Melding musical influences and lighting fire to bluegrass
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modern and traditional influences
GraciousRoots happened upon Unspoken Tradition (UT) live at the Hook, Line & Drinker Festival in early summer 2017, where UT headlined the event. As I recall, the sun was especially brutal; fortunately, the local craft beer merchants offered the finest of libations, food trucks provided uniquely scrumptious victuals, and most impressively UT 'jammed' undeterred by the heat throughout two forty-five minute sessions. I was HOOKED! (kudos to Julie Hooper Spiro, Director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Center)
With a repertoire of new, original bluegrass music, traditional bluegrass numbers and creative covers, UT "open(s) our band to an even wider audience and bring a passionate energy to the stage. Our 2013 release, Simple Little Town, with its live feel and mostly original songs also showcases the band’s ability to keep one foot in the past, and one pointed towards the future." The album offers something for everyone with hardcore Grass numbers, original songs, and a GR favorite: A cover of the Alternative/Indie band - Cake from the 1996 album - Fashion Nugget, the song Stickshifts & Safetybelts.
One of the truths in music is some artists are much better live, while others shy away from live music preferring the studio. Unspoken Tradition is gifted in both areas. They have incredible "chops" onstage as we found out a couple of months later when GraciousRoots caught up with the band again at the ISIS Music Hall for a whale of a show in front of a packed house.
UT has its roots in the town of Cherryville, NC with the three founding members, Lee Shuford (Bass/Vocals) and Audie (Guitar/Vocals) and Zane McGinnis (Banjo). The current band member configuration includes Tim Gardner (Fiddle/Vocals); and Ty Gilpin (Mandolin/Vocals) have been playing together approximately four years. GraciousRoots sat down with a few of the band members for an impromptu conversation.
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Take a good look
GR - What are some of the band members' musical influences?
Audie McGuiness - I was raised on bluegrass by my Dad. But Mom was the rock influence. If the stereo was on in the house, my father had bluegrass playing. In fact, the first time I heard Bob Marley’s One Love I thought it was a cover of Sam Bush in New Grass Revival! On a Saturday morning, you'll find me fully immersed in Bela Fleck and Jason Davis.
Tim Gardner - I grew up playing old time fiddle music and played in a family band. When I was little, we used to drive around my home state of Florida going to different fiddlers conventions. We heard a lot of Tommy Jarrell, a legendary "old time fiddler" from up around Mt. Airy, NC. In recent years, now that I'm more into bluegrass I listen to Stuart Duncan.
Zane McGuiness - Daren Aldridge (incredible mandolin player) first taught me to play the banjo when I was about eleven or twelve years old. He is the person that paved the way for me. I kept pickin' and took a month or so of lessons from Jason Burelson from Blue Highway. He influenced some of my playing. Another influence is, Jason Davis of Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice - I try to pick up a lot of his innovation. I'm a melting pot of musical styles. (band members mumbling "here it comes") Of course, Bela Fleck. Seeing the Reunion Jam at Merle Fest 30 was a dream come true for me.
Musical influences follow the continuum of stars: Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, the band individually has dabbled with other musical genres, such as Audie’s brief period playing Rage Against the Machine; although, for Audie and Zane bluegrass has always been front and center. “When Unspoken Tradition was formed, we knew we were home.”
GR - Describe the typical year for UT.
Tim Gardner - When we’re out on the road we’re really just trying to get our 'chops' to make sure we’re the best we can be for our fans when playing live. Writing typically will be a winter time endeavor. Winter 2015 we spent the entire time getting ready for Merle Fest. After the festival, we had to rush as our studio time was fast approaching early summer. So, we had to get the whole album together in five weeks. No pressure there!
Audie McGuiness interjects - We were kind of building the airplane while it was in flight.
Tim Gardner - Artistically, the second album was a departure from how the band created the first release. Months of work at Tim Gardner’s studio went into the making of the first album; conversely, the second album was recorded in a commercial studio.
Audie McGuiness - The demo sessions in the studio are mentally tough as you realize you’ve just spent two hours developing three songs, but that’s what it takes to match the vision with the sound.
GR - I hear there's a story involving Ty Gilpin joining the band?
Audie McGuiness - We needed a mandolin player because we entered a bluegrass competition at SPBGMA in Nashville, TN. After signing up, paying our fee, etc. we realized one of the bylaws required that "if a band had four members or more, one must be a mandolin player." Our reaction was oh God what are we going to do? I knew Darren Adridge's band was going to be at the event as a showcase band, so I called him to ask if he would come play with us. Unfortunately, he couldn't play with his band and us because that was also a 'no, no' under the bylaws. But he did us a big favor by putting us in touch with Ty Gilpin. Ty came down to our house and jammed with us only one time before we all went to Nashville for the competition. Immediately we realize he was integral to what we needed in our sound. Tim and Ty are very music and business minded, primarily making us what we are today.
GR- The IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) Nominations were recently announced, and The Southern Appalachians seem to be well represented?
UT - The Southern Highlands are rich in talent. This area is rich in talent. So many bands that may be well known here are now being heard by a broader audience because Bluegrass is definitely changing. Legends such Del McCoury will 'sit in' with anyone and Bluegrass is catching on like wildfire in the college scene. Balsam Range is traveling all over the world and drawing new fans and large crowds while garnering nominations with IBMA.
GR - What is it about this band that no one knows?
UT - We give Audi a hard time due to an incident at a festival where we were once introduced as Audie McGuiness and Unspoken Tradition.