Last Sunday, local bluegrass band Whiskey Business’ banjo picking and folk rhythms caused a surge of unabashed dancing at the Davis Flea Market. Made up of four UC Davis students, the band began its ascent from Tercero dorm room jam sessions last year to performing live from the KDVS studio just last week.
Galen Shearn-Nance, a second-year undeclared major, plays the banjo and fiddle as well as provides vocals. Gabe Saron, who plays the Mandolin and provides vocals, is a first-year evolution, ecology and biodiversity major. Stefan Turkowski, who plays guitar and sings, is a second-year electrical engineering major. Corey Reider plays the bass and is a third-year history and psychology double major.
After trudging through a flock of dosey-doe dancers at their live Flea Market performance, MUSE was able to talk to the musicians in an interview about their music, creative process and experience playing bluegrass.
MUSE: How did your band first take shape?
Shearn-Nance: Stefan Turkowski and I jammed in the dorms last year, and we would sometimes play at our chemistry review session during the breaks the professor would give us. Gabe arrived as a freshman this year, and we all started jamming a lot together last quarter. We started looking for a bassist, and we found Cory Reider, our newest member, who just joined us three weeks ago, and he’s the ideal bassist for the position.
Saron: We all enjoy bluegrass and have fun playing all these songs that we’ve heard and performed with our friends.
How would you describe your creative process?
Turkowski: We haven’t written that many songs of our own, but in the few that we have, one of us writes most of it and we bring it to the table and assemble it and provide constructive criticism. The most interesting songs are always inspired, where you play something and you know where it’s going. But we don’t do that much collective songwriting. Half the time we spend as a band is unstructured creative jamming. We sometimes put a bluegrass interpretation into rock songs.
Saron: For example, our song “The Great Horizon” came about through a musical inspiration I had during a bike ride through the wilderness. I was riding with some friends, but on the last part of the journey I got separated and ended up riding all day in the countryside by myself. I began singing to myself and somehow the lyrics were good enough that I had a fully formed song by the end of my journey. I think biking and spending time in the wilderness helps people write the good songs.
What is exciting to you about bluegrass music?
Saron: Bluegrass is an art form unto itself. The genre has a traditional structure — it’s like a scaffold that we fill in with what we have to give musically. The songs are simple, they have like three chords, but the sort of unspoken rules about when to do fills, when to hold back, when to listen — this is something that we’ve acquired by going to bluegrass festivals, learning from seasoned musicians, and we’ve gotten to a point musically where we feel like we can give life to these songs through our own creativity.
Shearn-Nance: Bluegrass is a very enigmatic genre, because a lot of the songs sound very similar to the untrained ear, and even to the trained ear. I’ve been listening to bluegrass for many years and it’s still hard not to get a lot of the songs confused.
Reider: For a newcomer, the basics of all the songs are easy to get down on paper and learn, but it takes a while to develop the bluegrass instinct. It’s interesting to play bluegrass because the songs are about the best and the worst in us, and when you play it, it makes you feel good — it’s like a cleansing. It’s a good release of energy.
What other gigs have you played?
Shearn-Nance: Over winter break we played a gig over at Brainwash Café in San Francisco. We’ve also played at the Davis Dance Marathon and live on KDVS, which was a lot of fun.
Saron: The Davis Dance Marathon was so much fun because everyone was so in the mood to dance. We love when people dance, it creates a really good energy.
Where would you ideally like to perform?
Reider: My family is originally from the South, and my grandfather still owns a farm in North Carolina. I think it would be amazing to play there, or anywhere in the South because bluegrass is their music. But locally, we’d love to play at house shows, Houseboats and rooftops.
Do you have any future gigs lined up for the future?
Turkowski: On April 13, we will be playing at the cancer fundraising event Relay for Life here in Davis. We are hoping to get more dates lined up before that. We love playing for people and we’ll play for free. We’ll enliven any party you bring us to.
To contact Whiskey Business or find out more about them, visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/WhiskeyBuisness.
CRISTINA FRIES can be reached at email@example.com.