Every touring musician knows the difference between a twisting, turning road and a miles-long straightaway - whether that road is the literal one on which they spend so much of their time or a metaphor for career and for life. The Grascals certainly know it, as challenges and changes have mixed with top industry awards, 3 GRAMMY nominations, 2 IBMA Entertainer Of The Year awards, late-night TV appearances, frequent guest appearances on The Grand Ole Opry and more in a career now in its 15th year. And with the release of their latest Mountain Home collection, Straighten The Curves, the veteran ensemble shows that they're moving full speed ahead toward new horizons.
With two of the set's tracks already out - and having already topped the charts - Straighten The Curves looks briefly backward even as it introduces a strong new addition in Chris Davis, who contributes solid guitar picking, stellar harmonies and compelling lead vocals that perfectly complement the singing of veteran members John Bryan and founding member Terry Smith. But though the lineup has changed, you wouldn't know it from the sextet's masterful performances encompassing their signature mix of bluegrass and country-flavored originals, country classics, gospel treasures and sparkling instrumentals.
Q: Thank you for doing this interview with us. Congratulations on the release of your new album, why did you call it "Straighten the Curves"?
Danny Roberts (Mandolin): It actually was the label's idea. They really liked the song and thought that with some of the changes that the band has seen, that with this album we had straightened out some curves and are headed in a good direction.
Q: With the addition of newcomer Chris Davis, what do you appreciate most about his contribution to the team?
Kristin (Banjo) - I was in a band with Chris years ago. We had traveled many miles together already, so I knew he would fit in great with our guys. Unlike audiences, who had only seen Chris as a sideman, I knew what a great lead singer he is and always felt like he could be up front. I'm so glad he is now. Personally and musically, he is perfect for us.
Q: I know you have often included covers in your albums, but why Eddie Rabbitt's "Driving My Life Away"?
Chris Davis (Guitar and vocals)- I did that song with my wife, Julie Reeves', country band at one point. As a kid, I always loved it because it's a great feeling song. I always heard and felt the rhythm and thought it would work in bluegrass. We were in Branson, MO doing one of my first shows and the band heard it and thought it would be good for the record. And Eddie Rabbitt, what a great singer!
Q: One of my favorite songs on the record is "Haggard" which is a song about the life of a dog. Is this song based on a true story? Are you guys animal lovers?
John Bryan (Guitar and vocals) - Yeah, that is based on a true story, written by Harley Allen, and based on his dog. We are animal lovers. My wife and I have 2 dogs, Louie and Crowlie. We don't have kids yet, so they're like our kids. And Kristin loves dogs to death. She tries to meet every dog at every show!
Q: You have often included Christian-themed songs on your albums, why is this important for you?
John Bryan (Guitar and vocals) - It's always important to me to have some gospel songs on an album. I grew up in church singing with my mom and that's basically where I learned to sing. That's where Shepherd of My Valley came from. Those songs will always have a special place with me and as a band, gospel songs reflect our beliefs.
Q: "What God Looks Like" was a song we premiered at Hallels, and it reminds us of the importance of being able to respond to kids when they ask questions about God. Do your children ask you questions about God? How do you normally respond to these questions?
Kristin Scott Benson (banjo) - With great care! Our son is 12 and the questions and explanations grow, with age. Sometimes, it helps clarify our own beliefs, or at least remind us of them, when we explain them to our kids. At VBS every year, I always think, "If we could live out and feel the lessons we are teaching these kids on a daily basis, our foundation would be strong enough to face anything." We can make things way too complicated sometimes.
Q: Another song that really is really powerful is "They Laughed." Tell us about your thoughts on this great ballad.
Adam Haynes (fiddle) - This was written by Billy Lawson. It tells the story from 3 different people's perspective - the King of Rock-n-roll, a great American writer, and the Greatest Carpenter of all time! Chris delivered it well and we don't normally do anything with a minor, eerie feel, so I thought it was a nice departure. I found this one for us. I heard a country singer do it because I knew his steel player and I was so glad we were able to record it.
Q: Will you guys be touring in the fall? And what can our readers expect when they come out to see you?
Terry Smith (bass and vocals) - We have a good time on stage and that's the main thing we want to present. We want the audience to feel that, right along with us. From the beginning, the live shows were always about interacting with the crowd and incorporating them into what we do. I think that's one of the secrets to success for The Grascals. We always hear from people after shows that it looks like we are having a great time and we really are.