Thursday, June 16, 2011

Talking with Jeremy Abshire of The Grascals

This six-piece band from Nashville known as The Grascals, since its founding in 2004, has quickly become one of the most revered and successful acts in modern bluegrass music, performing on the Grand Ole Opry and at bluegrass festivals across the country.  They have won several major awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association, including the 2007 award for Entertainer of the Year.

Prior to joining The Grascals, fiddler Jeremy Abshire played as a member of Billie Renee and Cumberland Gap, and as a member of Dale Ann Bradley's backing band.  He is known for his fluid and energetic fiddling style.

Earlier this year, the Grascals released their Cracker Barrel album The Grascals and Friends - Country Classics with a Bluegrass Spin, which featured collaborations with the likes of Dolly Parton, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels, and others.  The band's latest release is the 7-song EP - Dance 'Til Your Stockings Are Hot And Ravelin' - A Tribute to the Music of the Andy Griffith Show.  The EP was released digitally on March 29, and was released in physical CD form earlier this month.  In this interview with The 1-to-10 Country Music Review, fiddler Jeremy Abshire discusses both of these recent projects, along with overseas touring experiences, and the one 'award' that means the most to him.
Ben Foster:  I'd love to hear some about your latest project, the EP Dance 'Til Your Stockings Are Hot And Ravelin' - A Tribute to the Music of The Andy Griffith Show.  How did that project come about?

Jeremy Abshire:  Well, actually it had been talked about for a while.  Mayberry's Finest was actually doing a food product package where this CD was going to be included as a bonus to the packaging that they were offering Cracker Barrel, and we had worked with them before, so they thought it would be a great fit, and so did we.

Ben:  What do you love most about the Andy Griffith Show?  I'm guessing you're probably a fan of it.

Jeremy:  Oh yeah, I'm a huge fan.  I think shows like that have just kind of gone by the wayside.  Even with kids growing up today, a lot of them don't even know about The Andy Griffith Show.  I think it's shows like that that shaped my youth, and people of my age demographic.  I think some shows like these could really help out our youth today - just simple shows with simple messages.  The Andy Griffith Show has always had a great message.  I'm glad to be supporting that.

Ben:  That's true.  You don't see that kind of stuff on TV much anymore.  These days it's mostly just fluff.

Jeremy:  Pretty much.

Ben:  I understand the EP also includes one bonus track - "Boy, Giraffes are Selfish."  What can you tell us about that song?

Jeremy:  Well, that's actually a tune that was done on the show, and that's something that the guys wanted to re-work, and add as a bonus track, so we worked that up in the studio and gave it our own feel.  So that's pretty much how that came about.  We just worked it out, and did it the way we would do it.  That was done by the Dillards originally, and it was on the music soundtrack for The Andy Griffith Show

Ben:  I'd also like to talk about another recent Grascals project - your Cracker Barrel album The Grascals and Friends - Country Classics with a Bluegrass Spin.  Would you like to tell about the creative process the band goes through in covering classic songs, and putting your own personal spin on them?

Jeremy:  I think it's hard any time you sit down to pick out material to try to figure out what might reach an audience, so we just tried to keep it simple.  We just picked out first who we wanted to work with, people who we'd worked with in the past obviously - Dolly, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels.  We'd worked with the Oak Ridge Boys before.  So we had known all those guys, and we were friends with every one.  Basically, once we decided who we wanted on the project, we started looking at what songs would best fit them, best fit us collectively together, how that would sound, and we just came up with what we thought were songs that more people would enjoy, and also songs that we thought would sound great with the artists that we wanted to make a part of it.

Ben:  That must have been such a fun record to make.

Jeremy:  It was great.  Any time we get to work with Dolly or Dierks or Charlie - They're such great people anyway - to have them be a part of a project, and to work with them closely, is tremendous for us.  We always love to work with anybody like that.

Ben:  I understand Dolly also added her special touch to your recent single and video for "I Am Strong."  What can you tell us about that?
Jeremy:  We would have loved to have Dolly there when we originally shot the video.  She wanted to be a part of it, but unfortunately she had other commitments.  What she did, which was so kind of her, was to kind of re-shoot her part, and she did an amazing job.  I think all of us pointedly agree that she really made the song.  When she comes in, it's just such an uplifting feel to the song.  The song is amazing anyway.  It just celebrates all the children at St. Jude.  She cares so much about the kids at St. Jude, and she's such an amazing person that having her be a part of that song just couldn't be a better feeling for us.

Ben:  Would you like to tell about some of your experiences in visiting with the kids at St. Jude?

Jeremy:  It's a bittersweet place.  There's a lot of children there with a lot of horrible cancers, and it's very hard if you've never been there before to just walk in there and take the tour, and take it all in.  But you know the people at St. Jude have made that place a positive place for children in just their daily activities, the way the hospital is set up.  When you walk in there, it's not like you're walking into a hospital or a ward of a hospital.  Every room and every place you go is like a Chuck E. Cheese.  It's such a positive environment for children.  As much stuff as they're battling with the cancers and the chemo, and everything they have to go through on a daily basis, and it being a kid, amazingly they are so positive about it because of the environment that St. Jude has provided them.  They just exude that positive attitude.  It's hard to see children in pain, but it's also uplifting to see a place that takes care of them so well.  The kids are so positive about it that it actually makes you positive.  When we go there, we just like to have fun with the kids and play with them, and it's just a fun day.  But for anyone that just comes off the street and walks in there for the first time, it is a hard thing to take in, because the realization is there that there are kids there with some horrible cancers.  But they're fighting them, and St. Jude has come up with so many revelations in different cancers that no one else has been able to do, and they're just steadily working on trying to find cures for a lot of them.  They're doing wonderful things there, and we're just glad to be a part of their loving team.

Ben:  That's great that they're helping the kids to keep a positive spirit when they're going through something so difficult.

Jeremy:  Yes, they absolutely do.

Ben:  Since you've had the opportunity to take bluegrass music overseas with a couple trips to Europe last year, would you like to tell some about those experiences?

Jeremy:  We had a great trip to France.  Anytime you get to go out of the country and play the music you love for people who love it, it's an awesome experience and opportunity.  I myself had actually never been out of the country.  I really enjoyed the trip to Greece especially.  It's surprising when you go to a completely different place and you play the music that you play, and people really love it.  They love bluegrass in Europe.  They don't get it nearly enough, and there's very few radio stations that play country and bluegrass.  They were so receptive and so warm to us and to all the other bands that played.  But if I had to pick a favorite, I would have to say that Greece was my personal favorite.  It's such a beautiful place.  France was gorgeous too, but we spent less time there, and it was so cold when we went.  Greece was warm and great, and actually Nikos Garavelas, he actually has his own radio show that plays bluegrass in Greece near where we played, and is very successful doing that.  He's very successful with promoting the music in Greece and in Europe in general.  He's written a book on the history of country music, and he's really done a great job of promoting the music over there, and informing the public on the history of country.  He's a great friend of the band as well.

Ben:  That must have been such a fun experience.

Jeremy:  Yeah, it was.  It was amazing.  One day we had some downtime and went to his parents' house, which was right by the ocean.  It was absolutely beautiful, and his mom was cooking all day, and laid out this huge spread of Greek food which was absolutely amazing.  His whole family was there, and everyone was just so receptive.  It was just like a Friday night grilling out with your neighbors.  Everybody came over and they grilled chicken and different meats and had all the sides to go with it.  We spent the day swimming in the ocean and eating good food and enjoying good company, so I think we all had a great time in Greece.

Ben:  In closing, I'd like to ask you, when you look back on the accolades your band has received, what would you say have been your proudest moments as a member of the Grascals.

Jeremy:  I would have to say, for me personally, we've been a part of so many different things.  I personally have been so many places, and met so many people, and been a part of four projects now.  I've enjoyed each of them in different ways, but I would have to say going to St. Jude and really learning about St. Jude and the children there, that's really been a big part of this lately.  Recently we took a trip to St. Jude in January.  It was for the Country Cares seminar, which was basically where a bunch of artists in country get together and talk about how to raise money for the kids, how to better everything.  We met a lot of different children, and talked to a lot of different parents.  We took pictures with some kids, and we had a nice time there.  I've had the opportunity to play for president Bush, so I've got some amazing moments that are framed and hung on my wall.  When we got back from that seminar, there are some kids who actually made a crayon drawing for each of us, and they had those framed and sent to us, thanking us for supporting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  As far as an award or something that hangs on the wall that I remember, there's nothing that I hold dearer to my heart than that because it came from St. Jude.