GANGSTAGRASS Opens Up About Their Soon-to-Be Released Album, No Time For Enemies, Their Timely Single ‘Freedom’ and Creating The Emmy-Nominated Theme Song for FX’s Justified!
On August 14th, the multi-racial group of string pickers and MCs, Gangstagrass, will be releasing their newest album, “No Time For Enemies.” With their newest track “Freedom” the band plans to take the story of black struggle across cultural lines where it rarely gets focus. Gangstagrass has always been about breaking through the social and racial divisions between us.
The collection, “No Time For Enemies” was primarily recorded when the US went into Covid-19 lockdown. The death of George Floyd and the race-related protests added to the immediacy of their message and their desire to finish despite the challenges of recording during a pandemic. Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th, is a tradition marking the anniversary of the day news of Emancipation reached slaves after the end of the Civil War. “A powerful holiday that recognizes such a milestone in America’s growth and the momentous occasion of liberation should be more widely recognized.” says Gangstagrass founder Rench, “we had recorded this track in February and planned on other single releases first, but once the national protests took hold we knew this was the time to release an anthem of struggle for racial equality, and Juneteenth was near, which was so appropriate to tie in with this song, which starts off with slave revolt.”
Here is the music video for “Freedom”:
“Freedom” marks a deep dive into politics and race. “America has to look at what’s been going on for centuries and understand why the fight continues and the resolution can’t wait. We’re putting that in your ear to get comfortable with if you want to be down with us.” Brian Farrow’s bluegrass fiddle and Dan Whitener’s banjo float above a funky back-beat, as Dolio and R-SON lay out America’s racial conflict, from plantation slavery to the civil rights movement, and the frustration engendered by today’s seeming indifference to the struggle. “Our verses are so very different tonally, epousing very different methods to meet the same goal. While Black thinking isn’t monolithic, the goals are very often the same.” remarks R-SON The Voice Of Reason. In fact, Rench maintains, music is a perfect reflection of our segregation and Gangstagrass is providing an antidote to our racialized conception of genre. “Many people don’t know that the banjo was originally an African instrument that travelled here with slavery. Early America found slaves and poor whites combining African and European instruments and styles across the south. The dawn of the recorded music industry happened during Jim Crow segregation, so music was marketed with completely artificial racial categories of ‘race music’ and ‘hillbilly music’ – which have been imprinted on our minds decades later as black soul music and white Country music. This is a fabrication of the industry and its time for it to die.”
Gangstagrass rose to fame in 2010 when FX Network asked them to write the theme song for their Western crime series, Justified. The result was the Emmy-nominated “Long Hard Times To Come.” Since then, the band has made four studio albums and a live album. “At this point there can be no sense that this is superficial, or a novelty” Rench says. “This is real, we are authentic and we are producing a new formulation of American music that returns us to real connection. We are here to show that illusion of white and black music is a relic of the 20th century, and the 21st century starts with partying together. From there, learn to take care of each other and repair the damage our prejudice has done.“
Connect With Gangstagrass Online Here: WEBSITE
Learn more about Gangstagrass in the following All Access interview:
Thank you for your time. So given these unusual Covid-19 times, what does a typical day look like for this band? How have you all adjusted to these times?
Not sure we have adjusted, honestly. It’s a weird time for musicians.
Each of us deals with it differently. Several of us have families, kids, partners — and just like for everyone else, life has to go on. So the challenge can be finding time to work on recording. We communicate regularly, with scheduled calls and Zoom meetings. We try to work on music when we can.
What has been the hardest/most challenging part about being quarantined? Were you able to be together much? Is your city starting to open up more now?
None of us has seen anyone else in the crew in person since we were together in New York City for the awesome This Land Is Your Land 80th Anniversary Celebration back in late February.
Among the various personal challenges posed to each individual by this highly kinetic period in history, there’s one that’s been huge for everyone in our crew: the significant changes in what our jobs actually entail. Like many bands, we went pretty much instantly from touring a big chunk of the time & recording with a full band in studio together to doing solo live-streaming & home recording with no other instrumentalists, plus there’s the workflow and coordination that’s required behind the scenes for everyone to have everything we need to make it all happen. Content and processes alike are being created on the fly, from scratch. We’re all adapting to these new roles.
We aren’t physically together, but we are in constant communication. We can’t play together, but we can have conversations and discuss our plans. We can’t perform live, but we can record. A lot of this time is about taking the challenges and hardships and trying to find the opportunities that present themselves.
What has it been like having to reschedule so many of your spring, summer and most likely fall shows? What shows in 2021 are you already excited for?
In a strange way, it’s been a blessing that so many of our shows were decisively postponed at the same time. It’s allowed us to proceed without the uncertainty that could come from having half of your tour cancelled but the other half still booked. We’re concerned about how we will start playing shows again, but we’re looking forward to getting back out there when it’s safe.
At this point, 2021 is going to look a lot like what we thought 2020 would be. We’re excited about a lot of shows we had booked for this year, many of which involve international travel, so we’ll have to see what that looks like.
Honestly, the show we’re most excited for is the first one we get to play. And if that has to be in 2021, so be it.
Since we are all desperately missing live music, can you recall a favorite show of yours from the past? What do you think ultimately makes for a great show for this band?
We did a festival in Rudolstadt, Germany, in 2016 for about 10,000 people and the energy coming back at us from the crowd was SO AMAZING. Any show of ours that you go to will always be top notch but when the crowd’s energy is way up, regardless of the size of the crowd, it’s extra special.
Some of our most singular shows have involved featured guests. Because of the nature of our music, we are able to adapt to perform with just about anyone. We’ve had guest MCs, singers in different languages, instrumentalists of every genre. It doesn’t matter what they bring, we can make something happen with any sound. Our band is all about adaptability, collaboration, and listening for the common elements in what everyone is bringing.
Looking back, what was it like creating the theme song for the hit show Justified? Were you ever surprised that it was so well-received back then?
It was not surprising to have it well received. The formula for Gangstagrass from day one has been quality ingredients — real bluegrass and real hip-hop — so it’s always been the case that when people hear it, the response is very positive. It was exciting to do a theme song because it meant people would hear it when they tuned in, without preconceptions. That was huge for us.
Let’s talk about your forthcoming new studio album, “No Time for Enemies” set for release on August 14th. What was it like recording this collection during the quarantine? Did you approach the making of it any differently than your past albums?
It’s been super different from the normal recording process in a lot of ways. We had recorded just three songs for the new album in studio together before New York started to shut down back in March. A couple days ahead of our scheduled studio time to record the bulk of the then-unnamed new album, it became clear that we couldn’t responsibly go into a studio and spend time so close in an enclosed space. We’ve all been conscientiously self-sequestering ever since, each in different states, taking care of our loved ones who depend upon us.
All the while, we’ve been putting together an album entirely remotely, and the production chops required to do that are no joke! Rench has created most of this album from scratch using pieces sent in from all different systems and recording conditions — one of many reasons Rench is the Mastermind.
And each of us individually had to have the ability and confidence to record ourselves at home with the gear we had on hand. Calling your band-mate and explaining over the phone how to set up a recording interface is kind of like Apollo 13. And we’ve all risen to the challenge; some of us were more prepared than others, but we all made it work and worked together to make sure that we could create a final product that would hold up.
How do you think this new collection shows how Gangstagrass has grown over the years? What has remained the same? Do you think that what motivates you all to make music has grown and developed?
This album wouldn’t be a success without the time we’ve spent together as a band. Writing and recording remotely is kind of like working with one hand tied behind your back and both eyes covered. But we can do that because we know each other so well, and we have such a great knowledge of what our sound is and what our mission is. That has allowed us the freedom to move forward with our sound in some ways. The production on this album is a great example of that: some songs are way more progressive, while others are more stripped-down than ever. The writing, too, is a little more no-holds-barred. Part of that comes from the time we’re living in. Like the album title indicates, there’s a lot of stuff we don’t have time for, including holding ourselves back or not giving 100.
I have been asking bands lately how they feel future music is going to be impacted by this incredible and absolutely necessary Black Lives Matter movement that the US and even the world is going through now but you are already showing that with this new collection. Can you elaborate on what it was like writing about everything that has been going on right away? In particular, how did your song “Freedom” come together?
Gangstagrass has been part of a conversation that’s been going on for a very long time, and recent events have brought that conversation back to the attention of the mainstream. The only thing we changed about “Freedom” was that we moved the release date to Juneteenth. But we wrote it in 2019 and recorded it before the lockdowns, so it was ready to go already when we made that decision.
You can’t just turn on a dime and immediately start responding to a movement like this if you haven’t already been thinking about it. A lot of people and organizations are facing backlash for that right now: they speak before thinking. We’ve been thinking and listening and talking about this for a long time, and that’s why we were ready with the message.
It has been clear that our country needs to go through some hard conversation about the history of racism and how much it still impacts our situation today. And it’s that crucial work that changes things on a fundamental level. We see ourselves in a unique position to be making that conversation happen, and with the diversity of our fan-base we see the challenge — and the opportunity! — of that conversation.