The Infamous Stringdusters are a new band featuring some of the hottest young musicians in bluegrass. In February, the band released their debut CD Fork in the Road on Sugar Hill Records. Fiddler Jeremy Garrett was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
The band is comprised of six members – Andy Hall on dobro, Jeremy Garrett on fiddle, Chris Eldridge on guitar, Chris Pandolfi on banjo, Travis Book on bass and Jesse Cobb on mandolin. All the band members contribute vocals. Their backgrounds are varied both geographically and musically, but it seems they were destined to come together. “We have all been somewhat connected through each other over a number of years as mutual friends.” Jeremy told us. “Some of us met in college and some played in bands together. When the members finally filtered to what they are now, we knew it was what we wanted and we saw the potential for what it could be. We had to do it!”
In bluegrass terms they are all young and whilst this shows in their music they are clearly also fond of the traditional bluegrass sound. All the members display a healthy respect for old and new not only in their playing but also in their compositions. “We like the fact that all of our backgrounds are in bluegrass and we look at that as being a musical foundation and launching pad for what we do,” says Jeremy. “We will always play some type of bluegrass, because it is certainly one of the best and most challenging types of music there is.”
They are certainly not afraid to spread their wings further and much of the album could be considered “progressive”. Banjo player Chris Pandolfi’s Moon Man would not sound out of place on a BÃ©la Fleck album and other instrumentals like 40 West and No Resolution show a desire to move the music forwards. “We let our arranging and progressing abilities on our instruments delegate where the music takes us, but I would say we probably will become more progressive over time,” Jeremy states. However, they have no intention of abandoning the old style completely – “I should make it clear that we do not plan on leaving bluegrass behind, we just simply want to make music that is beautiful to us and not be confined by boundaries of a genre.”
The choice of songs and tunes display a maturity that belies the group’s youth and the fact that this is their debut recording. Starry Night is a sublime gem with simple yet effective mandolin coupled with gorgeous vocal harmonies. Fork in the Road and No More To Leave You Behind are more upbeat, hard-driving numbers and show that they can do the fast stuff too. Benny Galloway’s Poor Boy’s Delight is a sweet, old-fashioned ballad and the John Mayer song 3×5 is delivered in a contemporary Nickel Creek-esque manner.
The most compelling aspect of the band and album is the strength in depth. There are no weak links amongst the musicians here, with all being at the very top of their game. None of the breaks stand out above others because they are all first-rate. Strong creativity and the courage to take risks are also evident – just listen to Jeremy’s jaw-dropping fiddle break on Moon Man. Guitarist Chris Eldridge’s talents have been spotted by Chris Thile, who hired him to be part of his new band Tensions Mountain Boys. The two groups have seen many schedule clashes over the past few months, with Bryan Sutton having to fill in on some of Thile’s dates. But it seems Eldridge will continue to work with both groups for the forseeable future – “For now that is the plan,” says Jeremy.
The band have spent the best part of two years on the road promoting their material and building up a loyal fanbase. This year’s schedule is filling up nicely with stops at Merlefest, Telluride and Grey Fox festivals already booked. There are no firm plans yet to tour the UK or Europe, but they are keen. “I hope we do,” Jeremy says. “I have never been out of the country except Canada and I am looking forward to it!”
On this first showing, it is fair to say that the Infamous Stringdusters could soon become one of the biggest names on the bluegrass circuit.