Bush is an early influence on the band and we have had him play 45 minute to 1 hour sets as part of our band. We met Levon Helm and he invited us to record our last studio album up in his studio. We have also met a bunch of people through working with Steve (Martin). We haven’t got to play with Bob Dylan yet (laughing). We have been very lucky with the people we have met and performed with.
Cincy Groove: How do you feel about the how internet has affected the music industry?
Woody Platt: Well, its great for interacting with fans and for marketing and promoting your music. But on the other side records sales are down across the board because of ways that music is shared. Its a very interesting dilemma for a musician to have to deal with.