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Author: Subject: I interviewed John from Railroad Earth - here's the article

Peach Master





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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 06:48 PM
I know many of you have seen Railroad Earth and are fans...maybe there are even some hobos out there. You may also know they are on the bill for the upcoming Mountain Jam. I had the pleasure of interviewing RRE's mandolin player John Skehan a couple days ago, from which I wrote the following article which appeared today on the webzine for which I write, http://www.redbankorbit.com. RRE will be at the Stone Pony this Friday, and so will I. Would love if any other Peach Heads in the house said hello!

http://www.redbankorbit.com/wordpress/2009/02/a-shore-whistle-stop-for-rr-e arth/

(It looks a LOT better if you click on the link instead of reading it here.)

WHISTLE-STOP FOR R.R. EARTH

Trainspotting: Railroad Earth pulls into the station on Friday night, as part of the Stone Pony’s 35th Anniversary weekend.

By LAURA SCHNEIDER

When New Jersey’s own Railroad Earth returns to the Stone Pony this Friday the 13th, it will mark the first time that the Americana roots music jam band has played its home state in several years.

As band member John Skehan suggests, the band’s lack of visibility in the Garden State doesn’t stem from any embarrassment over their What-Exit roots. It’s just that the siren call of the open road is so seductive, and so necessary when you factor in the mechanics of surviving with a bigger-than-average musical organization.

The fact that the members of Railroad Earth are able to make a living as musicians tends to set them apart from many of their Americana roots music brethren. And, as Skehan maintains, Railroad Earth’s particular good fortune is due in large part to its considerable fan base (affectionately known as “hobos”), as well as the often unsung efforts of a very active street team.

The sound of the six-piece band is centered squarely around traditional bluegrass string instruments. Skehan plays mandolin “and a little bit of Irish bouzouki, which is basically an overgrown mandolin.” Vocalist and songwriter Todd Sheafer plays acoustic guitar, and Tim Carbone specializes in violin. Carey Harmon and Johnny Grubb hold down the rhythm section on drums and bass respectively — and then there’s Andy Goessling, who’s credited with acoustic guitars, banjo, dobro, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle, saxophones, and vocals — as well as a couple of other uncredited skills, like clarinet and zither.

Taking a short break before embarking upon yet another major tour of the continental United States, Skehan and company help the Pony kick off the club’s official 35th Anniversary weekend with an all-ages, bargain-priced ($25 a ticket) show that cracks open the doors at 8pm. In preparation for the interview, Red Bank oRBit reached out to Railroad Earth’s “hobo” community, asking, “If you had one question for John Skehan, what would it be?”

As a result, Skehan shared a lot more with Red Bank oRBit than space considerations would allow — waxing poetic on the festival circuit, musical honesty, and an unusual way he used to pay the bills. Still, there’s lots of good stuff here, so Continue Reading to hop this train.

RED BANK ORBIT: How many of the guys are from New Jersey?

JOHN SKEHAN: Pretty much all of them except our bass player, Johnny Grubb, who’s from Georgia, the Atlanta region.

You’ve got the Pony gig coming up next Friday. When’s the last time you played there?

It was a couple years ago. Last time was in spring or summer, because we played outdoors with electric Hot Tuna.

Why did the band decide to do a three-night run through New Year’s Eve in Portland, Oregon, instead of closer to home?

We found the west coast overall to be pretty responsive, and it’s definitely been growing, and it was an idea we had a while ago. New Year’s Eve here just didn’t work out. Portland was a choice, because there’s a fairly building audience out there. It’s difficult anyplace else, especially in the New York area, which is overwhelmed with things going on New Year’s Eve.

You’re savvy users of tools like social networking sites, slick graphics, and your own streaming online radio show, all of which does a necessary end run around what’s left of the once-mighty music industry. How does the band perceive its place in the anything-goes music business?

We’ve had a lot of help with an active street team, who are willing to volunteer their time to put up flyers and posters; and just generally spread the word.

You hear about the business decaying due to total lack of CD sales and the downloading and all that, yet you look around and there are festivals happening every weekend, all summer long, all across the country. There are lots and lots of people who are out to take in their live music. It’s kind of hard to tell because maybe the record business as we know it is tanking, but there are still so many people out there who just want live, good music, and not necessarily the stuff that’s on the commercial radar.

And the band can still make a living after gas, and hotels, etc.?

Well, that’s a loaded question; that depends on what you mean by “a living.”

I mean, do you all have to still work day jobs?

Well, we aren’t home long enough to do that, really. We’ve been very blessed to at least keep ourselves going and to keep a fairly large band and a large crew on the road. And in a bit of comfort now, compared to the early days when we all crammed into one hotel room and spent hours and hours in a cramped little van.

What were some of the band’s early jobs? What would you have been doing if not pursuing music full-time?

Well, you’re always pursuing music, no matter what. I guess we’ve done everything from construction, music teaching, answering telephones, stocking shelves. I spent a long, long time removing staples from documents for Met Life, and then somebody would feed them into a microfilm machine, and then I would staple them back together again. That was very surreal.

Given the many ways in which people get hooked up with music these days, how did the band acquire its appreciation for bluegrass and other old-time Americana sounds?

Myself, Andy, and Timmy have spent time running around in the bluegrass world, largely due to the nature of the instruments that we play. It’s something that definitely gets inside of you. In terms of American roots music, all roads kind of lead back to it.

Let’s talk a little about the instruments the band plays.

I play mandolin, and a little bit of Irish bouzouki, which is basically an overgrown mandolin. Andy is the one who plays dobro and pretty much every instrument with strings, from mandolin to guitar to banjo to zither, believe it or not. He also plays all manner of woodwind instruments, including flute, pennywhistle, saxophone, clarinet, and he frequently plays two saxophones at the same time. He puts them both in his mouth and plays, and somehow he makes them sound like two or even three individual pieces in a horn section. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s just one of the things that Andy does. He’s just wired differently like that. He’s quite brilliant.

Jerry Garcia once said that the notes that come out of his guitar are more honest than the words that come out of his mouth. Do you get what Jerry was talking about?

Yes. The best you can hope to achieve is finding yourself in a place where you’re not really thinking at all about what you’re playing or how you’re playing. I would say that’s quite possibly when you are at your most honest. In other words, you’re not thinking at all about should I do this, or was that the right thing, or what should I do next, as you might do in a conversation. You’re simply just right there, in that moment. A friend of mine used to call that “the nice place.” If you can go to the nice place, where everything just happens.

Obviously, Railroad Earth does the jam festival circuit. Do you have a favorite of all the annual festivals?

There’s a lot of favorites, all for different reasons. Each festival has such a different dynamic and has such a capacity for fun. So my favorite festival could have been that one night where we all sat in a little tent backstage and played bluegrass for three or four hours.

The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is amazing. I’m always thrilled to play Greyfox. I used to go there religiously before the band was formed; that was my summer bluegrass immersion every year. So it’s a thrill to perform on a stage where I once sat and saw all my heroes play — Sam Bush and Del McCoury, and on and on.

I hear your mother Lois goes to more shows than a lot of Railroad Earth’s younger faithful fans.

She goes out to hear music no matter what. Even if we’re on the road someplace else, she’ll be going out to hear other friends of ours, or other music. She has a lot of people who know her from our shows and people get a kick out of her. She gets around quite a bit!

What music is the band listening to? How do you discover new music?

Well, I must admit that most of the music I’ve been listening to lately wasn’t even written in this century (laughs). But one of the ways we do get to hear new music—and we’re lucky in this way—is a lot of the bands that we’ve crossed paths with, whether at festivals or band we bring out on the road with us for short stints to open up. One such band is out of Knoxville, Tennessee, is called The Everybody Fields. That’s one of the most modern things that’s caught my ear and made me say, “I have to buy that record.”

If you could put together your own “supergroup” from today’s players in the jam music scene or other music scenes, who would you want to play in your group?

You know, I think I already have that group, and I couldn’t ask for more. I think for whatever reason, for us, things came together, and I couldn’t imagine picking another band.

 

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Laura in NJ

For the truth about the music industry (secondary market ticket scams, extraneous fees, & the other truths no one wants you to know), subscribe to the The Lefsetz Letter.

 
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Ultimate Peach



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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 07:04 PM
That was great Laura! I enjoyed reading it ~ it flowed nicely! that's awesome thatl you got to interview him! His mother sounds real cool too!

 

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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 07:06 PM
great article i like rre

 

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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 07:08 PM
Atta girl! Great job!

 

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Zen Peach



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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 07:11 PM
Great job, Laura! Really enjoyed the interview!

 

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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 07:19 PM
quote:
That was great Laura! I enjoyed reading it ~ it flowed nicely! that's awesome thatl you got to interview him! His mother sounds real cool too!
___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________

very nice interview Laura. i will also be at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N. J. on Feb 13th for the Railroad Earth show. its nice to have a show just a couple miles from my front door. should be a nice size crowd there too, lots of folks from the Jersey Shore will be there. kind of like a hometown show for alot of us. think there is a local Hobo pre-game gathering also.

[Edited on 2/11/2009 by glenn]

 

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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 07:25 PM
Very cool Laura, very cool!

 

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Peach Master



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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 10:05 PM
quote:
quote:
That was great Laura! I enjoyed reading it ~ it flowed nicely! that's awesome thatl you got to interview him! His mother sounds real cool too!
___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________

very nice interview Laura. i will also be at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N. J. on Feb 13th for the Railroad Earth show. its nice to have a show just a couple miles from my front door. should be a nice size crowd there too, lots of folks from the Jersey Shore will be there. kind of like a hometown show for alot of us. think there is a local Hobo pre-game gathering also.

[Edited on 2/11/2009 by glenn]


Glenn, there is! I will send you details if you PM me and give me your email addy...

 

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Laura in NJ



For the truth about the music industry (secondary market ticket scams, extraneous fees, & the other truths no one wants you to know), subscribe to the The Lefsetz Letter.


 

Peach Master



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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 10:06 PM
Thanks for the props, people! Couldn'ta done it without a good interviewee

 

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Laura in NJ



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Peach Master



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  posted on 2/10/2009 at 10:10 PM
quote:
Atta girl! Great job!


I watched both Snoopy shows on ABC tonight!

 

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Laura in NJ



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  posted on 2/13/2009 at 01:54 PM
quote:
quote:
Atta girl! Great job!


I watched both Snoopy shows on ABC tonight!


Hey now - what Snoopy shows? I hate missing me boyo!

 

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  posted on 2/13/2009 at 02:05 PM
Nice, love me some RRE. Been almost a year since I've seen them, I may be experiencing the first signs of withdrawls.
 

A Peach Supreme



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  posted on 2/13/2009 at 02:43 PM
enjoyed the interview. I love their live concerts, just caught them last month in Syracuse and Troy... This band is so high energy, you're rockin with them from the second they hit the first note till the last. They play nice long shows for an average of $20. Love their latest album and the lead singer's voice is pleasantly unique. Something I have not heard from more recent bands.

Check this band out...especially if you love to kick up your heels and rave it up! Its a great crowd that they attract, really into music. Don't be distracted by the bluegrass moniker, there's a lot more stewin' up in that brew!

 

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  posted on 2/13/2009 at 03:00 PM
RAILROAD EARTH TONIGHT !! FEB. 13TH THE STONE PONY ~ ASBURY PARK, N. J.
 
 


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