Pixie and the Partygrass Boys return to Steamboat
Mandolin player Ben Weiss talks composing, outdoor recreation, life in Utah, tutus and chickens
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Pixie and the Partygrass Boys are an energetic, musically technical bluegrass-partygrass-jazz-funk group, spreading witty lyrics and good times everywhere they go.
The band includes Katia “Pixie” Racine on ukulele, Amanda B. Grapes on fiddle, Zach Downes on upright bass, Ben Weiss on mandolin and Andrew Nelson on guitar. Every member of the band sings and composes songs, as well.
Pixie and the Partygrass Boys dance into the spotlight at Old Town Pub at 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2. Explore Steamboat chatted with founding member and mandolin player Ben Weiss to learn more about the band.
Explore Steamboat: How did Pixie and the Partygrass Boys get together?
Ben Weiss: Everyone in the band was a professional musician already. Me and the other boys all went to college for music and were working, playing gigs and teaching lessons. We’re all Salt Lake City-grown guys, and we’ve known each other since junior high, high school.
Then Katia (a.k.a. “Pixie” Racine), who studied musical theater in Boston, moved out here for skiing. She was more of a solo singer-songwriter at the time; I took the opportunity to work on my songwriting chops, and we’d pass songs back and forth. One day, I was having a moving-out party at my house, with a jam session in the basement. Katia met Zach (Downes) and Andrew (Nelson) that night, and we vibed so well that when the show was over, we looked at each other and said, “So we’re starting a band, right?” We were able to start playing gigs right away, just hit the ground running. Then Amanda (Grapes) moved here from Kentucky a few years ago and fit in seamlessly, with no rehearsal, she just played flawlessly. We’ve been a band for four and a half years now.
ES: Everyone in the band composes. How do you balance covering all that new material?
BW: When we first started out, everyone would bring their songs, and everyone would arrange them, but nowadays, we’ll write songs for the band. It’s become a lot more easy and streamlined as the days have gone on.
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ES: What are each band member’s distinguishing characteristics as a composer?
BW: Katia writes hippie power ballads and what I call “aggressive earth witch songs” — there’s a lot of emotional content and the vibe of the cord changes is kind of dark and magical. I write aggro-hippie-punk songs that are really fast and aggressive, with a lot of spitfire lyrics about the earth dying and us being responsible for saving it and a lot of songs about skiing or rivers. Our bassist writes songs that belong on Broadway — his songs have a lot of sections and are a storytelling type of song. Our fiddle player writes all the grassy, traditional stuff. Our guitar player, he writes these really involved, intricate tunes that have a lot of sections in development.
ES: A Pixie and the Partygrass Boys motto I’ve seen a lot is “Whiskey, chickens and fun.” Two of these things make a lot of sense, but is there a story behind the “chickens”?
BW: When we first started the band, we’d rehearse at Katia’s house a lot, and she had chickens and chicks. She grew up on a farm, and the rest of us are city folk, so it was a hoot being around domesticated chickens — she’d pick them up and carry them and a lot of our promotional material early on was pictures of us with chickens. One night, at the end of a rehearsal, we’d all switched instruments, and our bassist just started singing our theme song “We like chickens, we like fun; let’s have whiskey with everyone.”
ES: You guys began playing a lot of covers and have increasingly switched to playing more of your own music. How has that change felt?
BW: It’s really nice. It’s a lot more fun to play your own music. When we go on tour, and we see people we don’t know singing songs that came from our hearts — it’s really fulfilling that people are connecting to our music on a deep level to the point when they internalize it and sing along. Covers allow you to stretch musically because you’re making a song your own, but they suck because once everyone thinks you’re a cover band, they’ll just request songs. Transitioning to our own music was a very freeing thing — it made me feel like we’re in our own band.
What: Pixie and the Partygrass Boys
When: 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2
Where: Old Town Pub, 600 Lincoln Ave.
ES: The band is famous for silly outfits; do you have a top favorite outfit of all time?
BW: My go-to is a tutu and space pants, that’s my favorite, personally. Our bassist looks great in a dress. His go-to look is “Dad on Vacation.” If I were to describe our fiddle player’s go-to silly fashion sense, it’s like a gothic space cowgirl — glitter, dark colors, cowgirl boots and really aggressive eyeliner. Katia is more of a space witch, and our guitar player, Andrew, is kind of a punk cowboy thing. Tutus kind of became our thing during WinterWonderGrass 2018 — we wore space pants and tutus the whole time, and now people know us, especially in Colorado, as the tutu band.
ES: Besides skiing, what else do you guys like to do on tour?
BW: In the summer, mountain biking, hiking, definitely love to play disc golf. We love all things outdoors — that’s why we live in Utah. All the things. Also, milkshakes! That’s one thing we do on tour, every time without fail. Trying and reviewing milkshakes.
ES: For someone who hasn’t gotten to hear your music yet, what’s the No. 1 song you’d recommend they listen to, and why?
BW: I would say — it’s really hard to pick just one. But our one EP on Spotify, “Utah Made,” encompasses all our different styles.
ES: What’s coming up for you guys that you’re excited about?
BW: We’re playing all these festivals all summer. We’re really excited to play Arise and Rhythms on the Rio. Then, we’re excited to get into the studio this winter, and next summer, we’ll be touring full time. In September, we’ll be doing our first East Coast tour. It is really interesting touring out of Salt Lake City because living in Utah is a little weird. It’s inspiring and amazing to get outside of our hometown, where we’re kind of, for lack of a better term, rebels. Because in Utah there’s a quick dichotomy: either you’re Mormon or you’re not, and it’s so nice to be on tour in the West, where everyone loves good times, and to be able to bring people together with a common love of chickens, whiskey and fun. We feel really lucky to be able to do the things we do — pour our hearts out and see the people who have a similar love in their hearts.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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