More than just a member of one of the finest bluegrass bands on the modern scene, Andy Hall of The Infamous Stringdusters is one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. With his mix of talent and “aw shucks” good nature, the dobro wiz has netted side project work with the likes of The Bluegrass Generals and The Andys (alongside fellow Duster Andy Falco, Andy Frasco, and Leftover Salmon’s Andy Thorn and Vince Herman), earned opportunities to play with music legends ranging from Dolly Parton to The String Cheese Incident, and walked red carpets at major events like the Grammy Awards.
This Sunday, February 5th, Andy Hall and the rest of The Infamous Stringdusters will be in Los Angeles for the 2023 Grammy Awards ceremony, where they are up for their third nomination in the Best Bluegrass Album category for 2022’s Toward The Fray. Ahead of Grammys, Rex Thomson, a.k.a. Rex-A-Vision, caught up with Andy to discuss his plans for the big night, the Stringdusters’ upcoming shows with fellow nominee Molly Tuttle, and his role as an ambassador for bluegrass in the mainstream music world.
Read a transcript of the conversation below, edited for length and clarity.
Live For Live Music: First of all… Congratulations! This is, what? Your twelfth time getting nominated for a Grammy?
Andy Hall: [Laughs] I wish it was twelve, but this is our fourth nomination, for Best Bluegrass Album (Toward The Fray) and it’s an incredible honor just to go there and help represent bluegrass, in a way. It’s a rare opportunity for bluegrass music to rub shoulders with some of the more mainstream styles of music, so it’s pretty cool in that regard.
Live For Live Music: Speaking of rubbing shoulders and interacting with more mainstream forms of music, if you end up winning, watch out for Will Smith or Kanye West eyeing the stage…
Andy Hall: I will definitely keep my eyes pinned to scan the crowd looking for anyone rushing the stage if I end up there.
Live For Live Music: Seriously, though, this is your fourth time nominated, quite an achievement. Are you putting in a bit of effort to look sharp on the red carpet since you’re helping represent your scene? Have you got a suit ready so you can look all snazzy?
Andy Hall: Yeah, absolutely! You want to look good, you want to have a presence. Even if you’ve done it before… it is one of the bigger things you get to do as a musician in its reach and meaning. So, yeah… I do wanna look good and I do have an outfit picked out… I’m even having a custom bolo tie made. Honestly, if you don’t win the Grammy, the band red carpet photo is kinda the consolation prize.
Live For Live Music: In that case, it’s a good thing your material determines the winner and not your outfit. You’ve got some sharp dressers in the category, not to mention the apex of bluegrass fashion himself, Del McCoury. Nobody out-dresses Del.
Andy Hall: Well, we’ll never outclass or out dress Del… that’s just not possible. But yeah, that’s another cool thing, just being nominated alongside someone of his stature. Molly Tuttle, she killing it, too. But you now who I’m so excited for is Yonder Mountain String Band, for their first time. I’m so happy for them. They’ve earned it and it will be wonderful to see them there.
Live For Live Music: We spoke with Yonder’s Ben Kaufmann about the upcoming Grammys right before he and Yonder headlined Denver Comes Alive last month. He was equally excited event and was equally excited but he mentioned leaning on you guys (The Stringdusters) for a little advice—and possibly some folks to sit with during the ceremony.
Andy Hall: I sure hope so, I wanna hang with those dudes. They’re our friends, and one of the cool things about the Grammys is getting to party with your friends. It’ll be fun to see them take it all in. It’ll be cool to see someone besides ourselves, who’ve worked so hard for a long time have their first experience there. I’m really excited for them.
Live For Live Music: Switching gears, let’s talk about energy. The Dusters are a very energy-driven band with a lot of stage movement, a lot of powerful and yet mournful tunes. Do you subscribe to the idea that a band’s energy is more important than its lyrical basis?
Andy Hall: Yeah, to an extent. It’s the underlying energy of the music that gets to people. It’s what I notice and feel the most. Obviously the lyrics are important, but I think the energy is what reaches people the most. It reaches your subconscious and make you wanna move. Or not. The sound itself, especially for me, it what reaches people the most. … As a kid, just the sound and the feeling of the music is what resonated with you. I think there’s something very fundamental about that. I think as you grow up it continues like that in a lot of ways. As you get older, you’re aware more of the lyrics, maybe, but I don’t think those feelings go away. That’s always there.
Live For Live Music: I agree. Do you see any sort of difference in the energy you bring to the Dusters versus your side projects?
Andy Hall: Absolutely. The one thing I’ve learned being in a band that’s a democracy is that you can’t force anyone to do something they really don’t want to do. You have to coax people. You have to open the door. Not to get too philosophical, but that’s true in life. If you just start beating someone over their head with your opinion, you just make people shut down. They put up a wall to protect who they are and dig in. No matter how right you think you are about something, the band—or the world—should be doing, [if] you come in with that energy, people just immediately recoil. You have to develop your skill to frame things in a way that opens people up to your ideas. It’s like a delicate negotiating skill.
I think we (The Stringdusters) have gotten better at that. When it’s your baby, and you’re sure you’re right about things, you can get fired up and emotional, and I’ve learned that never seems to help my position [laughs], so I try and remain calm. The other important part is, I try to trust what the other people think. If you… have a certain level of trust and appreciation for the other band members opinions and creative ideas, even if you don’t get your way you can trust that someone else who is pretty creative and smart is having their way. You can trust that something that is really good is going to come out of it. Band dynamics 101.
It’s hard to do because we’re all at least a little bit stubborn, we all have some leadership issues. It’s a tough thing… to feel like you know you’re right, but to still back off. We’ve learned to manage those things pretty well. We’ve been a band long enough now where it’s like, “That’s it! You’re a lifer [laughs]. We’ve gotten so much of your life that you don’t know how to do anything else!”
Live For Live Music: Lastly I wanted to note that seeing you at Hulaween last year was a nice surprise. I understand you were there kinda on stand by, “in case of emergency, break glass” mode. Could you explain that?
Andy Hall: Yeah, that was a treat. I got to sit in with The String Cheese Incident at Hulaween and what a killer band. I just love their band. They’re so good at what they do and they do a lot of different things. They’re one of my favorite jam bands, if that’s the right term to use. Billy Nershi was having a little trouble with his voice, so they brought me in as almost like an understudy? In case he couldn’t sing, I had about ten Nershi songs ready to go. I did end up getting to sit in and sing a couple of those but his voice was on the mend. But yeah, got to jam with them, got to sing with them, got to be a part of the whole “Shebang,” like you said. I was all dressed up, had this great costume and makeup… My god what a sight! To see [Hulaween] from the stage is pretty amazing!
[Photo: Josh Skolnik – Andy Hall at Suwannee Hulaween 2022]
Live For Live Music: You’re headed back to Suwannee to headline the Suwannee Spring Reunion in just a few short weeks with a special guest, right?
Andy Hall: Yeah, we can’t wait! That is just a really beautiful, special place. Love it every time we go. And, if I’m not mistaken, like you said, this year we’re with Molly Tuttle. That’s gonna be really cool. Last year we did a couple of shows with her and yeah, she puts on a great show, she’s a killer person, and it’ll be fun to bring something new to the Spirit of the Suwannee.
Live For Live Music: Thanks for all your time, the great music you make, and for just generally being such a great person for the scene.
Andy Hall: Thanks, man! See ya soon!
Catch Andy Hall with The Infamous Stringdusters featuring Molly Tuttle at the fifth annual Suwannee Spring Reunion at Live Oak, FL’s Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park on March 23rd–26th alongside Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon, Steep Canyon Rangers, Peter Rowan, and more. Tickets are available here. For a full list of upcoming The Infamous Stringdusters tour dates, head here.