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Jon Pickett from Chain Station, a four-piece Denver-based band that makes all kinds of mountain music, spoke with the Clear Creek Courant about how they make music, how their sound has changed over the years and about their upcoming show at the United Center in Idaho Springs on July 23.
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Pickett is the band's co-founder, as well as a guitarist, vocalist and upright-bassist.
Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Clear Creek Courant: You all travel pretty far across the west for shows, do you do a lot of shows out of Colorado now?
Jon Pickett: We do, during the summer time we are typically on tour anywhere from a week at a time to, at most, six weeks. We have steered away from the six week tours, it's just a little too hard on us being on the road that long.
We do have a growing fanbase in the midwest, and we’ve done two tours in Canada — Alberta and British Columbia. I guess we’re an internationally touring band now.
CCC: Have you played out in Idaho Springs before?
JP: We have…we were at the church about, man, it must have been six years ago. We’ve been a band for something like 11 years now, so we’ve done some traveling. We’re psyched for Idaho Springs, we’ve got a lot of friends who live kind of out in that area who are coming down for that show.
CCC: Do you remember playing there those six years ago?
JP: Oh yeah, 100% remember playing there, it’s a fantastic venue. It’s kind of cool to be playing in a church, cathedral type setting — it felt good.
CCC: What kind of crowd are you hoping to come in?
JP: Well, we’re hoping for creative dancers because of the terrain. If people want to get up and move, they’ll naturally find the aisle, the rows, the gaps — they’ll seek out the dance floor, whether it’s two feet or twenty feet.
CCC: Any tactics to get people to dance?
JP: No, it’s just typically when the spirit moves people. I’d say it usually takes one person. We welcome people to dance, and I guess the best tactic is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously as humans — we do musically, but not as humans. So, we act the fool quite often. We’re just a bunch of yahoos, and when people see that, I think it lowers people’s inhibitions and they say, “Well if these guys are dorking out up there, we might as well dance in the crowd.”
CCC: Do you find it hard to strike a balance between traditional Bluegrass and Newgrass?
JP: The balance is not difficult for us. We’re shapeshifters when it comes to styles. But also, I think it all falls into the same group — it’s just mountain music. That’s our answer, and then people I guess try to pin us down on exactly what we mean by that. It just has the feel of the mountains, and tradition. The roots are in tradition and we kind of bend it, bend and melt it so there’s some kind of flare.
Bluegrass is, traditionally, kind of a style that lends itself to intimacy. Not five people, it’s not really about how many people, it’s really about the setting. We’ve been finding crowds all throughout the midwest that are just hungry for roots music, and dancing, and just fun music. So I think that’s what we do.
CCC: How much does keeping with that mountain sound shape the music, compared to what people may expect from being called Bluegrass?
JP: What happens is, the system — if you can call it that — like for Backroads, our last album, is we go to a practice room, somebody brings a song idea, and we sit down together and we work it out — we kind of massage it. We write different parts for different instruments in there, embellish it more, or totally steer it towards another direction.
In Wild Wicked Wind, there’s a part after the breakdown that the banjo just rips, and it just felt like it fit. It felt like it was necessary to be there. So, I would say the decision sometimes seems a bit ethereal, it just happens. But you can definitely tell when something needs to be more banjo-y, or something like that.
CCC: How did bringing in Chris “C-Bob” Elliot in 2018 affect the music?
JP: It definitely changed the band. Chris’ style of banjo is a lot different — if you’re not a banjo aficionado it’s kind of like one of those things where a banjo is a banjo. But, Chris brought an eclectic creativity in his style of playing banjo that brought the band in a new zone. It spanked everyone else’s creativity because he’s so inspiring.
CCC: How different did Backroads, your album after that, end of being because of that?
JP: The band has changed a lot, it went from a four-piece with James Weatherly, to a four-piece with C-Bob. Dan Andree is our fiddle player, he used to play with a band called the Henhouse Prowlers out of Chicago. We finally got him on board to kind of go more full-time, and the first foray into that was him recording with us on Backroads.
He was there for the writing process, and contributed to it. He has got a lot of flair, he dances on stage and brings another version of Chris’ creativity, just another whole spectrum from him — he’s a fantastic fiddle player. He definitely changes the music a bit with his fiddle too, it sustains. All of us are pluckers, the bass, the mandolin, guitar — the guitar can strum and ring, but rings only for so long. That can make Bluegrass kind of stay in its staccato, why fiddle or dobro is important, it has that sustaining. It fills the gap, and has kind of a background tapestry behind our chucky plucky stuff.
With Dan and C-Bob, I’d say it feels the best it ever has musically, and we’re starting to get the same response from crowds. I think they’re responding to how we are, and that’s usually a good sign that it’s working.
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