Keep off the grass: OSFT goes 'experimental' on new CD
For fans of local bluegrass innovators Old School Freight Train, don't expect to hear much traditional bluegrass at Saturday's album release party. In fact, don't expect to hear bluegrass at all.
"The only thing I know for sure is that we are definitely not bluegrass anymore," says guitarist Jesse Harper. "It's more roots rock now. We still have violin, mandolin on the record, so maybe it's roots music, maybe Americana, but not bluegrass."
Created in 2000 with guitarist Jesse Harper's introduction to bassist Darrell Muller's bluegrass music in a North Carolina coffee shop, the band spent nearly the entirety of its existence as a successful jazz-infused bluegrass band, even garnering praise from mandolin master David Grisman.
Nearly a decade later, its ties to the bluegrass genre have slowly faded, and on Six Years, OSFT moves to the beat of a very different drummer– literally. Shuffling members, the band added drummer Nick Falk, while losing banjo player Ben Krakauer.
"Adding drums," says Harper, "took us out of that bluegrass thing."
Finding inspiration such artists as Britain's Radiohead, Philadelphia indie darling Dr. Dog, and Norwegian electronica artist Hanne Hukkelberg, OSFT embraced a new trajectory. Despite the band's previous new-grass success, OSFT began to concentrate on a new way of creating music, focusing on songwriting rather than instrumentation.
"In the past, the writing process happened as individuals and the arranging happened as a band," Harper explains. "Now, we write everything as a band."
Teaming up with local producer Chris Keup (who has worked with the likes of Jason Mraz and Parachute), OSFT tried all sorts of brainstorming methods for the new songs, including turning on random television channels for lyrical inspiration, and pulling chords out of a hat.
"The song 'Six Years' was generated from that kind of activity," Harper says. "The songs are going to make it in the band setting because we work on them together from the beginning."
The experimental songwriting doesn't just apply to the band's own work; the band, which has been praised for its covers of John Mayer, Coldplay, and Wilco, released a cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" to radio stations across the nation.
"It's fun to take a song and try to take everything away from it but the essence of the song," Harper says. "We re-harmonized it, giving it a dark quality."
For a band that's seen so much change, will they be recognizable on their new record? Never fear, Harper says. The band highlights their roots with a two-show release party at Gravity Lounge.
"One show is going to be more acoustic, an unplugged show with some bluegrass friends and the second will be a standing-rock show," Harper says. "We want to serve both sets of fans, so we'll play two different shows–- one of our old material, one of our newer stuff."
Old School Freight Train performs at Gravity Lounge on Saturday, March 21. Shows start at 7 pm and 10 pm, and tickets are $12.