Thursday, December 10, 2015

Acoustic Syndicate: Redefining Appalachian Music

Founded in 1992, Acoustic Syndicate identifies as a rock/folk/bluegrass band based out of Western North Carolina, more commonly referred to as Appalachia. Every past and present band member holds a place in the Appalachian community, having grown up in The High Country. While some bands might falsely categorize themselves as “Appalachian”, Acoustic Syndicate is the real, authentic deal.

Over the years, seven full-length albums have been released under the name Acoustic Syndicate. Their first album released in 1996, coincidentally the year I was born, was self-titled Acoustic Syndicate. Their debut album was followed by: Tributaries (1999), Crazy Little Life (2000), Live From The Neighborhood (2003), Terra Firma (2003) and Long Way Round (2004).

After an 8-year hiatus leaving fans wondering if they had put their instruments up for good, Acoustic Syndicate’s most recent album, Rooftop Garden, was released in September of 2013.

Thanks my friend Billy Herring, "manager/tour manager/wrangler", I got the opportunity to have some questions answered by Steve McMurry, vocalist and guitarist in Acoustic Syndicate:

How do you think your own music, and Appalachian music as a whole has evolved since the Acoustic Syndicate's beginning in 1992?
I think our own music has evolved over the years with changes in our families lives and also with our own expectations of ourselves to dig deeper into our songwriting capabilities. Obviously, being farmers we also are deeply rooted in our environmental situation on the planet and that plays alot into our music. As for the continuing boom of acoustic/folk/americana music over the last 2 decades we started out as a bluegrass band with drums which had never really been done before. Within several years of our start we noticed younger bands following our lead with exploration of other sounds and instruments in acoustic music. Obviously today there are numerous bands on the cutting edge of acoustic music and we are proud to have been at the forefront of that movement. But we always know we can get deep back into the hollars of the Appalachians and find the real deal old time music that has been played for generations long before us.

Who/what/where do you think your passion for music grew from?
Personally, me and my cousins grew up playing music in the church and at various events around Cleveland County, NC where we grew up. Between the 5 band members we all grew up with different tastes in music which has lended itself to all of the different sounds you hear on our records and our live performances. We mix our own original stuff with covers from The Who, Dire Straits, Van Morrison, The Police and lots more. We never wanted to pigeon hole ourselves as a bluegrass band just because we were playing standard bluegrass instruments.

What is your favorite instrument to play? What is your favorite instrument to hear?
I play guitar and mandolin but I love all instruments. I really like heavy exploratory jazz as well. Its not really so much the individual instruments as the whole of the individual parts coming together to make a unique sound....whether its coming from our band or any numerous bands that we draw influences from.

How was your experience recording Rooftop Garden? Are there any moments in particular that are especially memorable?
Well, the Rooftop Garden record sort of came out of the blue. We were gigging in the Northwest several years ago and on a day off we were having beers and discussing new songs that we had in our pockets, so to speak. Without going into great detail, we discussed the potential for a new record and within a year we were in Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville laying down tracks for the record. The songs on the record came from our experiences within our lives at the were growing, parents were aging, our planet was and is coming under attack form those who don't care for it as much as we do and we felt like we were at the stage to just make the record and lay out our thoughts on the state of where we are as human beings. We had a phenomenal producer, Stewart Lehman, from NYC and we just had a ball with him in the studio. Studio work is tedious but we were really happy with the end result. We've probably got enough material for a few more records....we shall see I guess.

Y'all have a few shows coming up before Christmas, will there be more shows and touring when the New Year rolls around? 
Well, that depends on how much the wives want us around the house. Several of us have children and also have "day jobs" so all of those things come into play. We are at a point where we can sort of pick and choose our gigs and that allows us to be around for the things that really matter to us and that is family. We've toured the country more times than I can count over the last 23 years and we continue to hit our hot spots several times a year. We just want to be playing good music for good people without getting banged and bruised by the brutal life of touring. We will see where it goes. We just feel blessed to have our health and our continued unbelievable fan support after all of these years. Most bands dont last a year or two before imploding but we have a beautiful family vibe that keeps us grounded and gives us amazing support while we are on the road. Plus, they always save chores for us around the house to keep it all real. Also, our manager and front of house engineer play a major part in making us sound good and keeping us where we need to be. Actually, we have a gig up at Beech Mountain in early January...that will be our first gig of 2016. Come see us! We've played all of the major festivals over the years....Bonnnaroo, Merlefest, Telluride Bluegrass, FloydFest, Jazzfest in New Orleans....we will playing some of those festivals this year as well.

Acoustic Syndicate is very vocal about environmental rights and acting as a community. What do you want your listeners to gain about these topics from your music? 
With the current state of affairs regarding fracking, clean air issues, GMOs and clean water we have very determined views on these things. Once our natural resources are gone....they are gone. We are raising our children to respect the environment and also to be stewards for the environment. Its interesting because most of our fans are very much proponents of leaving our Earth better than the way we found it. We are all in this world together and we need to treat it fairly and lovingly. We have several songs on Rooftop that speak to leaving a better world for our kids and also realizing that we do have the resources as a world community to provide water and food to our brothers and sisters world wide. We know this is possible...unfortunately politics get in the way of humanity lots of times. As the song goes, "We're all part of the same big family...." (Another Rooftop song)

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