By Jordan Reisman
Image courtesy of Gold Town.
In a perfect world, one would be able to envision music as one big party where people meet each other, take what they’ve learned from their own respective styles, and fuse it with what their fellow partiers are playing. In a lot of ways this is already happening with styles such as afro-soul and psychobilly, but the indigenously American musical style of bluegrass seems insular at times.
Gold Town from Pawlet, VT, however, is trying their damndest to fuse the roots music of the American South with the punk/hardcore upbringing of frontman Andrew Stearns. Now, even this has been done before but Gold Town would much rather be part of the conversation of “thrashgrass” than outside of it. BTR was able to speak with Stearns as he was sitting on his porch, living the only way a bluegrass musician can.
“The porch” brings up a certain imagery of bluegrass that Stearns and the rest of the band, frankly, has no problem with. They pride themselves on being able to play anywhere because to them, music is music is music, regardless of whether or not amps or cables are plugged in.
“The best part about being in a bluegrass band is that you can really do it anywhere, there’s no cables or amps or drums to really tie you down to a space,” says Stearns on their willingness to play in a Neanderthalic fashion.
Gold Town’s music lends itself well to outdoor settings, specifically farmer’s markets which the boys have been known to rock from time to time. Stearns says about this type of gig that “it’s a really great way to connect to the community, I think people really enjoy that kind of upbeat music at those kinds of functions.”
They can’t be pegged as just an Mr. Autumn Man favorite at harvest festivals though because Gold Town prides themselves on upholding a dichotomy of rustic backwoods performances as well as what Stearns calls a “late-night hellraising kind of thing,” giving them free range to rock Southern Vermont as they see fit.
Speaking to this type of reckless abandon that the band has not wavered from is what they’re coming from. Like a lot of bored/frustrated high schoolers, Stearns and his current banjo playing bandmate, Will Mosheim, grew up playing in punk and hardcore bands, most notably Die Like a Champion. They repped the VTHC until the turning point of when their interest shifted to bluegrass when Mosheim “all of a sudden got a banjo.” They started to frequent open mics in Southern VT, and stumbled into a venue called The Barn in Pawlet where they met their former upright bass player Josh. The guys couldn’t quite pull the studs out of their leather jackets so easily though, as something about the music stuck with them.
“I think that our band thrives on, especially in the bar setting where we’re playing more of our original stuff, kicking it into high gear. Generally, we’re all music lovers. We all listen to jazz, classical, funk, R&B, old soul music…I love all that kind of stuff. I think a lot of the music that I really enjoy listening to in a live setting is the really energetic stuff, something that really gets you going. Obviously punk and hardcore has a lot of that. I think that definitely translates into our music all the time. Especially when the crowd is giving you a little bit extra, you just kind of lay into it a little more. Sometimes I feel like that’s when we connect the most when we’re rockin’ out the hardest,” says Stearns.
The stylistic decision to play bluegrass faster is nothing new really, because Stearns explains that “a lot of the old schoolers from the ‘40s and ‘50s, they were playing really fast” so in a way their punkified bluegrass is a nod to the creators of the music.
“Sometimes these mandolin players, they probably shred waaay faster than speed metal guitarists,” Stearns asserts.
With shredding mandolin players, one might write Gold Town off as just another bunch of yokels riding out the indie-folk wave paved by Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. But while Stearns respects what he calls the “pop element” in their music, he feels that his group is doing something a little bit different. Gold Town relies heavily on the “traditional” (old time fiddling and string bands) aspect of the music which he feels can be lost in modern folk or bluegrass. Much like the dual nature of their performances, he thinks there’s two sides to the perception.
He says, “There’s a good underground for this kind of music.”
At the same time as owning the traditional element of their songs, Stearns doesn’t like to “put the schtick on too much about copying old stuff.” However adding to this dichotomy (a trichotomy?), Gold Town uses some of those very old-timey elements of their own volition, those “common themes” like nature. As Vermonters, that element is hard to ignore when there’s no billboards to block your view.
Gold Town’s last proper release was their self-titled full length, whose album cover is a bear playing the banjo, in 2011. As for a new LP, which Stearns says will hopefully be out by spring 2014, he offers these words as a sneak peek:
“I think it’s kind of a continuation from the last album, it’s a lot of similar themes. We might have progressed a little bit as an ensemble, for sure, as far as our technical abilities so I’m excited to push the boundaries of what we can do. We have a female fiddler too so that obviously adds a little bit of a different vibe for everything. Her vocals are great and having a fiddle in the band is definitely awesome. We’re also going to dip in to the more traditional old-time stuff too. I like the fact that our first full-length was pretty diverse with some clawhammer tunes. This next one will be just as diverse and hopefully, a natural progression of what we’re already doing.”
We only have his words to go on but those are enough for a band so genuine. Who knows though? With their ability to transcend genres, this next one might leave us scratching our heads, yet feeling strangely fine.
To delve into Gold Town’s own underground, click here.
Check out Gold Town’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.