Smokin' Grass 2 December 2015 on Rocket Shop
L-R: Doug Perkins, Adam Frehm, Mike Santosusso, Matt Schrag
WORDS BY TOM PROCTOR, PHOTO BY JAMES LOCKRIDGE.
Smokin' Grass joined host Brent Hallenbeck on 'Rocket Shop', Big Heavy World's local music radio hour on 105.9FM The Radiator. Join them for Nectar's 40th Birthday bash on December 10th at 10pm. Listen to a replay here or via Rocket Shop Radio Hour on iTunes or Subscribe on Android [powerpress]
If you like gettin’ your knees up, shoutin’ out a yee-haw and bouncin’ around a dance floor to hot pickin’ licks then Smokin’ Grass might be the band for you. Classic old school-cob pipe bluegrass meets funkadelic-jam with a spicy kick to boot. Off the scene for a cool decade now they’ve brought it back for the anniversary of Nectar’s 40th and have a fair few fans chomping at the bit to hear them pick their strings once again. Back in the late 90’s these guys ruled the roost, riding the Bluegrass revival and knocking out two belting albums (Take Yer Pick, 1998 + In the Barn, 2001).
Back on the stage for the big party, they graced us with their presence in the Big Heavy World studio to play a couple of old favourites and talk to me about their comeback gig, tours of days past and the vibes of the current Bluegrass scene. Accompanied by their new Mandolin player Matt Schrag, the old boys Mike Santosusso (Bass/Vocals), Adam Frehm (Dobro) and Doug Perkins share a blather and some recollections.
TP: So lately you've all been playing with a lot of different groups on the Bluegrass scene, do you find the younger guys coming to you for advice?
MSc: It's such a small and community based scene, it's less people coming to us for advice and more that everyone knows each other and are really supportive. In some scenes it's really tough, you don't get the support of other musicians because it's a competitive market. Here it's such a small scene with such a high number of really talented musicians - if you need support it's there.
AF: There is a contingent of young, serious musicians that are doing what we did, in terms of touring nationally. When they leave it's almost a bittersweet thing - you're happy for them but you're not going to see them on the scene for a while. Its interesting to be at this place in my career where I don't wanna be touring all the time and dedicating my entire life to the same one group. On the flip side, there are so many great musicians in Vermont, so you get a lot of stimulus and you play in a lot of styles so you become a better musician. You maybe don't get the big glamorous nights you get when you're on tour, but you get more personal rewards. There's less energy put into the hype and more energy put into your craft.
MSc: One of the great things about playing with so many different musicians is that, if you’ve never played with them before, you have to figure it out in the moment. It's like learning a new language immediately. Sometimes you come up with gibberish, but that's the challenge. With such a diverse scene you get to play a whole range of genres.
TP: The band has changed from 2001 when your last album came out - who’s new to the outfit?
AF: This is Matt Schragg and he’s been the go-to session guy in Vermont. He plays mandolin, plays guitar, he’s an all around music man. He’s new to Smokin’ Grass.
MSc: I moved up here about 8 or 9 years ago. I met Adam and we started playing together within the first month of being here.
AF: Matt and Mike and I now play every other Thursday at The Daily Planet in a band called The Hot Pickin’ Party.
TP: You mentioned that you wouldn’t want to tour so much now? What are the struggles of putting on a tour?
AF: It can be tough, 21 hours of dealing with the rough stuff and then two or three hours of glory. And there's so many variables of having a successful show. If the band is gelling and playing well of course, if the crowd is giving back, if the sound guy is on the game.
MSc: Being in a band is like being married to five different people. Literally, you're actually with the band more than your wife.
AF: There's a lot of hurry up and wait, and when you're at a level when you're driving yourself around, you are typically driving further, the routes aren’t as luxurious so there's a lot of days on the road. Touring is very much chasing a dream, it’s grueling and there’s so many odds stacked against you, but the moments of magic are moments you would never trade. When you experience that, there's nothing else.
TP: So what did you guys do to pass the time while going from gig to gig?
MSa: Jokes, I mean who doesn’t love a good fart or dick joke? You've gotta get creative,
TP: Do you miss it?
MSa: I kind of do, but we do better in short bursts. We figured out how long that should be.
AF: Three weeks is beautiful.
MSc: Ten days, man.
AF: In entry level touring, if you're doing more than three weeks that's very grueling. We would hit a stride in ten days and really be warmed up and the next week of shows would be amazing, You'd be hitting that peak, and then after three weeks your burned out, your tired. Cumulatively tired.
MSa: And it depends on the gigs as well. Sometimes we played frat gigs that weren't that fun, but those gigs paid for the nights that were amazing.
TP: You were big on the festival scene for a while. Are there any festivals you would consider doing again?
AF: Yes! There is a festival in Texas called the Old Settler’s Festival, it's a very eclectic music festival that's very acoustic driven, but with an acoustic punk edge, You get big country acts there but you also get a lot of dirty up-and-coming bluegrass jammy rockabilly types. A really cool mix of talent. We really did well there, and the guy that produced the festival, I ran into him at another gig, and he was like “Dude, any time you want to come back, I’ll make it happen”.
TP: Have you thought about ringing them up and saying your available again?
Matt: Let’s see how Thursday goes (Laughs).
AF: We don’t have a website yet.(Laughs) But tomorrow we are releasing a movie to promote this gig and it's super cool. So that'll be on our FB page. We actually have Nectar himself to appear in the movie. It's kind of like a promo to show the band getting back together. The theme is Nectar getting us all back together for the 40th anniversary. It’s a semi epic Burlington release.
TP: So is it going to be this sole gig, or you guys got more lined up, any new recordings?
MSa: This is the only gig we have booked at this very moment but we are open to suggestions.
TP: Was that the only impetus to get back together - Nectar’s 40th - or was there something else involved?
MSc: (Laughs) I’ve been pushing for them to get back together for a long time.
MSa: We get the prodding from fans and other musicians asking when we’re going to get back together, and we've talked about it from time to time, but it's just about getting together and doing it. Nobody’s stepped forward to make it happen, but then we got a call from an old friend that books at Nectar’s. He booked us once for House of Blues when he was just getting into the business - his first big booking there - and we sold out that night, so it looked good for him and good for us. So we have that history, and he was persistent about us getting back together.
AF: We have a special place in Brian’s heart.