Infamous Stringdusters

#031 Interview with JEREMY GARRETT from THE INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS by Sandi Millar - Lesson Pros

Photo by Chris Davis

Fiddle Player/Lead Singer for Infamous Stringdusters
by Sandi Millar

Jeremy and I tried to get together at the Blue Ox Festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but I ended up getting really sick at the time we were supposed to meet. Finally, I got a chance to catch up with him for the interview via phone while he was waiting on a flight, and it was a really great chat. It always amazes me how down to earth most musicians are we meet on the road. I just loved this interview and hope you do too.

Enjoy this interview with Jeremy Garrett from the Infamous Stringdusters band! Thanks for reading.


Sandi: Let's just start talking about how you've got started in music.

Jeremy: Well, I started really young at age 3 playing fiddle and singing with my dad who was a bluegrass musician, so it's something that I grew up with in my family. I've been around it a lot all my life, kind of immersed in it while listening to music and was involved in music programs in school. I was always more interested in a more commercial music type of deal.

Sandi: I got to watch some more videos of you on YouTube, which was really fun. I found this wonderful story about the fiddle you play. Can you go into detail about how your dad got that fiddle? That story was so wonderful and I'd loved to pass it on.

Jeremy: Well, I'm lucky to have it, just like tunes sometimes instruments are passed down and you don’t know how you're going to come into them, but you know I came into my fiddle by basically my dad grew up on a street in California and started to play guitar at a young age. He was sort of known on the block as the music guy around town, I guess and he was into it. There was an older couple down the street. The lady played this violin in a philharmonic. She played it a lot and you could tell she played it a bunch. She got sick and ended up passing away and she left the fiddle to her husband. Her husband just really couldn't apparently stand to have it around. It hurt his feelings because it reminded him of her and it wasn't being used. One day, he walked out on the street and handed it to my dad and said, "You'll know what to do with this."

Sandi: I love that!

Jeremy: My dad never really played it. He only really messed with it, but he always kept it. When I came along the first kid, I took an interest in the violin and started on real small violin at age 3 of course, but around age 9 or 10 or maybe 11, I was big enough to play that one and that's the one I’ve been playing for the rest of my life.

Sandi: So, you take it on the road with you? And, you're playing it at shows?

Jeremy: I have it with me right now.

Sandi: Nice!

Sandi: I'm going to waver from the original interview I set up because I am curious: How is it for you to travel on planes? I know that can be challenging for musicians.

Jeremy: I hate it, It definitely can be challenging.

Sandi: Even though they passed the law for musicians, it still seems that it can be troublesome for them.

Jeremy: You just figure out what to do after doing it for so long. I would vouch for Southwest as being the best because they're really respectful almost all the time. Every once in a while, you get someone who really doesn't know what they're doing, but most of the time, people are really respectful about it.

Sandi: Wouldn't it be nice if all airlines would train their flight attendants how important it is for musicians to be able to travel with their instruments.

Jeremy: That is a lot of money the airlines are getting from musicians and it's nice that some have stepped up and are recognizing musicians. It is important that they listen to musicians, and Southwest has done a really good job at that. Just a couple of weeks ago TSA had my case setting on the conveyor belt and the attendant just flip it over like a pancake and ended up cracking the top of my fiddle.

Sandi: Oh no!!! Are they gonna cover it?

Jeremy: No, I was already out of the airport before I discovered it, and she didn't mean to do it. From now on I'm gonna have to have my hand on it until it leaves into the machine and get my hands on it when it comes out.

Sandi: It's challenging to travel with instruments. I'm sorry that happened. Well, It's good to know that Southwest is the airline to go with if you are a musician.

Sandi: Let's talk about your instruments. I know you play all kinds of different instruments. You play the guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Are those three instruments your main ones, or are you diving into some other ones?

Jeremy: Well, that's about enough for me to get tangled up in. Along with the biggin' (bass). I have others that I play sitting around the house that I like to sit around the fire and play. Nothing that I would take out necessarily.

Sandi: Will you talk about what kind of fiddle, mandolin, and guitars you have?

Jeremy:Yeah, I've got a Collings mandolin which I really like. I've had that for three or four years now. It's a real good F-style mandolin. I got this guitar, it's a Worely guitar, the guys name is Worley, (Adam Worley) it's a handmade guitar. It is absolutely incredible. I've never played a guitar like it, I absolutely love it. It's made after a pre-world war Martin Guitar. You know, the guy's sort of a new builder so it's reasonably priced and I can't say enough about it, I really enjoy playing it.

Sandi: Where is he from?

Jeremy: Nashville.

Sandi: Okay, that's good to know. And your fiddle—does it have a brand name?

Jeremy: It was made by a man named Herman Hagberg who was a fine fiddle maker. He's made several and I actually have two of his violins. Of course, he's passed on, his fiddle hasn't, it's a hundred and two years or three years old now. And, I have one that's a hundred and twenty. Both are old and ya know, irreplaceable.

Sandi: Do you play the other one too, or not really?

Jeremy: I do actually, I'm getting ready to have some things done to this one to make it a little more playable for me, and then I'll have two basically the same style of instruments, which is kind of what my goal was so I'd have a good backup along with my main ax in case TSA cracks one again. (Laughs)

Sandi: What was the first fiddle tune you ever learned? Do you remember?

Jeremy: I knew some bluegrass tunes before, but the first real fiddle tune I ever learned was Red Apple Rag.

Sandi: Do you still play it? Do you guys ever do it in your shows?

Jeremy: There are not many opportunities to play it, but I can still play it.

Sandi: I saw you in some YouTube videos jamming with some people playing the "Cherokee Shuffle" and stuff like that, but I know you guys are doing more progressive stuff, so let's talk about the Infamous Stringdusters. I know you started in 2007, is that correct?

Jeremy: Yeah, I think that's right. I'm not good with dates like that, but I think that's right. That'll put us together for about 12 years now or something like that. Ya know, It's been great. We've had a lot of success and a lot of fun along the way and really got to be as creative as we wanted to be pretty much the whole time. (Laughs) You really can't complain about it; it's been a thrilling ride, and it's just a lot of fun.

Sandi: Are all of the band members original?

Jeremy: Almost all of them. We have Andy Falco as an addition. We've been this nucleus for at least six or maybe seven years now, a long time.

Sandi: Yeah, it's a long time to keep the same band members. It's fantastic! You must get along pretty well.

Jeremy: Yeah, we get along very well, actually. We're lucky in that regard. We're all friends, and we have similar ideals and goals, and that makes a big difference for sure.

Sandi: Yeah, you all have to be on the same page.

Jeremy: It translates to the music and you can tell in a heartbeat if you're not.

Sandi: How did the Infamous Stringdusters band name come about?

Jeremy: Ben Eldridge, he actually gave that to us. That's Chris Eldridge's dad. He was our former guitar player and Ben Eldridge is the banjo player in the Seldom Scene. He just came up with the idea and we added in a hat-full of ideas and picked the one we liked the best.

Sandi: How would you describe your music?

Jeremy: I don't know. When people ask me, I just tell them that it's original progressive bluegrass music. I'm pretty straight with people. A lot of other people in the band have other descriptions they like to use, but to me, that's what it is. Maybe you could add Rock as well.

Sandi: I love that! What is your favorite thing about being in a band?

Jeremy: Being in a band is cool, I mean, come on, that's like one of the coolest things there is, right? (Laughs) It's hard to get cooler than that. (Laughs) Honestly, that part is good. I'm an entrepreneur by heart, so I've always been in business for myself. The Stringdusters, I'm a partner in, it's satisfying that roll in my life as well. It's creative and I get to do what I love to do, and honestly, the most important thing about what we do is bring people together, of all walks of life and of different avenues, political or whatever, it doesn't really matter. You come to our show if you like our music, you're just going to enjoy that and have fellowship with like-minded people or at least people that are getting down to the same groves as you are, and there's something good about that.

Sandi: Yeah, that's for sure. I loved seeing you guys play. You have such great energy on stage, and it's really fun to watch.

Sandi: I wanna dive into songwriting. You are a writer, who else writes in the band?

Jeremy: We all take turns writing.

Sandi: Let's talk about your particular writing process. Where do you come up with your ideas?

Jeremy: They come from a variety of ways. I'm inspired by melodies first, they come to my head really easily. I don't have to struggle for them, I have tons of them and I record them as I go along. Over time, I'll filter through them and see what's good and will either make a song myself or take that that idea to someone else and co-write with that melody in mind. Once in a while, I'll also have lyric ideas that will just come up, and those will be the things that stick. It may come from a variety of things; I enjoy co-writing a lot.

Sandi: I see that you've done quite a bit of co-writing. Becky Buller, who was a Minnesota native. How much writing have you done with her?

Jeremy: Yah, she's great. We just had one writing session together and came up with a cool tune: "Freedom." The Dusters ended up putting it on our record. That was cool.

Sandi: I've noticed you've also written with Darrell Scott and John Weisberger. You also wrote a song with Josh Schilling. What's the name of it? Shoot, I'm drawing a blank, it's the song that you guys won the Grammy for.

Jeremy: Oh yeah, "Soul Searching"

Sandi: Oh yeah, that's it. That's a good one.

Jeremy: He and I wrote that together.

Sandi: How was winning the Grammy?

Jeremy: Cool man, it is awesome when people can give you some accolades like that. For us it's really like gas in the tank because we're always excited about what we do. I don't really care that much about awards but we were really grateful to be competing in such a high acclaimed thing. We were sorta representing for our part of the world and our industry as well cause that part hasn't really gotten recognized a lot for this music. I guess bluegrass has but the jammier side of things really hasn't so we were stoked for that.

Sandi: As far as songwriters go, are there particular songwriters that you look up to?

Jeremy: I'm sure, there are masters in every craft. I look up to a lot of country guys, country writers; Merle Haggard, George Jones, Harley Allen, those type of people really impress me. I also like guys like Bryan Adams, he's a genius songwriter.

Sandi: Do you have a favorite piece you've written? If so, what is the title, and why is it your favorite?

Jeremy: I don't really have a favorite; I go through seasons, I guess, with songs where I like them, and then I don't like them anymore, and then maybe I'll re-hatch them, and I'll like them again. For me, I like to mix it up. I like different flavors all the time. That's the way I like life. To be in a different city, it's thrilling to me to not be in one place all the time. We've got some brand new stuff coming out on a brand new record that we just finished. The mastering and mixing are in process, and those are the songs that I'm most excited about right recently.

Sandi: What's the title of the new record?

Jeremy: "Rise Sun"

Sandi: Do you prefer performing versus recording? I know that they both have their own positives and negatives to them. Is there one that you like better than the other?

Jeremy: No, it's just different aspects of the job. You know, I would hate to work personally on the assembly lines where I had to do the same thing over and over again. That's what I like about the entertainment industry; you sorta have to be diverse; there are a lot of different aspects to it. It can all be very enjoyable if you know what you're doing. Especially once you gain some experience. To me, that's the whole key to remaining diverse, and that's how I enjoy it more.

Sandi: What was the moment that you knew that you were all in as a performer or are you doing anything else for side jobs?

Jeremy: I try not to but I do a lot of solo touring as my side job.

Sandi: That's still music-related (Laughs). Did you have that aha moment when you just knew you were all in and you were going to do music 100%?

Jeremy: I kind of always knew it, I kind of always felt it. I have been playing for so long and have so much experience. I considered some other things when I was in high school and maybe college, but as soon as I got out of that, it was all music, and so many years have gone by that there's no way I could go back now.

Sandi: Why would you when you're so talented? You don't need to go back. (Laughs) Tell me about your solo shows. What do you have coming up and how's that going?

Jeremy: Well, I've got dates pending all the time. I play another 20-30, sometimes even 40 shows of my own on top of what the band does. It keeps me super busy, and it challenges me a lot. It's been a new venture for me, this solo thing over the last few years. I had to venture out into these different aspects of how to do that as a player and be entertaining and make a full sound. Since I play guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and sing, I've incorporated those things, but over the years and this year especially, I really concentrated on new shows that I'm doing where I involve all three instruments and loop the instruments together where they all are playing together and I can manipulate them as I go through the show.

Sandi: That's just fantastic. It's so fun to watch it. I particularly like "Travel Light" I think you wrote that song with John Weisberger. Right?

Jeremy: Yeah that right

Sandi: That's a cool one.

Jeremy: Thank you

Sandi: I just watched another one just recently tonight when I had an hour. I found this Irish fiddle medley that you did that was really cool, it kind of sort of started out a little psychedelic, and then it went into this Irish tune. It was really very creative. Very creative.

Sandi: Just a few more questions, I want to can you talk about your pedals. What are you using for your looping?

Jeremy: I used a Boss RC-30 looping pedal, which gives me 2 channels of looping, but really, how I do it, it gets me almost unlimited tracks, and I can just keep doing things and adding things as I go through. I have to get a good enough layering and, after a while, find some creative ways to get in and out.

There's a bigger pedal that I'm considering using. The Boss. They make a bigger pedal, but so far, I really enjoyed using the one I have. I am able to run my guitar, my mandolin, and fiddle all through one system, and I even run an extra vocal mic so I can overdub harmony vocals.

It all came from basically the idea I had for this record series called the RV Sessions when I recorded two records when I was living in my RV. The first one was a singer-songwriter, and the second was all instrumental. Rather than pay a million dollars to send tracks out and have people record on them, I just decided to do it all myself.

I was just considering a way that maybe I could try to do that because I can't necessarily call on somebody when I'm traveling around to join me and play and then know my stuff. That takes some work and rehearsal. I would have to have a network of people. A lot of guys have that, and I probably could make that happen, but I just wanted to experiment and see if I could make that happen and do it by myself. That's basically what I've sorta been able to accomplish this year in all these shows doing the looping thing. It's been a lot of fun and well-received. I think some people are timid because they are thinking, what is this fiddle player gonna do for two hours? (Laughs)

Sandi: Right? (Laughs)

Jeremy: I get that, so I'm working on my marketing to change the image a little bit of how that is perceived when you hear about me in that capacity, but other than that, it's been pretty fun to experiment and do some things that I don't get to do with the Dusters. It's been great!

Sandi: Are you teaching and/or mentoring via Skype or are you just performing so much that it's just too much?

Jeremy: No way! (Laughs)

Sandi: (Laughs)

Jeremy: For a variety of reasons, I have reconsidered doing it in the past. I used to teach a lot. I started out teaching like 30 students a week when I got out of college, and that was cool and satisfying in some ways. But my call was always to do performance and recording. I do like to teach. I teach my daughter how to play music. We get the guitar out and sing.

Sandi: That's so sweet.

Jeremy: She's has an ear for music so that's been a lot of fun. I wouldn't be opposed to eventually going back into the teaching realm at some point, but for now, I'm just a touring musician.

Sandi: Can we talk about practice? How do you practice, and maybe any good exercises that you do that you could share?

Jeremy: You know, all your fundamental practices are always good, practicing scales, timing with a metronome, intonation, making sure your in tune, practicing dynamics, taste, all of the important elements of music. You have to practice them whether that's in a regimented thing or whether that is just messing around trying to do it which is more the approach that I have but I feel like you gotta do that and I've gotten to the point now where I don't really necessarily sit around and practice my instrument. I'll take it out and play it to warm up my hands, and if they're tight that will loosen them up a bit as I play but I'm pretty much ready to go. We play four or five hours a night sometimes, that's kinda like practice. In fact, in my opinion it more intense then practice could ever be, you can practice till the cows come home, but until you put that into a live experience it doesn't mean anything. (laughs) I mean, it does for you at home jamming, I don't mean it like that. I just mean like trying to transfer that to the live stage performance is not as accessible as you think it will be until you have time in front of an audience on the stage.

Sandi: Yeah, cuz you get up there and your fingers are all tight, you think, I knew this solo. I had it inside and out and then get up on stage and it's all over the place. I had it in my living room.(Laughs)

Jeremy: Yeah, you're nervous or whatever.

Sandi: You're arrangements are really super complex and intricate, how do you guys come up with those arrangements for your songs?

Jeremy: We all have chops that we bring to the table. We're all good at our craft and all have ideas that we try to bring that make sense to the song. We try not to make fancy arrangements, we're really trying to make arrangements new to the song and over the years that ideal has changed, you know, probably with our age a little bit.

(Laughs) I definitely think the younger you are the more you will want to hot stuff up and once you get more experience you're more apt to do what the song needs and take your time with things. Hopefully we are maturing in that regard. That's basically it, we just all put our two cents in, we'll sit around and have a pre-production time where we'll all show each other the songs we have in mind and sit and work on it. It takes three to four hours a song and we pretty much have it down after that. All the arrangement and everything.

Sandi: All right, I know you got to go. Do you have any last words or any advice for people that are wanting to pursue a career in music?

Jeremy: You don't have to pursue a career to have a lot of fun and even make a little money at it. It can be a pleasure for anyone at any level. It's nice to take that stress and pressure off of it. But if you're hungry and it's in your soul and in your blood and your feeling the calling and you're the type of person that won't give up because that's the type of person you have to be in my opinion to be successful in the industry. It takes a lot and a long time and it's not always as lucrative or even fun as you hope it will be but if you keep on plugging away and if you believe in it. It will eventually will happen if you've got the talent and you've worked on your chops and you've got a dream and you're going to follow that it'll happen. I encourage people to follow their dream. You gotta be real about it and know that it takes a lot of hunger to make it happen.

Sandi: That's great advice Jeremy. Thank you. I do really appreciate you taking the time, and I hope someday I actually get to meet you.

Jeremy: Yeah, let's make that happen. Let me know if your ever gonna be somewhere that I'm at so we can meet up.

Sandi: I might have to learn the Red Apple Rag and/or maybe we can play the Cherokee Shuffle at like one tenth the speed (Laughs) I can play it but very very slow.

Jeremy: Awesome!

Sandi: Hey, Thanks so much, have a great trip and hope to talk to you soon.

Here is where you can find Jeremy Garrett and the Infamous Stringdusters:
Jeremy Garrett Website: Garrettgrass
Infamous Stringsdusters Website: Infamous StringsDusters

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