There aren’t many artists having a busier 2017 than Andy Hall of The Infamous Stringdusters. Hot on the heels of the band’s recent studio project, Laws Of Gravity, the Dusters have just released a career-spanning live album, are preparing a cover song EP and, just for fun, Hall decided to finish his side project studio album with fellow slide player Roosevelt Collier. Oh…and we are just a couple months out from The Festy, The Infamous Stringdusters’ own curated festival that promises another weekend of music and fun for the whole family in picturesque Virginia!
Even with all that on his plate, Hall seemed remarkably relaxed in his recent chat with Live For Live Music as he looked back and forward at what will likely end up being the busiest year of his already remarkable career. Check out the conversation below:
Live For Live Music: You’ve got a live disc out now. In these taper friendly days what was the thought in doing a full-fledged live release?
Andy Hall: That’s a fair question. I thought the same thing myself over the last few years, but over time a few things have become apparent. First of all, it gets curated by the band, specifically. It is a best-of, based on our opinion. Other people may make their own playlists, but this is us, taking stuff from all our album, in the order of their release.
People can really get a good sense of what the material sounds like live. When people listen on things like Spotify it stands out more than things on Nugs.net or Archive. And this is professionally mixed and recorded with that in mind. Not that the other shows don’t sound awesome. This is just a step up in all regards between song selection, recording and performance. It’s an artistic thing, sure, but also for practical reasons.
Check out a fun recap of the band’s whole live release mashed up into a single medley below:
L4LM: The last album, Laws Of Gravity, did really well, and the Stringdusters have shown themselves to be remarkably prolific. Does this live album mean new material is piling up and a new studio album is coming soon as well?
AH: We have something coming pretty soon, actually. We are doing all different kinds of things. We had a new studio record come out, like five, six months ago. Then we released the live record, and we have another of our Under Cover discs. That’s songs that we play live that are also cover songs.
It’s kinda fun the way we do it. We do it all in one day in the studio. We set up a bunch of mics, go in, play songs that we have been playing live and have meaning to us one way or another. You wouldn’t hear all these songs together if you came to one of our shows, but it is fun having them in one place. So that will basically be our “Under Cover II” and we should have that out in a couple months.
Additionally, we are always writing towards another project. But we want to give this batch of material a chance to air out, and honestly, we want to recharge and catch up after making it all. We are still riding high on Laws Of Gravity and Laws Of Gravity (Live), so it has just been a steady stream of content from us lately.
L4LM: You just hit on one of the big challenges facing bands these days. It seems like the trend is to constantly be bringing something out. In this rush to produce, are you tempted to do more short-form things, like singles and EPs, or do you still thing album length projects are the way to go?
AH: We love doing albums, even though physical packages like CDs aren’t really popular anymore. Making an entire album of songs, artistically–for us at least–is still the best for us to progress and get new material out there. That type of long form project, that goal, it’s a good inspiration, a reason to keep going.
And sure, we do stuff like the Under Cover thing. I don’t think we would do an EP of original material though. A single? Sure. But if you are gonna go to the trouble of making an EP you might as well wait until you have enough material and just go for it.
The release of an EP just doesn’t seem to be a big deal. It doesn’t have the same appeal as a full album, for various reasons. We like our songs, and we want them to reach as many people as they can. Releasing a single makes a lot of sense, particularly if it has a message, that spoke to the time.
But we love making albums. It’s the goal. The way we look at them shifts, though. We did one a while back called Ladies And Gentlemen. And we never figured we would play those songs much live. But on Laws Of Gravity, we were definitely looking to have songs for the road. For each project we have different purposes.
L4LM: Plus, as a touring live band it must be nice knowing you gave a whole bunch of material you could pull out if the time was right and you had some guests.
AH: Yeah! There is all this stuff we don’t play live. Part of that is we had female singers on Ladies And Gentlemen and we don’t feel as much ownership on those songs. We kinda gave up the reins and went along for the ride. That material doesn’t necessarily represent what we want to do in concert.
L4LM: Sounds like time to add a new member to the band!
AH: Ha! That’s not really gonna happen, but we did love touring and always love playing with Nikki Bluhm. She kinda became an unofficial member of the Stringdusters then.
Check out Nikki Bluhm’s sit in with the Dusters from their most recent Jam Cruise appearance:
L4LM: So this year is the tenth anniversary of your first album release, right?
AH: The band really began in 2006. We actually had a EP we released on the Sugar Hill label to sort of tide us over until we got our first album done.
L4LM: All this new material is really welcome to your fans, who are among the most rabid in the scene. When did you start to see signs that you were garnering such devotion?
AH: It definitely took a while. Like I said, we started playing in 2006 and it wasn’t until we really started opening for bands like Railroad Earth or Yonder Mountain String Band. Growing up, we were fans of the Grateful Dead, and we certainly knew that there were people who dedicated themselves to a band. Obviously we hoped we could get to that kind of thing, though we certainly don’t expect to see that level of response.
Like jam bands, we vary our set lists and work on making each show it’s own thing. I feel like a story-line emerges, a complexity that people can dive into. They remember circumstances, periods and so on that they can find different things they can appreciate within. Being able to change…WANTING to change is important.
For us, one thing that both helped us and hurt us is that we weren’t fully developed as a band for the first couple years. Honestly, I feel like just in the last year or so we have turned a corner as far as our live shows go. A lot of bands come out fully developed. Look at Led Zeppelin. When they first started, they were like a fully finished band.
It has been a longer process with us, and want to keep developing together. It seems to be working. As we progress, we feel we are growing as a band we are seeing more and more people at our shows. We never had a big break or song. Our process is to keep refining ourselves as a band and hope that resonates with people.
L4LM: So you weren’t content with all this content you’re whipping up with your Duster buddies and have carved off some time to make a slide-centric album with pedal steel maven Roosevelt Collier! What was the thought behind that project?
[Photo via Jason Charm Photography]
AH: It was pure fun! Roosevelt and I became friends through the slide. Slide guitar is a weird instrument and slide players tend to seek each other out. Because we come from two totally different musical worlds, it was really interesting to share our perspectives. Rosie comes from sacred steel and I come from bluegrass and I just ate it up. It has been wonderful getting to know and learn from Rosie.
He came out to Denver for a show and I booked a studio for a day and I said let’s go in and see what happens. We just went in, showed each other a couple tunes from our respective backgrounds, and wrote a couple little things together. Then, next time he came out, I got us a couple more studio days and it our little cultural exchange just kind blossomed into this.
L4LM: Is this part of a concerted plan to take over the slide scene? Should Anders Beck and Robert Randolph be worried?
AH: Yeah, totally. We don’t want anyone else playing these things but us. [laughs] No, really I just wanted learn this whole new approach to playing my instrument, and it was the same for Rosie. Neither of us what that familiar with what the other was doing and it was very interesting to add this knowledge and sound into what I already knew. In the end, I just wanted a chance to sit with Roosevelt for a few days and steal all his licks. [laughs] This turned into a good excuse to do that.
Besides, Anders is on the album. He lives near the studio and came in for one of the songs. It was a blues riff that we ended up playing together as a three part harmony. I think Greensky Bluegrass had just finished three nights at The Ogden, so he was a little exhausted, but he came in and did a stellar job.
L4LM: So I guess Robert Randolph should just hope next time you book a studio near his house.
AH: Yeah, that would work. As long as there is a story there. It’s weird. This album didn’t start with any real effort or intention. It just kinda unfolded as we went along. I’ll do anything that comes out that easily.
Catch a sample of Andy & Rosie’s collaboration below:
L4LM: We’re getting close to The Infamous Stringduster’s curated event, The Festy. I’m coming for the first time this year…what should I expect?
AH: Earlier, when we were talking about how much our fans…and we in the band are invested in what we do…all that love is reflected in every part of The Festy. There is a real family vibe to the gathering and it is all in the context of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. There is a strong bluegrass following in that area besides our own fans.
The Festy is held at the Blue Ridge Bowl now, the same place as LOCKN’. It’s probably some of the best camping you can experience, in this lush, rolling hills and greenery setting. This year in particular, there is a strong bluegrass feel to the lineup, though we have some cool left field and throwback acts. We have Ani Defranco and I am very excited to see her.
Of course you have us, and The Travelling McCourys, Jerry Douglas and more. It’s a great mix of acts and a great community built around it. I am pretty sure after a few hours you will feel right at home.
Watch husband and wife duo Bela Fleck and Abi Washburn join the Dusters onstage at last years Festy below:
L4LM: There is a strong female representation on The Festy’s lineup this year. Was that a conscious decision?
AH: Oh yes. I think The Festy has been that way from the start. Sometimes you can look at an entire line up for a festival and not see a single lady on it. It’s always been a focus, honestly. We want to bolster that as much as we can. There are so many great artists and we think everyone and every style should be represented.
L4LM: Well, everything works better when we all work together. Speaking of work, I want to thank you for taking a break from all of your to chat with us! Looking forward to all this exciting stuff on the way!
AH: It was my pleasure. Hope to see you all out there soon.
Don’t miss The Festy Experience, The Infamous Stringdusters’ curated festival at Blue Ridge Bowl in Arrington, VA from October 5th – 8th, 2017. For more information on the event, or to purchase tickets, head to The Festy Experience’s website.
[Cover photo by Dave Vann]