Behind the scenes of The Railsplitters’ new album “Jump In”
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — What happens when musical influences, ranging from samba to hip-hop, merge with traditional Appalachian music?
Boundaries are tested, and new territory is discovered.
With lush harmonies, instrumental aptitude and non-conformist songwriting, The Railsplitters, a five-piece band from Boulder, will release “Jump In,” their most dynamic album to date, Friday.
“Many of these songs are literally about jumping in, taking chances and doing what feels right in spite of any initial reservations,” said Pete Sharpe, mandolin player. “We still have the typical instrumentation of a five-piece bluegrass band, but our sound is very different. We’re fully embracing our uniqueness and seeing how far we can push things while still playing everything acoustically.”
In addition to Sharpe, their line-up features Lauren Stovall on lead vocals, Dusty Rider on banjo, Joe D’Esposito on the fiddle and Jean-Luc Davis on the double bass.
Recording for the album started in January with producer Kai Welch, who can be heard on Abigail Washburn’s “City of Refuge” album, the Greencards’ Grammy-nominated “Sweetheart of the Sun” album and Molly Tuttle’s “Rise.”
Explore Steamboat caught up with Sharpe and Stovall earlier this week to find out how The Railsplitters pushed their boundaries and took the leap with “Jump In.”
Explore Steamboat: How does it feel to be done with recording and finally releasing the new album?
Lauren Stovall: This is the longest it’s taken us to turn around an album, it was a much longer process this time, and because of that, we’re even more excited it’s done. We’re really happy with how it turned out and that it’s where we wanted it to be.
Pete Sharpe: This album really challenged us to push ourselves musically and bring in more diverse influences like hip-hop, samba and just whatever was catching our ear and saying, “It’s OK.” We’re the band that we are and are still going to play it via acoustic instruments and see what happens. The theme really is about taking chances, going with your gut and trying something even if you’re not sure it’s going to work.
ES: What was the initial vision for the album? Did that change throughout the last year?
LS: With all of our albums we definitely try to stick to a sound that will be reproducible on stage live. There are a few of us in the band who would love to bring more electronics into our live show but understand too that that’s not part of our stage show. But we did do a couple of fun things on “Jump In,” like the addition of an accordion, which you wouldn’t typically hear on stage. It makes the whole vibe of that song really different than how we play it live. We wanted to branch out a little bit but not cross over it too far. We definitely want it to sound like an acoustic album for the most part but wanted to dabble with some fun effects.
PS: We did try to record as much as possible with the band in one room playing together to try to capture that sound, because there is a distinct sound that happens when we’re all in the same room actually playing together doing one take. There’s a certain kind of magic that happens when we’re all in the same room playing together, off of one another, and we wanted to capture that as much as possible. There are overdubs on the album and such but we wanted to keep that to a minimum.
ES: So how do you take influences of hip hop and samba into an acoustic sound and where did the inspiration for that come from?
PS: That’s the stuff everyone is listening to. I can’t speak for all the different writers in the band because everyone writes different, but I think it’s more that people were listening to a variety of stuff and that permeated through the music. People started writing and then said, “Oh that’s interesting and maybe doesn’t sound like bluegrass, let’s see what we can do with it.”
ES: You guys had offers from a few record companies, why did you turn those down?
PS: We’ve raised about $25,000 through a kick-starter to produce “Jump In,” and our last two albums were also crowd-funded. When we looked at the deal, it just didn’t make sense. We would have more freedom to make the choices we wanted to make if we had total ownership of the album, anything from marketing and PR to the music. If we signed with a label, they would make those choices, and we might not like those choices. After weighing all of the different options, we felt like we had more power and control to do what we wanted to do without a label.
ES: What are some of the messages or stories within those songs and how are those different from what you’ve done before?
LS: I think it sort of came naturally. I don’t know how hard we were trying to create something really different. After the election, people became quickly inspired to write content that was a little more relevant to the social issues happening today. “Lessons I’ve Learned,” one of the songs on the new album, has this message of empowerment, not just girl power just more power to whoever is on the bad side of a relationship. Then “Boy of Five,” one that Joe wrote, creates this picture of appreciating maybe what we can’t always see right in front of us. “Something Sweet,” which Dusty wrote, is about a girl being hit on and taking on these unwanted passes coming her way.
PS: Between the genres of bluegrass and Americana – it’s a pretty big umbrella right now but we’re in there somewhere in there.
ES: Does being under the umbrella of those two genres give you that opportunity to experiment and go different directions musically?
PS: Honestly, it’s almost like we’re just doing what we do more naturally, and the more we’re comfortable with our own writing and willingness to give stuff a shot – whoever writes it and what comes out – it’s more like we define it after the fact. We were more of a bluegrass band in the beginning but it’s been a natural progression the more we’ve written and followed our impulses that we figure out we might be more Americana now and less of bluegrass band. But the definitions are coming very much after the fact.
ES: How did you guys get out of your comfort zones with this album, as far as writing or pursuing something you wouldn’t have normally?
LS: One thing that has been hard for us is knowing where to cross the line. I think it’s important for us to express our opinions and views in light of the whole vibe of the album. We’re all really glad that we’ve written the songs we did and are happy to stand up for the things we believe in.
PS: It’s also about finding that balance and what feels right for us as a band. It’s kind of a moving target, almost a day-to-day decision of what do we want to say from stage. I think we will continue to make those decisions as things come up.
ES: What’s next on the horizon for The Railsplitters now that the album is out?
PS: Right now we’re taking some time off. Then, in late December, we plan to get the band back together and do a three- to four-week tour in Australia, then a three-week tour in the U.K. We have a few things brewing for the spring as well for upcoming tours.
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Steamboat Free Summer Concerts announced Friday that it will return live music to the Yampa Valley this summer in the form of two concerts scheduled for August and September.