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    The Infamous Stringdusters have been pushing the bluegrass envelope for over a decade now, and their latest album, Laws of Gravity, just won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. But how much do these pickers know about Louisville and bluegrass state? Managing editor Mary Chellis Austin caught up with dobro player Andy Hall to find out. Read their lightly-edited conversation about bourbon, fried chicken and My Morning Jacket covers below.

     

    Mary Chellis Austin: So you just won a Grammy. That’s awesome.

    Andy Hall: Pretty cool!

     

    What did that feel like?

    It’s great, it’s awesome. For a band that plays kind of jam-grass type music it’s incredible. I think if you’re a pop artist it’s just a little something cool. For a band like us, I think it’s really big. Yeah, just very grateful and surprised. It’s fun and interesting to see how it all goes down at the Grammys and what happens after you win. We’re very excited about it and it’s an honor. You know, it’s cool to see bluegrass-type music get recognized in that way.

     

    You had been nominated back in 2011 for Best Country Instrumental, but then you got Best Bluegrass Album. Explain to me the differences in style and how your band has changed.

    I don’t even think Country Instrumental is a category anymore. You know, it’s amazing. If you win a Grammy, you win a Grammy for whatever. The Bluegrass Album category is a little bit more comprehensive as opposed to Country Instrumental, which is pretty specific. Like I said, I don’t even think they have that award anymore. To win it for your album, which is the main sort of artist piece that you put together as a band, is pretty special. To have the whole album be recognized. You’re nominated with different types of people. Bluegrass Album, it’s all bluegrass fans. But Country Instrumental? It’s us against Brad Paisley and these big country stars. It makes a little more sense to be more in with your peers, you know?

     

    Within bluegrass, your band is constantly pushing that genre too, right? Tell me about how you guys do that. What kinds of influences do you all include?

    Yeah, I always wonder even how much I should use the term “bluegrass.” Although we have banjos and fiddles and dobroes, so it makes sense in that way. We all come from a lot of different backgrounds. Most of us didn’t grow up playing bluegrass. I grew up playing rock and roll. So did Andy Falco, our guitar player. Jeremy, our fiddler player, is really the only guy who grew up playing bluegrass. We spent the time as young musicians to really learn the style that intrigued us. Learning how to play bluegrass was kind of a jumping off point. Our songwriting is certainly not very bluegrass-y. We like to write songs about things that are relevant to our life today as opposed to hopping a freight train or living in a cabin on a hill or things like that. Some of the sound may sound like bluegrass but the lyrical content is different. And we like to improvise too. A lot of us grew up listening to the Grateful Dead and Fish and bands like that, and so we’ve taken on a lot of that style of playing where you have long improvised sections within songs or that connect songs. You know we’re just charting our own path with this. Every band is unique and we really strive to be as unique as we possibly can. That’s a point of pride for us.

     

    You guys are coming to Headliners soon with Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, a band that you just signed on Tape Time Records, the record label you just started, correct?

    Correct, yeah.

     

    So basically you started a record label on Friday and won a Grammy on Sunday. That’s a big week, right?

    It is a big week. The record label thing came about because there’s a lot of bands in the progressive, modern string band world, but it’s all very disparate. There’s no real home base for creativity. Everyone’s doing their own thing. For us, we thought, "Not only do we want to put our records out ourselves—we want to have a place for other string bands to come together with us and release music." The idea is that maybe it will be a place where string bands can collaborate, maybe it can be an outlet for us to write songs together, or whatever it might be. Release a compilation record. If there’s somewhere where we can help each other out, as opposed to everyone out there doing their own thing, we can create a central location where modern string band music can come together. We are releasing the Horseshoes and Hand Grenades' record, and that’ll be our first release. Yeah, they’re on tour with us for this next run and they’ll be with us at Headliners. So it’s all kind of somehow coming together.

     

    We do something called the Kentucky Questionnaire. I’m not sure how much you were primed for this, but we ask a bunch of locally flavored questions…if you’re game?

    I hope I do good.

     

    How do you pronounce the name of the city?

    Loo-uh-vul.

     

    What comes to mind when you think of Kentucky?

    Bluegrass and horses and bourbon and coal mining and weed and great people

     

    Why weed?

    I’ve heard there’s a lot of people growing weed in the hills around there. Could be a rumor.

     

    Cool. I don’t know those people, but I could know them.

    You maybe should.

     

    You said bluegrass first. Do you have a favorite Kentucky bluegrass musician or band?

    Yeah, Ricky Skaggs is one. Phil Monroe. The bluegrass boys. JD Crow, I guess he’s more North Carolina. Sam Bush from Bowling Green. When we first started as a band, you’ll be happy to know our band came together and basically formed in Louisville, because that’s where the International Bluegrass (Music) Association (IBMA) conference was being held. That’s really where our band got its start. You could say our band almost met in Louisville. In fact, I know for sure we met our bass player, Travis, in Kentucky.

     

    You’ve won several IBMA awards, haven’t you?

    Yeah, it’s been some time, but we may have broadened out of the IBMA’s interest in us. But we did when we first started. We won some of the bluegrass awards from the IBMA.

     

    So when you’ve been to Louisville before. Where have you stayed and hung out?

    Where we used to hang out was at the Galt House, which is the hotel downtown that people probably recognize by the two towers. Unfortunately, we (didn't) get to see a lot of Louisville, because we would all be holed up in this hotel jamming all weekend. Louisville is an amazing town, and I want to get to see more of it than just the inside of a conference center, but I have to make sure and make time for that.

     

    Have you been to any restaurants in town?

    Nothing that I can recall that would stand out. Do you have any recommendations?

     

    Oh, I can give you a bunch of recommendations. What are your plans for when you come into town for this next show?

    It’s our first show of the run. We’ll probably be coming in in the morning and have the day. We’ll be hanging around near Headliners, so anything in that vicinity we would love to try.

     

    There’s a bunch in that area I can tell you about. Do you know of any celebrities that are from Louisville?

    Celebrities from Louisville? No. I know Justin Timberlake is from Memphis. I think you got me stumped on that one.

     

    There’s not many. Jennifer Lawrence is from here though. That’s kind of exciting.

    No kidding! That’s a nice little tid-bit. I like that.

     

    Do you ever listen to My Morning Jacket?

    Yes.

     

    They’re from here.

    And that I knew. I didn’t know if they qualified as celebrities, but I guess they would. We just covered a My Morning Jacket song on our recent Undercover EP release where we do five or six cover songs that we’re playing or enjoying. And we did My Morning Jacket’s “Golden,” and so it would probably be appropriate to play that when we come to Headliners.

     

    Definitely. I’m sure that would be well-received. Have you ever had a hot brown?

    AH: I don’t think so. Not knowingly.

     

    Do you know what it is?

    I don’t. I have to admit I don’t know what a hot brown is.

     

    If I’m gonna give you some suggestions to come and eat in town, it’s not gonna be that. So we can move on.

    My guess is that it’s not a health food. That’s just a guess.

     

    It depends your definition of health food, but I think the general definition is not that it’s a health food. It’s a bacon, Mornay sauce, turkey, open-faced sandwich-type thing.

    I have had a cheesy western, but that’s a Virginia thing.

     

    So have you ever had a mint julep?

    AH: Yeah! I definitely have had a mint julep. Learning how to play bluegrass, I’ve played at my share of Kentucky Derby parties. I know the Mint Julep is popular at those. They’re tasty little drinks.

     

    Where have you gone to a Derby party?

    AH: In Nashville. I lived in Nashville for quite a while. I played a few Kentucky Derby parties in Nashville. Never one in Kentucky. Never been to the race.

     

    Do you have a favorite Derby winner?

    Well, growing up, my stepmom was really into horses, so I would always hear about Secretariat as a kid. She would say that Secretariat was the greatest racehorse ever. I don’t know that I have a favorite, but that was the one I always heard about growing up. I think [Secretariat] was a triple crown winner maybe? Was one of the last ones up until very recently as far as I know.

     

    Who? Secretariat?

    Yeah.

     

    So, we had another Triple Crown winner a couple years ago.

    I knew that. I think until that Secretariat was the last triple crown winner.

     

    American Pharoah was the winner a few years ago.

    Oh, gotcha.

     

    If you were to name a Derby horse, what would you name it?

    [Laughs]. Maybe something like Son of Grass, how about that?

     

    Why?

    Because it’s the bluegrass state, and the horse would in theory maybe come from Kentucky, and that's where the horse would get its fame—in Kentucky. It would be the son of the bluegrass state. It would be the Son of Grass.

     

    Or, as you said earlier, since there’s so much weed in the state, he could be the son of that kind of grass.

    Definitely! Oh, absolutely! That might be our band though. We might take that name.

     

    Do you know what a foal is?

    A foal is a baby horse right?

     

    Yep. Do you know what a gelding is?

    AH: A gelding…is that a young horse that is being primed to race?

     

    Not exactly. A gelding is a male horse that’s been castrated.

    Okay, I thought that might have something to do with it but I didn’t want to sound weird.

     

    So have you ever eaten at KFC?

    Yes, I have to say.

     

    You sad about it.

    Well, you know, they’re on the more profit side of things. But yes, I’ve definitely eaten at KFC in my day.

     

    When was the last time you ate there?

    I’d have to say probably 10 years ago.

     

    So it’s not a place you gravitate toward?

    No, but I do like fried chicken. I would go more for of an organic type of fried chicken.

     

    If you’re looking for an organic fried chicken I’d check out Harvest or 610 Magnolia. They might not always have it on the menu, but I’d check those places out.

    Oh, okay!

     

    Do you drink bourbon?

    Yes.

     

    What’s your favorite bourbon?

    I think Woodford Reserve. I drink Bulleit. Another one that I tried that I liked quite a bit was Basil Hayden. I think those are all Kentucky Bourbons.

     

    Yeah, they are. Yup. How do you like to drink your bourbon?

    I usually drink it neat.

     

    Yeah, that’s how I drink it. Best way to drink it. I appreciate you playing along with me and answering these silly questions.

    I was a little nervous. I don’t normally get nervous in interviews. My Kentucky knowledge, I feel like I didn’t do too bad. Probably better than some of the other bands.

     

    Oh, definitely better! I’m impressed.

    I spend a lot of time in Tennessee.

     

    Right, yeah. Maybe I should start making some harder questions.

    No, I wouldn’t.

     

    Cool. It’s been great talking with you. Excited to see what you guys bring when you come to town. And I’m excited to hear your version of the My Morning Jacket song.

    Yeah, we’ll have to get that out. We’ve only played it a couple times, so we’ll see if we can get that together for next Wednesday. We’re definitely looking forward to coming to Loo-uh-vul.

     

    Cover photo: The Infamous Stringdusters // Facebook

     

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