Runnin’ With The Greyhounds

Greyhounds’ Anthony Farrell and Andrew Trube talk to Pollstar about the group’s R&B/soul sound.  “We shape all the tunes.  They come in in pieces and we just kind of put it all together,” Trube said.

Fans of Motown, Stax Records and the last half-century of R&B will feel right at home listening to the Greyhounds.  Citing influences ranging from Curtis Mayfield to James Brown to Buddy Guy to Albert King, Farrell and Trube come across as masters of the genre.

Change Of Pace is the latest album by The Greyhounds.  Released in April on Ardent Music, the LP was recorded on equipment the group described as “rewired keyboards and junkshop guitars.”

Not only have guitarist Trube and keyboardist Farrell impressed fans with their neo R&B vibe, but other artists are also enamored with the group.  “Greyhounds make real music, the right way and for the right reasons,” Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi Trucks Band said.  Gary Clark Jr., was so impressed with a recent Los Angeles gig that he tweeted the Greyhounds had “crushed it as usual.”

And to think the Greyhounds’ journey began with a classified ad in a newspaper. 

Anthony Farrell and Andrew Trube.

Change Of Pace has been likened to Curtis Mayfield but the Greyhounds seems to draw influences from throughout the R&B/soul spectrum.

Trube: We’re basically influenced by Stax, Motown … a lot of old soul.  We were into all the old Stax stuff, blues, R&B. Some of that record was recorded in Memphis at Ardent. We have a lot of friends in Memphis and were fortunate enough to get to work with Howard Grimes, who played drums on all the old Al Green stuff. All those musicians are still around and we definitely got inspiration from those guys.  [Anthony and I] have always been into older music since day one.

Did you just listen to old R&B records or did the two of you study the records to discover why they were hits?

Trube: We may have done that unconsciously, for sure.  When I was a kid, my old man got me James Brown’s [Solid Gold:] 30 Golden Hits.  It was a cassette tape and I just wore that thing out listening to it.  The changes, the breakdowns, the grooves, all that stuff definitely was seared into my brain early on.  That was the stuff I was way into. When everybody was listening to Metallica or Alice In Chains I was listening to Buddy Guy, Albert King … and Sam & Dave.  Then, realizing where ZZ Top got their influences from, and all these other cats, we just started digging deeper.

As far as our writing is concerned, as far as choruses, verses and when things happen, the groove … we were way into The Meters for a long time. … We didn’t necessarily sit around and make notes about the music but when we wanted to listen to something, that’s what we put on. 

Farrell: [I listened to] a lot of the stereotypical high school stuff – Led Zeppelin … Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, all the psychedelic kind of stuff.  For piano, the record that really shaped a lot of how I play was the Kind Of Blue Miles Davis [album].  Now it’s a standard record that everybody acknowledges as [being] great.  For me … listening to Bill Evans on that record play piano and how … he just kind of played what needed to be played and it made everybody else’s playing mean something different in a way, it just turned my head around and got me really into that.

How did you and the piano become acquainted?

Farrell: I took lessons when I was young.  Mainly, my mom was my teacher.  She put me in a school but it was so expensive that we couldn’t keep doing that so she took it upon herself.

Did you already know what Change Of Pace would sound like even before the recording sessions began?

Trube: Farrell and I brought ideas in together. … Some songs are more together than others.  We bring in [fragments] and pour it all out onto the studio floor and then think, “This is cool: let’s merge this.  Let’s put this with this.”  We shape all the tunes.  They come in in pieces and we just kind of put it all together.  We don’t necessarily know how things will come out.  We kind of have a broad plan to bring this stuff together and we just let it happen.  We don’t try to force anything.  Some stuff doesn’t work, some stuff does.  Then we sit back after we’ve recorded a track and we’re like, “Holy cow!  This is this song.  This is what it is.”  We recorded 23 songs for this record.  We always like to go in with way too much material.  That way we can whittle out what we don’t think is necessary.

Does the material you cut out still get played in concert or is that music we’ll never hear unless you release it on a future album?

Farrell: We did play some of the songs for a minute, but now that we’ve released the album, we’re focused on playing those songs.  I think those songs will eventually find their way into the set in some shape or form.

Trube: Like the tune “Cuz I’m Here” on the record.  That song has been around for 12, 14 years.  We’ve been rattling it around, we’ve played it live but we never recorded it before.  Other artists have recorded that particular song.  Ruthie Foster put it on her record.  We finally got back around to where we were like, “Well, hell, let’s put that out.  Maybe now is the time.”

Everything goes in.  We have a huge catalog of unreleased material that we’ll dig into and the next time we go into the studio we’ll revisit all those ideas. … None of it is wasted.  It just sits there waiting until the right moment.

Farrell: What’s funny is that this record is one of those things where we didn’t really have a vision, that we were going to make this kind of record.  We brought in all our gold and dumped it on the floor, and we were like, “Let’s sift through this and see what works.”  It’s sporadic but at the same time it’s a good representation of where we’ve been in the last couple of years leading up to the album.

Regarding other people covering your songs, how important is publishing right now for the Greyhounds?  Are you actively working to have others record your songs, and placing songs in movies and TV?

Trube: We love writing music. We’re basically just expressing ourselves and hopefully people can connect with that.  From the business side, we’re not thinking of “Hey.  We’re going to write this song and it’s going to be a hit.” Or, “We’re going to write this song and, hopefully, it’s going to be in a commercial.”  We’re not thinking like that during the songwriting process.

Farrell: The reality is that right now, as a musician, the avenues that really help you make your livelihood are basically touring, publishing and licensing. Streaming and all that stuff – the money is not there.  I can’t say whether or not [streaming is] a good or bad thing.  It gets your music out there and all that stuff.  But in terms of being able to live off of your art, that’s not the main revenue stream.

You have to be practical.  This is a business but at the same time, when I was sitting there learning piano with my mom, I wasn’t thinking how I could place that song in an ad.  You can’t let that dictate what you do as an artist.  That’s the surest way to kill that creative part.

Trube: That’s always been our approach.  Just to hit it organically and do it honestly.  We don’t ever want to do anything that’s not who we are.  As far as any of these opportunities that have come up where people have used our music, whether it be licensing or if an artist hears a tune and they’re like, “Holy cow!  I love this song.  I want to put it on my record,” that’s just luck.  And we’ve been lucky and blessed enough that artists want to do that.  Farrell and I have worked with artists, people who have a hard time writing songs, and we’ll help them.  We’ll provide tunes for them.  All of that has come out of us continually building our catalog and continuing writing. And, on top of that, performing.  We love performing and touring, but at the same time we also love writing music for ourselves and for other people.  We’ve been fortunate enough that some people have noticed that.  We never forced it.  It’s like Tedeschi Trucks Band.  There was a song they were digging and they were like, “We want to record that song.” So we were like, “OK.  Ya’ll go on and record it.”  We’re not like, “You should really record this song. This is the tune you need.”  Maybe we should be more like that but it’s not how we approach it. … We just want people to have a natural reaction [to the music] and not be forced.

Farrell: The flip side to that coin is what’s great about actually writing songs with the intent that they will be used for some other purpose, is that there is a freedom that comes with that, too.  As artists, we have a thing.  Like, “We’re Greyhounds and we have a sound that people expect from us.”  Or, “We have a standard that we hold ourselves to and we want this certain type of sound to be our thing.”  But it can be freeing to step outside that and be like, “I just want to write something that’s like this … something I know we wouldn’t do but it’s fun to kind of stretch those muscles, too.”  It’s all about what you’re feeling.

Was it a stroke of luck to end up working together?

Trube: It was total luck how we met.  I put an ad out in the paper and Farrell answered it.  We’ve been working together ever since.

How many other musicians answered that ad?

Trube: I would say about … two. (laughs) One was this crazy lady.  She called me at 2:30 in the morning, woke me up, and was playing piano.  I definitely got some funny calls.

But when Farrell called, I answered and he put his phone down and started playing.  The first few notes I knew right away that this was the dude, this was the cat. We met a couple of days later and we’ve been working ever since.

During those first few weeks working together, were the two of you already thinking about a career together?

Farrell: It felt right straight from the get-go. … I had just graduated high school and I grew up playing [music] in my house.  I played in a couple of little things outside, but mostly I played piano in my house. A friend suggested to me that I should play with other people and said I should look in LA Weekly.

The first ad I called was Andrew’s ad.  I took the bus to meet him. … We went and rehearsed.  On the first day, we had a couple of other guys who were in the band at the time, and we wrote a song that day.  Then Trube was talking about influences he had, he was listening to Galactic, The Meters and stuff like that.  I had just been turned onto The Meters that same summer. I was like, “Oh my God.  This is awesome.”  And it just really clicked, immediately.

The two of you spent some time playing with J.J. Grey & Mofro.  What did you learn from that experience?

Trube: A lot.  We toured for a while before.  We used to crash on JJ’s floor when we’d go through Florida. We’d spend a night at his house.  He called us up and asked us to be a part of the band.  We jumped on.  It was crazy.  For once, Farrell and I were able to put our feet up and just be musicians and not worry about payroll, routing and any of that stuff.  We were able to be observers and really hone in, work on our music and focus on our instruments.  For JJ & Mofro, from the time we jumped until we jumped out, the band had grown, as far as attendance.  We did a bunch of international touring, everything grew exponentially.  It blew up for him.  And he’s still doing great and he’s one of the more successful touring acts out there … He’s just smart.  I learned a lot from him … how to act on stage, how to travel.  Every single aspect.  It’s like, “We have to implement that in the Greyhounds.” Or there would be stuff we didn’t want to do.  We watched some missteps. We were privy to some curveballs.  It was an incredible learning experience.  I look at it like it was where Farrell and I got our doctorates.  We encountered a lot of realities we didn’t know about, that became really clear.  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I don’t regret the time I spent with the band.

What kind of rooms work best for the Greyhounds?

Farrell: Over the years we’ve played so many different places that we’ve always been kind of like chameleons in that we go into [a place] and play to the room.  I feel that what works best for us is a place that has a dance floor but you can also sit and comfortably listen to the music … smaller places that are more like listening rooms with the option to dance.  We let the people come to us. We’re not trying to hit you over the head with this.  If you’re into it, come a little closer.

Trube: We played a gig the other night at the Meijer Gardens amphitheatre [in Grand Rapids, Mich.].  It’s a real intimate kind of venue.  Everybody has a good seat. People can get up if they want.  But then we can go in and play here in [Austin] at the Continental Club, like a 250-300 capacity room. It’s intimate as well.  I feel like we work best in that setting.  We like to have an engagement with the audience.  We play to the audience.  If they’re there, ready to hear some music and enjoy themselves … that can be in a cafeteria, coffee shop, theatre or amphitheatre.  We’ve played them all.  We’ll show up at the venue, we’ll see the stage and we’re like, “OK. It’s going to be this kind of gig tonight.”

Farrell: We came up on that Super Jam circuit. When we first started out, we were like, “We have these 10 songs and we have to make them last two hours. Let’s stretch out and jam.”  We’re still comfortable doing that. That’s one part of how we evolved as artists.  We’re all about the song.  We like to jam … but what we came to do is play the songs the way they’re supposed to be played.

How many musicians are in your touring band?

Trube:  Right now it’s just Anthony, me and a drummer.  We travel as a three-piece, generally.  But that’s kind of how we’ve always done it.  A lot of that has to do, primarily, with budget.  I know we have dreams of adding a couple more elements to the live show.  That will come when it’s supposed to.  When it can and when it makes sense.  But as far as recording, we never put those restraints on ourselves.  We lay down the basic tracks.  We’re like, “Horns would be great on this”  Or, “A female backup would be awesome on this song.” The studio beast is a totally different beast than the live beast as far as what we can do. … As far as performing live, we take the songs, sit down and go, “OK.  How the hell are we going to play this live?” Then we go through that whole rigmarole of taking the most important pieces of the tunes and making sure they’re happening.

But if we had our druthers, we’d have a couple of singers, a utility person, maybe a horn player.

Farrell: Did you say “druthers?”

Trube: (laughs) Farrell’s the linguist.  He knows all the good words.  I say shit, sometimes, that’s totally wrong.

But that’s where we’re at.  We keep a tight ship. We tour smart.  We don’t overdo ourselves, we don’t overextend ourselves.  That keeps us comfortable and relaxed so that when we perform … we do the best we can.  It works.  I love three-pieces. Always have. I feel like there’s so much sound in a three-piece.  It almost scares me to think about adding more people.  I think, “Is that going to lose that element that we bring already, that curveball of just being three people?”  So many people come up to us and say,” I dunno how you’re getting so much sound from just the three of you.” I love hearing that. That lets me know we’re doing the right thing.

The video for “Before BP” has been described as a sarcastic commentary about politics and propaganda.  How keen are the two of you on social and political messaging through your music?

Farrell: Before recently, I wasn’t too crazy about [politics] but it got to a point where no matter where I went or what I did, it was hard to get away from.  I look at music as an expression of your times and how you’re feeling. If that’s what you’re thinking about and if that’s what you’re into, then why not?  I don’t want to make that our primary focus in terms of what we are as a band.  But at the same time, it’s hard to deny that is where … a lot of people’s attention is focused on right now.  It feels like there are things that need to be said. I don’t want to just get on Facebook and post about it.  Some of the avenues that you have to express yourself don’t really feel like you’re getting anywhere. … Some of those songs, I feel, were opportunities to say something in a way that wasn’t taking one point of view but opening a discussion.

Trube: We try not to bring up religion or politics. … We hope everyone can enjoy it.  We don’t want anyone to feel alienated by our lyrics.  Originally, the label wanted us to call this [album] War Songs Of Your Mind and suggested we go full political and make a super statement.

And we were like, “You know, man?  Change Of Pace is good.  We’ve had a lot of changes in our lives and a lot of transition.  The tunes that are political, like ‘Before BP,’ we’ll just let people make their own assumptions and observations.”  It’s all pretty true stuff that’s going on and it’s not specifically saying, “Screw Trump” or “Screw Clinton.”  There’s a message being said, but it’s open.  It’s like art.  Like a [Mark] Rothko [painting], it’s abstract in a way that it speaks to different people in different ways.  He would paint his emotions.  You could usually tell where he was in his life … regarding the colors he was using.  He never was like, “This is how I feel.” It wasn’t that specific.  It was emotional.  And that’s kind of like what we want to do.  This is where we’re at, this is what’s happening, this is what we’re viewing but we’re not going to give you any definite answers.  That’s not our place. It’s up to you to decide what to do.

Farrell: And that’s the thing.  That’s art exactly.  I think the job of art is to create that space where a discussion happens.  Like reading the newspaper … You see what’s happening and you draw your own conclusions.

Trube: So many people are told what to feel and how to think. We want to provide an outlet where you think for yourself.

Where do you see yourselves in five years?

Trube: I want a hot tub.  That’s all I want.  Not even a nice one. (laughs)

Doing what we’re doing.  Writing music, helping people.  Farrell and I have been trying to help a lot of artists.  We’re opening a studio here in Austin at the end of the year.  We want to help other artists that we believe in. … We want to help people with whatever they need help with – writing, recording, emotional support, tour explanations, whatever.  Also my goal is to be able to play anywhere any night of the week anywhere in the world and have a good show.

Maybe we’ll be getting compensated a little better, I dunno. (laughs)  Even then, fuck it, we’re fine now.  We don’t need a lot.  That’s not what it was ever about for us. That’s just extra.  We just hope people enjoy what we do.  We just want to create in whatever capacity and be a beacon of light in this fucked-up industry. … We know there’s so much static but if you just focus on the music, focus on the work, you’ll be fine. Don’t worry about Instagram, Facebook and whatever.

Farrell: Music is where it’s at.  That’s it.  As long as you stay true to the music and keep creating and stay true to your vision … people are going to see that. Just keep on keeping on.

Greyhounds’ touring schedule:

“We came up on that Super Jam circuit. When we first started out, we were like, We have these 10 songs and we have to make them last two hours. Let’s stretch out and jam.’”

July 6 – Washington, D.C., Gypsy Sally’s
July 7 – New York, N.Y., Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2
July 8 – Fall River, Maine, Narrows Center For The Arts
July 9 – Greenfield, Maine, Greenfield Community College (Green River Festival)
July 13 – Cambridge, Maine, Atwoods Tavern
July 14 – Burlington, Vt., Club Metronome
July 15 – West Forks, Maine, Three Rivers Fun Resort
July 16 – Hazleton, Pa., Tap At Humbolt Beer Depot
Aug. 5 – Los Angeles, Calif., The Mint
Aug. 6 – San Francisco, Calif., Brick & Mortar Music Hall
Aug. 8 – Bend, Ore., Volcanic Theatre Pub
Aug. 9 – Portland, Ore., McMenamins White Eagle Saloon
Aug. 10 – Seattle, Wash., Tractor Tavern
Aug. 13 – Denver, Colo., Cervantes’ Other Side
Sept. 2 – French Village, Mo., Astral Valley (Astral Observatory Music & Camping Festival)
Sept. 3 – Franklin, Tenn., Leiper’s Fork Lawnchair Theatre (Fork Fest)
Sept. 14 – Austin, Texas, Guero’s Taco Bar 

Please visit the Greyhounds’ website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram account for more information.