Musicians and bands frequently spend their early years imitating their primary influences. It's why third albums are often watershed moments. Full of assurance from prior studio efforts and years on the road, record number three is when a band or artist emerges into their own — from Born to Run to London Calling to OK Computer.
While the Infamous Stringdusters' third studio disc, Things That Fly, doesn't belong in such illustrious company, it's a fine step forward. The Nashville string band formed in 2005 and came out swinging for the fences. Their 2007 debut, Fork in the Road, scored three awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association, winning Best Album, Emerging Artist of the Year, and Song of the Year (for the title track). About six months after its release, Andy Falco took over for guitarist Chris Eldridge, and the sextet has been going strong ever since.
Their 2008 self-titled disc did even better, reaching number one on the bluegrass chart. Yet as much as the Infamous Stringdusters love their particularly catchy brand of high-energy bluegrass, they found a way to be more expressive on the new album. One key to developing a fresh sound was the open-ended, closed-door pre-production and recording sessions that had them first bivouacked in a rented house hours from home, then in a studio with attached living quarters.
"It opened up a lot of doors and enabled us to all look into our musical history and other influences outside of acoustic music," says Falco from a Park City, Utah tour stop, where he convalesces an injured knee while his mates are off skiing. "We just made music with what we felt were the best treatments for the song."
They took the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone. Falco plays a little organ, and the songs move beyond typical bluegrass obsessions with love lost, found, and gone wrong. "Love One Another" deals with the issue of brotherhood rather than relationships. They even put a bluegrass spin on U2's "In God's Country."
"I think it's interesting for an audience to hear your take on it and kind of present more of your influences," he says. "And I think there will be more of that type of thing in the future."
In the meantime, the band's been working on new music for an album they expect out early next year. They're taking their time and giving much of the new material an airing on the road. "As you tour songs for a while, they change," Falco explains. "People in the business frown upon that, like you shouldn't reveal your new songs."
They're going to record some East Coast shows on their upcoming May tour for a live album, expected to be released in the fall. "A big part of the experience of our band is the live show," Falco explains.
They're also in the process of firming up plans for their second annual Festy Experience. The three-day music festival extends over the Columbus Day weekend in October outside Charlottesville on land owned by Devil's Backbone Brewing Co.
One should expect the Festy Experience to continue to evolve, just as the band has done.
"You work so hard to get to a certain point, then after you get there, you're able to sort of look deeper at yourself and make it more exactly how you want it to be," says Falco. "I think Things That Fly was certainly the beginning of that process."