Bluegrass will never die. It seems to pop up out of nowhere, rearing its head every now and then just to remind us it's still alive and kicking. And, Shannon Saunders is doing her part to keep the old ball rolling, albeit with a twist. Her project, Shannon Saunders and the Splinters, strips down bluegrass to the bare elements and reconstructs it with jazz and Celtic influences. The results can be heard on their latest disc, The Yellow Book, where Saunders and her fellow musicians (which include her brother and two sisters) paste together a wide array of sounds which are both contemporary and traditional in form.
Where does this inspiration come from? In a recent interview, Saunders told us what keeps her pickin' and grinnin'...
There's been an increase in mainstream interest in bluegrass with the surprising success of the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack. Have you noticed any benefits from this popularity?
I think the biggest impact the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack has had is exposing the listening public, many of who were not really aware of bluegrass as a genre, to good bluegrass and related music. Personally, I have not seen any direct 'benefits' outside of Man of Constant Sorrow becoming our most requested song. However, as public awareness and the popularity of bluegrass grows, it will benefit everyone involved in this type of music.
One thing that impresses me about your record is that it is not very polished, that is to say, the production feels off-the-cuff and not overly slick. Was this intentional?
Yes it was. In keeping true to the style of music we play, we tried to record an acoustic, live sounding recording. Some of the tracks, such as the 'Haste to the Wedding' instrumental set were recorded live, off the floor with no overdubs. I think you need to be careful in the studio not to overproduce an acoustic album. In most cases people are buying the record because they like what they have seen at a show so we tried to translate that feeling on the album.
You do an interesting take on Gordon Lightfoot's "The Way I Feel"--how did that come about?
That song was a favorite of my sister Julie's. (guitar & vocals) We rearranged it a bit, adding an instrumental section, and worked it into our live set. It became a favorite one to play and was a definite choice for the album.
What's your favorite track on the album, and why?
That's a tough question... probably the title track, 'The Yellow Book'. It's an instrumental tune that's always fun to play live and improvise on so I never tire of it. On the record Cam Salay does some great banjo playing.
What's it like working with your brother and sisters?
Absolutely great. We've been playing together since we were kids in the family band. Having very strong friendships as well creates a musical relationship where we can have a lot of fun. In the studio we work very well together... there is a certain honesty that only exists in a family relationship.
How do you feel about the current state of "popular" country music? Is there room for more traditional acts like yours?
Well... popular country music has, for the most part, slid so far from it's roots that it's hard to see any connection anymore. The Nashville music machine has never had much time for traditional acts. As this separation between 'new country' and 'old country' grows, one can only hope that this will cause the listening public to dig a little deeper and find what isn't spinning on the top 40 country charts.