This next band is nothing short of LA’s best bluegrass band. They could easily be in the running for the hardest working band in LA, and they sure have a lot to show for it. Badass Band 60 is a fun, boot stamping, banjo picking, upright bass raging, bluegrass band called The Get Down Boys.
My appreciation and love for bluegrass started years ago with a band called The Devil Makes Three. After becoming obsessed with their self-titled album and after attending Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest in SF, I was sold on this fun, old-school style of music, and not in the typical, ‘Oh it sounds like its from ‘Oh Brother, where art thou’ appeal that many people feel, but because this genre represents to me some of the real roots of American music, and there is something about it that just seems so pure. That is where this next band comes in. I was brought by a friend to see The Get Down Boys, she assured me I was going to love them. Let me say, their name fits them perfectly and after a few energetic, toe tapping songs that night at Villains Tavern, these guys won me over. I went home and immediately bought their album, ‘Girls’. It is chock full of beautiful tunes. The clarity of the banjo picking and bass notes will blow you away, no matter how fast the tempo gets. Same goes for the songs that include some fiddle action. The guitar backs it all up, it is not the forefront in these tunes, and that works perfectly. The vocals are the perfect balance of deep, yet soft. My favorite picks from their album include, ‘Alibi Blues’, ‘Flatfoot Alice’, ‘Bluegrass Girl’, and ‘Catch Me from Falling’.
The musicians that make up The Get Down Boys are Andy Keathley- guitar/vocals, Matt Bruer- banjo/vocals, and Evan Winsor- bass. These guys are masters at their craft, and that is as readily apparent live as it is on their album. As you will read later, because of their talent and work ethic, these guys have had the honor of working with some pretty amazing people.
Andy and Matt were kind enough to have a chat with BBB, so read on my lovelies to find out how one phone call made them an official band, which movie stars they have played with, and why they are ‘Fresh California Bluegrass’.
When and why did you start playing music?
M: I started with piano lessons at 12 years old but I got really into when I started playing banjo at 19. That was the instrument that stuck. I also did some drum circles, and rainbow gatherings at 16/17. I wanted to be a percussionist, but banjo hit me like a ton of bricks.
A: I took all kinds of music lessons when I was a kid, I come from a very musical family. My dad was a guitar player and had a bunch of guitars lying around the house and I didn’t want to practice piano, but I thought guitar was cool. It was a lot of electric guitar at first, I didn’t get into bluegrass until I was in college. I had been playing guitar for almost 15 years before that. I wanted to be a rocker like Jimi Hendrix until I gravitated toward bluegrass in my twenties.
How did you guys meet and start playing together?
A: Matt and I had class together at Berklee. We met in class, jingle writing class, and I was kind of getting into bluegrass at that point. We played together in a band that was kind of a bluegrass jam band, and we played a few gigs around Boston. After graduating, that band kind of fizzled and I moved out to LA on my own to do other things. Matt graduated about a semester after me, and moved out here on his own. We reconnected and started playing a little bit together. I got a call from an owner of a café in Malibu, and he was looking for a bluegrass band for every Sunday. He got my name through our alumni association network, which is really strong in LA. He landed on me and he called to ask if I had a bluegrass band. I said yes even though we didn’t have anything official yet. So that is when we started forming the band. Evan, our bass player also went to Berklee, we didn’t know him there, but we found him on craigslist. It said he was a bass player, went to Berklee and owned an upright bass. All you had to do was have one to be in the band! We were a four piece and played as the house band at this café in Malibu for like six months before we ever played outside of that. So we had a nice, long period of time to grow the band and get comfortable on stage. It was in front of not a lot of people, it was a nice incubating time. Then we started playing bars and its been crazy since then. We are looking for another member, it would be nice to have a full time mandolin player.
What musicians do you admire and why?
A: So many. Part of going to music school was getting exposed to genres that you would have never gotten into otherwise. For me, bluegrass was on that list for me. It’s a big melting pot there, we pull form a lot of areas. When it comes to the bluegrass world, we all have some deeply rooted respect for the first generation guys, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, those guys are where the bulk of our material and technique comes from.
M: You know, when I was at Berklee, I thought I was going to end up playing jazz. I was going to do jazz piano for a while. I was into like Thelonious Monk. But right when we were at Berklee was when strings started getting real big. That’s actually probably why we are a band, at Berklee there was actually a bluegrass ensemble. I sat in with Andy’s band, and then saw him play at a recital with this ensemble and I loved the way it sounded. So bluegrass kind of happened by accident.
A: As far as modern bands go, some we look up to include the Infamous String Dusters is one of them. They tour like crazy and they have a huge fan base. The Punch Brothers, they are a little more cutting edge. I was a Phish kid growing up.
M: We have a little bit of a hippie background, most of us. Our bass player was actually in a punk band for a while.
A: I could tell you my ten favorite rock bands. We can all play a little bit of everything.
Why the name The Get Down Boys?
A: That is Matt’s title. It’s a lyric from a song.
M: Yeah, it’s a lyric from a Stanley Brothers song. An old song, kind of a staple bluegrass song called, ‘How Mountain Girls Can Love’. Its pretty standard for a bluegrass band to have a name with boys in it, like the Foggy Mountain Boys, so it just fits. It was actually not our first choice, we debated over it for a bit.
A: When we were the house band in Malibu, that was before we had a name. We threw some around for a bit and landed on The Get Down Boys. People think we are like a really lewd male stripper group or a fun bluegrass band.
Describe your show visually and musically for those who have never been.
A: Well, if you have never seen us before, you might not know that we wear sort of cohesive suits and ties. Its part of our image and set us apart from other bands.
M: Yeah, even though its not unusual in the bluegrass world. They all do that.
A: We like to play venues that are visually appealing, places like, Bigfoot West and Villains Tavern. They have some really appeal and look cool. We try to play at places that fit our look, and our sound. What do we sounds like? Well, I can say what I think we sound like…Our material is really old bluegrass, classic stuff. We’re talking 1940’s, 1950’s, old. We try and keep the arrangements as traditional as possible. We don’t do a lot of jamming. We sometimes push it in new directions but our history, our foundation is in classic, which is hard to do.
M: The great thing about tradition is we are doing the standard for now, but we bring our own elements to it. We play so much and have fun doing it.
A: We actually just played our 400th show last week, in less than three years. We have played a lot on stage together.
M: We are not recital music, we are kind of spontaneous.
A: Yeah we take some chances, but I would like to see us take more to add some more variety to our show.
M: Bluegrass is a tough crowd, it’s a very traditional world. We have won that crowd.
A: The last few years have seen a lot of interest, especially in California and parts of the East Coast in the traditional elements. It can be tough to break into. The pop stuff is easier, it appeals to a wider audience. Now that we have gotten our root scene to like us and respect us, 2013 will be an experiment in different styles of music, writing a lot more, and getting away from our comfort zone.
M: I have always wanted to be a double threat. I know the bluegrass world. It’s a tradition, and I respect the tradition but I want to break into bluegrass that has our own sound. We are working on that. It will happen in time.
A: We are big fans of letting things happen naturally and the way we have progressed has been very much a result of going with the flow. We aren’t trying to have a number 1 single tomorrow. We want a slow and steady growth, a rate that is manageable and will give us a better result in the long run. We have long term goals with this band.
How important do you believe it is to be such a staple in traditional bluegrass in a society that loves Katy Perry and Justin Beiber?
A: We have dealt with this from day one.
M: See, the great thing about traditional bluegrass is it has a niche. Its more than a crowd, it’s a family and they are very supportive. It has been an important part of our formula. People say, ‘Oh Mumford & Sons that’s bluegrass’ but we cringe at that. People see an upright bass and a banjo and deem it bluegrass. I never want the bluegrass community to say, ‘Oh those guys aren’t bluegrass’ and hate us.
What has been your greatest opportunity so far?
A: That is a great question because we have had a lot. We had a string of really high profile gigs.
M: Getting involved in the California Bluegrass festivals has been big.
A: Yeah getting involved in those has put us in front of a huge audience.
M: Getting involved in the Porchlight Sessions was really awesome.
A: The LA Bluegrass situation at Largo, we have been involved in the past two years, that is the largest bluegrass event in LA. We played with Steve Martin in Nashville, Ed Helms in Hollywood, and at a Grammy week party at the Village Recording Studio dedicated to T-Bone Burnett, that was pretty big for us. The Topanga Banjo and Fiddle contest in LA, again was a huge crowd of people watching a listening. Really to rank any of those, its impossible, its all good stuff. Obviously whenever you get to play with a really big movie star, Steve Martin, Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, that is something to write home about.
M: It all has to do with playing a lot in these certain spots. We have three residencies right now. People say, ‘Oh you would sound good here.’ and it opens all these doors.
A: We do a lot of weddings, and a lot of those are word of mouth. They see us in a bar and love it. Just being visible and playing all the time leads to all these things. I mean that is how you found us! The competition is so high nowadays, you have to really be persistent in getting yourself out there. Your name has to be popping up on Facebook, Twitter, even on small things. The more we do, the more people talk, and the buzz goes up. You never know who is in the audience, a movie star, a director, etc. We played a wedding one time where the best man was Larry David, and Judge Judy was there. You never know who will dig on your band.
M: It really comes down to LA. We are a bluegrass band in LA and we have stayed busy.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
A: Challenges, that word doesn’t bring a lot to mind other than personality stuff. Like any team, you have to manage it.
M: When you work as much as we do, some part of it becomes the daily grind. That can be hard. We don’t even have time to develop. We all have aspirations that we want to develop that have to wait because we are so busy. Luckily, we found 4 guys that play bluegrass and it hasn’t been too hard to book gigs.
How does your creative process typically work?
A: We have a creative process?! There are two different things there. The first is the foundational material. Everyone thought of 10 songs we liked and we learned them. When we jam at picking festivals, sometimes a band will pull out a cool song and we will roll with that. A lot of it happens on stage, we don’t have a studio somewhere to rehearse. That’s where we try new things and songs.
M: We are kind of trying some new directions. We are still in the middle of it.
A: I’m writing our second album now. Matt wrote one song on the first, and I wrote the rest. We are now writing the next batch of songs. We are going to be touring through January and February and that is where a lot of these will get worked out.
M: Honestly, I think we are still trying to find our creative process. We are still such a young group.
Why should people listen to your band, and if your band had a slogan, what would it be?
A: Our character, our individual identities. Our music is good, however its always changing. People come to see us because of our personalities on stage. We are unique, we don’t sound exactly like all the bluegrass bands out there, but we also don’t sound like a rock band either. It’s a sort of balance.
M: We are definitely a live band, a performing band. You have to see the show. Its fun, its happy. You never know what you are going to get either.
A: It’s always a party. We make the best of any situation. Sometimes the sound isn’t good, or there is nobody there, but for every night like that, there is a night where everything clicks. If you want a thrill, come see The Get Down Boys. One slogan we used a lot was ‘Real Live Bluegrass’. It establishes a few things: Its real. Its live. Its bluegrass. It also establishes a sort of attitude. This slogan changed after a year or so to ‘Fresh California Bluegrass’. That was on every one of our posters. Same thing.
If you had the opportunity to change something about the music industry, what would it be?
M: Its its own animal. We just try to react to it.
A: I could say ‘I wish more people were into bluegrass.’ but I don’t. I like how exclusive it is. I think it would be nice for bands to get paid more, the money is not balanced. It’s a battle.
M: We are in the industry. We are a product. The industry is what it is. You have to find your way to work it. We have figured that out. I would change Hollywood, they don’t pay bands. They want you to fill their bar and pay them.
A: There are two industries as I see it, recording and record sales, and then there is the touring/live music industry. The second is what we are into.
One song you never get tired of.
M: Right now, this week, ‘Hold what you got’- Joe Tex
A: Bill Monroe ‘Uncle Pen’
Best live show you have ever been to?
M: The Grateful Dead in 1995.
A: The most eye opening was when I was like 11/12, was Dave Matthews Band.
Favorite things to do NOT musically related?
M: Andy and I enjoy the nightlife. We go to bars. We are taking dance lessons. I am getting into photography.
A: That’s not safe for me to say. Music is really all I do. Seriously. My day job, if you want to call it that since I work with the band more, is at a recording studio. Every move I make has to do with music. I don’t have any hobbies like gardening or fishing. There is no obvious answer. Is dating a hobby?
If you could be a fictional character, who would you be?
M: Willy Wonka
A: My first instinct is to say Superman or someone with a lot of power, a super hero. But I don’t want the issues they have to deal with. I feel good about Wile E. Coyote. He never gives up. He just dusts himself off and keeps on going.
FIND THE GET DOWN BOYS HERE: