A Conversation with David Grisman
Puremusic: First of all, I love Dawgnation.
David Grisman: Oh, great.
PM: You know, the vibe and the scope of it. That's just such a fine group of players. And what a good bunch of tunes on that record.
DG: Thank you.
PM: So it's been seven years since the last Quintet recording. Excuse the obvious question, but why such a long hiatus? What have you been up to instead?
DG: Well, I've been doing a lot of other recording projects. And with my own music, the only ingredient that seems to work with music is time -- enough time to develop, to get through to some new place. I wanted to write a whole new album of tunes.
DG: And my manager, Craig Miller, always told me, "What you need to do is just get a whole entirely new album." And for quite a few years, I had kind of a writer's block. I felt like I was repeating myself. And once you've written your first hundred tunes...
PM: Right. How can you avoid...?
DG: I mean, you know, there's nothing new under the sun. And I feel a lot of composers get into a thing where they're writing the same tune over and over again.
PM: Even if you're playing six styles, after a hundred tunes you can still repeat yourself easily. [laughs]
DG: Well, yeah. There are only so many notes, only so many approaches. And what makes your style is kind of what limits your style.
PM: So it was the old psychological thing where I had to come to grips with the fact that I'm not going to reinvent the wheel, that it's okay to just write a tune. I don't have to be that worried about it.
PM: I think that's kind of a deep statement. It sounds casual, but for songwriters everywhere who are going to read this interview, that's deep.
DG: Also there were some circumstances. I set about to make this recording two years ago, and was in the middle of it, and our bass player, Jim Kerwin, his wife got ill. She had a relapse with cancer, and died.
PM: Oh, my Lord.
DG: Over a six-month period. And then he had to leave the band, and he was gone for 13 months. So my attention had to shift to just keeping the band together and having a new bass player. And I certainly didn't feel like I should crank out a new album with a brand new bass player.
PM: Right, in light of that tragedy.
DG: And nobody knew whether Jim would come back or whatever. But 13 months later, he came back.
PM: Who covered the bass in Jim's absence?
DG: Oh, it was a really talented young guy named Sam Bevins -- well, actually a guy named Derek Jones played for about nine gigs. I think he plays with Nickel Creek now. But a guy named Sam Bevins played in the band for about a year, and kept things going.
So it kind of went on the back burner. And nothing gets older to me than a tape that I made last week. And once it gets to be two years old, then I'm out there playing some of these tunes. That's another thing, I like to play tunes a lot before I record them. Some of my tunes I've been playing for 30 years, and there's nothing like that to get a tune in shape. [laughs] But, of course, then you'd make an album every 30 years. But I wasn't in a rush, put it that way.
DG: And I wanted it to show some growth, and I wanted it to be good. When I write a tune, I know if I go out and play it for a few months, it will fall into place, it will become what it needs to become; whereas if I just write a tune and record it the next day, it's like it is still in the incubator. There's one tune on Dawgnation that I wrote after we'd started making the record. I put it on there, but I'm questioning whether I should have given it more time.
PM: Which was the tune that had the least incubation?
PM: Oh, "Vivacé," yeah. That's a good song, though.
You know, it's unusual to interview somebody who plays so many kinds of music, and has for so much of his life. What are you listening to lately?
DG: Well, that's a good question. I was just listening to Fletcher Henderson and Miles Davis last night. I listen to a lot of jazz. And I listen to a lot of work-related stuff. I'm going to spend the next three days working with Carlo Aonzo, from Italy. He recorded a project last year of the music of Raffaele Calace, who's kind of the Paganini of the mandolin, compositionally, and wrote a lot of difficult and virtuosic solo mandolin music. I did a project with Carlo called Traversata, with him and Beppe Gambetta.
PM: Oh, yeah. I've met Beppe in Italy before. He's a great guy.
DG: Are you familiar with the Traversata project?
PM: I don't know Traversata, but I'm going to look into it.
DG: Oh. Are you familiar with the Songs of Our Fathers one?
DG: Well, this is kind of like "songs of our Godfathers."
DG: Yeah. It's kind of a similar project with Italian music. And it's a beautiful record. It came out last year. And so I'm working with Carlo on editing this music by this guy Raffaele Calace, who was a very famous Renaissance mandolin man. He built mandolins, he wrote mandolin music, and was a player.
DG: And so I'll be doing a lot of listening. We're going to be editing that.
PM: Right. So you've been listening to that work-related stuff.
DG: Right. And I've also been listening to some live Ralph Stanley that somebody donated to me, their archives. There are over 200 reels of tape they had recorded in the 70s of all kinds of bluegrass. I listen to all kinds of music. People send me stuff, you know, ethnic music. I'm mostly listening to older music that I haven't heard before. continueprint PDF listen to clips puremusic home