The Greencards latest studio effort, The Brick Album, hits shelves tomorrow and they’ll be performing their official album release show at Threadgill’s World Headquarters Thursday. Carol Young recently took some time to speak with us about the record, the “buy a brick campaign” and what it would be like to play a show with Prince.
Q: There’s a new record coming out soon, what can you tell us about it?
A: It’s the first time that we’ve released a record by ourselves. We’re doing it without a label, so we went into the studio in January and cut this record with a guy called Justin Niebank. We’ve wanted to make a record with Justin for a long time; it’s just great how it ended up being this record. The timing was perfect, we went into a studio here in Nashville in January, made a record, we spent a lot of time writing for this record, it was just writing, writing, writing for the entire year last year, until we came up with a bunch of songs that we thought would make a good record. We were lucky enough on this one to have Sam Bush and Vince Gill coming in, do some features on the record. We’ve never had outside guest artists coming on the record.
Kym wanted a mandolin player, his idol is Sam Bush, and mine was Vince Gill and it’s just amazing how they both ended up on this particular record.
Sam joined your set at Telluride a few years back, like 2009.
Wasn’t that amazing? Playing for the Telluride crowd at the mountains, and realize that Sam Bush, the guy that was probably the reason why Kym played mandolin, he heard Sam in New Grass Revival, and that just changed his life, and then to look out and realize that you’re standing on the stage with Telluride, and amongst this great crowd of people and Sam is the king of Telluride, that was pretty amazing.
Q: This is also your first record with the new musicians in the Greencards, Tyler Andal and Carl Miner, how do they fit in?
A: Tyler and Carl… it’s just a great injection into the band, it feels really good, we’re really enjoying making music together. They’ve been in the band about a year and a half, and they’ve added a lot to it. Not just about music and a record, they’ve added a lot to our touring, to our playing live shows. So it’s a spark, it’s like new love, young love spark that’s happening in the band, and it’s just great at our stage in our careers to take them out on the road, and work up a bunch of new songs, and every – the audiences just love those guys. They’re just great on stage, really inspiring musicians.
Q: I read somewhere that you guys – the original band bonded over a mutual love of Monty Python, Benny Hill, and Faulty Towers… what do you guys bond over now?
A: There’s a great humor in the band, and the guys are quite – still quite, even after a year and a half, they’re intrigued by the Australian humor, and every now and then we’ll say something, and normally it takes a while for Americans to catch on maybe to what we’re talking about, but these guys are onto it straight away. They understand the Australian lingo. So we bond over, still a lot of British television shows, comedy shows. We bond over music mostly, though.
Q: The record, The Brick Album was entirely fan-financed. How did that work out?
A: It was definitely a whole new thing for us. And it came around really quickly. Once we decided to do that, it was September last year, we were just trying to work out, you know, how we could connect with our followers and fans on a whole other level, and the concept developed, the buy a brick concept developed pretty quickly, and then we kicked it into place in November, and it’s – we were just thrilled with the response from our fans. Do you know how it works, do you know how the buy a brick campaign works?
it initially came from the concept – we were driving back from a show in Tuscaloosa, and it was the support, some of our fans that night had driven 2 and 3 hours to come and see the show, and that just blows me away. It’s almost like we have these fans, The Greencards have these fans that would do just about anything to support the band, and how do we sort of acknowledge that? The “buy a brick campaign” developed from the drive from Tuscaloosa to Nashville that night, and Carl said to – Carl is also, our guitar player is also very savvy – he’s a graphic designer and website designer. He’s really clever in that respect, and he said, “Have you heard about the million dollar website?” And he went on to explain that there was this website, this guy was trying to raise enough money to put himself through school, years and years ago when the internet just took off. And he developed this website, and said, “I’m gonna sell advertising place. Every little megapixel is gonna be a dollar, and there’s a million megapixels for sale.” And so he sold space, and called the million dollar website, and raised a million dollars by selling a dollar per megapixel.
I said to Carl, “It’d be amazing to do that with an album, and have the artwork for the new album as a brick wall, and you sell the brick.” And it just, the next day, we put it into place, and we called it the buy a brick campaign.
We didn’t want to do like a donation thing. We really wanted to be like a partnership, something that we were doing together. And what’s been amazing is that – the response, when the people that are part of the campaign, when they received that CD, and held the CD in their hand with their name on it, how proud they were, and how they’d been so willing to promote and display, even though the record’s not even out yet, so that’s been – and that was amazing initially, when we sold the bricks, and the campaign finished right when we were going into the studio to make the record, it was amazing to take that support with us into the studio to make this record.
How many bricks did you sell?
We sold our quota, which was amazing to us, ‘cause we set it pretty high. We sold well over 250. Some people didn’t want their names on the brick, though. They didn’t – they just wanted to be part of the campaign, and didn’t want a name on the brick. So there’s only a few of those that didn’t want their name on there, but we sold just over 250.
Q: You can feel that intensity at your shows, how do you work with that or how does it change your shows?
A: There is an intensity to the shows, and I think the fans have a lot to do with that. We try and cater a seated show for people, because it’s very much a performance, and we want them to be comfortable. For us, up there playing, I can definitely feel the, the audience. Some of the shows, you can’t make magic happen, but there’s a lot of shows where you can feel the magic, just ‘cause people, they want to be there, and some people have driven a long way to see the show. So that’s an amazing feeling, to step out on stage and have that. We feel very lucky in that regard, we have some great supporters.
Q: Going back to the songwriting, is it a collaborative effort for the band, or does each person bring in their own material?
A: You know, we’ve never really been a band to write as a band. We normally get off the road, when we’re looking – like last year was a songwriting year for us. In between tours, we’d get off the road and we’d collaborate with some outside writers, between Austin and Nashville, mostly. There were a couple of writing trips where we flew over to Austin and wrote with some of our collaborators over there, but we very much draw from some outside influences, and it seems to have worked for us in the past. It makes it a little bit more exciting for us, and, you know, the challenge is to not repeat yourself, and when we play so many shows on the road like we do, it’s great to have somebody outside, talk from some of the outside writers. Our mandolin player Kym, he wrote the majority of the songs on there this time, both collaborating with other songwriters from here in Nashville and Austin, and some he even wrote himself. I wrote a couple on there with a long-term writing partner, Jedd Hughes, who’s another Australian. John O’Brien, an Australian guy who we never had anything to do with before, really, he’s a young 22-year-old guy from Australia, he’s a bit of a poet, but he’d never really written songs before, and he came over to Austin and demoed up a coupe of songs with a friend of ours, Robbie Gjersoe, who plays in the Flatlanders, and Robbie sent us the songs and said, “Look, I just cut these songs with this young Australian dude, surfy dude, and you gotta hear them.” And that was on the eve of starting to record the record, and we heard these two songs, which are “Here Lies John” and “Naked on the River,” and I just loved what he did with those songs. I loved the lyrics, I loved the approach, and I loved the melody. So we decided on the eve of going in to record that we’d be taking those two songs in with us.
Q: Are there like other songs that you’ve heard and go, “Wow, we really want to record these, or we want to do a cover live,” but you haven’t had a chance to?
A: Every now and then we’ll find a cover that we do live, and there was nearly a situation where we put a cover on this record. We’ve been out playing live, we’ve been playing the Cheap Tricks song, “I Want You to Want Me,” everybody in the audience knows it… who doesn’t know the lyrics to that song? It’s just such a solid song. And we considered recording that, but we didn’t actually end up recording it. We felt like we had a decent bunch of songs together, and so we skipped over the cover.
Q: How did you choose the instruments that you play?
A: We’d been jamming – back in Australia – it wasn’t a big bluegrass community or folk music community over there, but there were a bunch of people that really enjoyed just jamming, getting together and playing the mandolin, the fiddle, and guitar together, and for some reason there just weren’t many bass players around, and so the bass is just sitting there and no one was jamming, I just picked it up and started jamming along with the guys. That’s how it sort of started for me way back, and then I took it to a couple of late nights, where everyone just gets up and jams at a pub, and it just sort of happened that no one else was a bass player there either. And I’m actually glad it happened that way, because I was a singer first, and then started playing bass, so my challenge was to be able to do both at the same time. I didn’t want to just be a bass player, and I didn’t want to just be a singer.
Unlike Kym, he’s been playing mandolin since he was very young. Started out with the fiddle, but found Sam Bush and New Grass Revival, and that sort of – that was a turning point for him, and mandolin just stuck.
Q: How do you pick that the instruments that you’re going to use for a certain situation?
Well, for me, the bass – you know, this is something a little different, but I play electric bass, and I’ve never played upright. It’s always been electric bass for me, I’ve taken a page out of John Cowan’s book there, but yeah, I play – at the moment, I’m playing Epiphone, and it’s a viola bass, Epiphone viola bass, and it’s a copy of Paul McCartney’s Beatles bass. I love the bottom end on it, and I really like how light it is. It makes it enjoyable for me to play when it’s not too heavy on stage, and it’s a hollow body, so it just has a great acoustic sound to it, even though it’s an electric. So I’m playing that, and Kym, he’s currently – he has been for a long time, he’s playing a Collins mandolin out of Austin, Texas. We endorse Collins, just great instruments. So he plays an A model and an F model Collins.
Q: if you could sit down for an hour and play with any musician alive or dead, who would it be?
A: I’ve read some recent press about Prince, and how he’s just – he’s set to go out and play again. I heard that he played a 3-hour show, he’s doing 21 consecutive dates, in Los Angeles, and Rolling Stone just raving, the reviews are just raving about him. So it’d be amazing to play with a musician like that, that just – he’s got a great repertoire of songs, but obviously this is a guy that likes playing live shows. He had 11 encores on his first date in LA, which is just amazing. I just can’t imagine that would have been like as a fan, to go and hear that. I would say that there’s so many great musicians out there, past and present, but that I’d love to see what it’d be like to play a show with Prince.