Tuesday, March 8, 2016

An Interview With Supper Break String Band

If you’re looking for a funky style of bluegrass music, Supper Break String Band might be the perfect fit for you. Brothers Josh and Zach Starrett, along with good friend Spencer Hall, have a chemistry that allows them to experiment and improvise together on stage to entertain the audience. Supper Break will be touring the country, even making a west coast visit, hoping to expand their fan base as well as gathering material for new songs. The following is the band members' responses to our questions. Photos taken by SkySight Photography.

  When did you meet each other and how did you decide to become a group?
Spencer Hall (SH) & Zach Starrett (ZS): Spencer and I became friends in high school. We had always jammed together with guitars, bass, hand drums you name it. Josh had been in a couple bands and playing solo acoustic shows when Zack picked up the mandolin in 2011. Perfect fit. Josh and I were practicing for our first duo show when spencer picked up a bass and followed along. Immediately it sounded good and we decided to move forward with it. That was actually the night we named the band too. 

Josh Starrett (JS): Chemistry is something not to be ignored; of course we had done our fair share of living room jamming and experimenting with different types of music and instruments, but the first time we hit the stage together it was obvious; we were going to be a band.

What is the process, or first step, you follow when writing the lyrics and music for each song?  What is the inspiration for your songwriting?  Who participates in the songwriting process?
JS:  We all participate in the songwriting process; Zack and I typically write lyrics and bring it together collectively once we sit down with each other.  

ZS: Sometimes it can start with just a riff or a lyric and we all work together to bring it to life. Other times individually, a song or most of a song is written. Either way, we all work together to finalize every original.

What current projects are you excited about?
JS:  Our upcoming national tours and the release of our debut album No Brakes.  We’ll be traveling all over the country this year and if there’s one thing I love to do as much as play music, its travel.  I feel very fortunate to be able to do both at the same time.

Zs: Touring and the next album. I’d like the next album to be a capturing of a live performance.

SH: Touring.  Progressing as a band musically. Getting tighter and more impressive from the crowd point of view.

Would you rather play small venues or larger venues?  Why?
JS:  I enjoy the interaction and closeness of smaller venues, but the greatest feeling in the world is walking onto a stage and looking out to a massive crowd that’s just ready to throw down.  The atmosphere of a show like that is pretty awesome.  

ZS: Size of the venue is sometimes irrelevant. We have played small bar shows with a lot of great crowd interaction and bigger venues for even as few as 3 or 4 people. But the more the merrier, when we have had to chance to play for big crowds, we really feed off of the positive energy they supply. 

SH:  I enjoy both equally. Some of my favorite bands haven’t become too big to play a small venue.  Regardless of how popular they are due to their love of music (more than money).  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to fill large venues with our fans.

What is one unforgettable show you’ve played (or show memory)?
JS:  Our win at the Palace Theatre’s Battle of the Bands and the release of our album.  Both were nights I’ll truly never forget.

ZS: Having our buddy, Uncle Jesse from New York, sit in and play banjo with us at a benefit. The first and only time we have played a set with a banjo player. And that boy can pick..

SH: Hemlock Groove. A festival we have been invited to every time since its conception. They do 2 every year. We know many musicians there and have gotten to experiment our style of music with up to six other musicians on stage with us at the same time. Everything from keyboardist to jazz flute players and a drummer.

I notice you sometimes cover artists like Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd.  What do you enjoy about performing covers and do you have a favorite cover or musician?
JS:  I enjoy playing covers because those songs and bands are some of my favorite, and its nice to put our on twist on something that the audience may already be familiar with.  Its also an amazing feeling when the crowd is singing along, sometimes louder than the band.

ZS: Adding our own twist to it is my favorite part of covers. I like to covers that may not sound anything like the original. Taking a non-bluegrass song and giving it a bluegrass rythem is endlessly fun. Any song can be made grassy.

On your Facebook page, you listed Oscar the Grouch, Buddha, and Jesus as some of your influences. How do these people inspire your music.
JS: Our list of inspirational/influential people was largely meant to be humorous; a lot of people take things too seriously and humor can be a good medicine for a lot of different ailments.  There are certainly names in there that have helped us tremendously, but overall, the attitude of the message was meant to entertain.

ZS: hahahaha

SH: hahaha

What was your best experience while on the road performing?
ZS: All of the moments that go along with meeting new people and musicians and having new experiences. Hard to put a best to it. Every trip is different. Fun sure is fun.

What is your proudest moment as a musician?
ZS: The turnout for the CD release was huge. People asking for covers and singing along to them is something I think every musician loves. 

SH: We held our CD release at a local brewery. Four Seasons is an amazing, up and coming brewery in Latrobe, PA. We have been playing there since they started and they have always supported us. It was incredible to release our album at a place with that kind of connection to us. We broke their sales record that night too.

JS:  My first tour; we had booked a southern tour to promote the upcoming album, and at the last minute circumstances were going to force us to cancel the tour.  I decided to play the shows solo, and got to travel through the south to Nashville, Charleston SC, Charlotte, Virginia Beach, and other amazing places.  The realization that I was on the road living my dream was by far my proudest individual moment as a musician.

What can people expect to see in your live performances?
JS: Expect to be entertained.

ZS: Fun, positive energy.

SH: The unexpected.

What is your favorite part of performing live?
JS: Interacting with the crowd and feeding off of their energy.

SH: The non verbal communication we can have with one another on stage. Improvising and nailing it. 

ZS: Agreed.

What do you value about the music scene in PA?
JS: The comradery. We wouldn’t have been able to get where we are now without other musicians and bands in our corner. 

ZS: Its kind of like we are all competing, but on the same team. In all of PA and neighboring states like WV and MD, bluegrass and folk do very well. Its all Appalachia and we play an Appalachian kind of music. 

SH: The general public seems to be very supportive of local music. People around here seem to really enjoy folk and bluegrass styles of music.

When growing up and becoming interested in music, what artists inspired you to make music?
ZS: Such a wide variety of inspirations. Since I can remember, I’ve loved the idea of being a musician. Toward my later years of high school is when I started actually playing instruments, bass was first, and I loved the funky and heavy rock stylings of Incubus. In those days it was also Tool, Metallica, Led Zep, Pink Floyd, 311, Sublime, etc.  I had also just started listening to bluegrass and jam music like String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band,  and The Disco Biscuits to name a few. The jam and bluegrass realm is what I fell into so to speak, but I have tons of love for metal, classic rock, hip hop, blues, electro stuff, soul, funk. All sorts. 

SH:  I agree with all of those bands. When Zack and I became friends, music was probably the most common ground between us and since then, that still holds true. We still have our own tastes, but they’re definitely very similar. 

JS: Our dad, he is an amazing musician. We are also heavily influenced by countless artists who have helped shape our sound and performances.

What was the best advice shared by another musician?
JS: Don’t suck. No matter what – if you’re playing for barstools or thousands of people, give it 1000% every time.

ZS: Find the pocket. Find the groove.

SH: Know when to play loud, know when to quiet down.

What do you wish you would have known when you started in the music industry?
ZS: The stress and conflict. The fact that it would test our friendships.

SH: If you want to be serious about being a musician, you have to sacrifice a lot. 

JS: No matter what, you’re going to have critics. Early on, you’re feeling especially vulnerable every time you take the stage, and can sometimes dwell on the fact that not everyone is going to be a fan.

How has your music evolved over the years?
ZS: The more we play, the better we get, the more we learn the structure of music. A better understanding, and more practice help us progress.

SH: We are finally starting to create a sound that is truly unique and our own. It takes years to have a proper foundation and we have been a band for about 4 years now. 

JS: I feel like our arrangements have gotten, much more (for lack of a better word) professional. We didn’t start out as a garage band, we started as a living room band. The more we play, perform, and record, the more “professional” we are becoming.

What has been your biggest challenge as performers?
JS: As with any band, each member leads his own priorities outside of music. As we are evolving into a more professional act, learning how to budget time for things outside of music can be incredibly challenging, but necessary.

What was your first performance as a group?
JS: A little hole-in-the-wall bar in Ligonier, PA, called Cool Springs.

What was the first live show that inspired you to do this for a living?
JS: A Dave Matthews Show when I was 14 or 15. The atmosphere was almost tangible. I was hooked for life.

ZS: All Good 2005, String Cheese Incident Saturday late night set.

SH: All Good 2010, Yonder Mountain String Band Saturday late night set.

What drew you to string instruments in the rock/bluegrass style?
JS: Our father had always been a phenomenal vocalist/musician and he was a banjo player. Bluegrass, blues, and folk music are quite literally in our blood.

ZS: The fun-ness of it. The whiskey drinking, pretty girl chasing, outlaw attitude was immediately attractive to me. Also, the prettiness of string music. String instruments can really conjur up emotions. It’s powerful.

SH: It’s about the coolest arrangement of sounds when it comes to music in my opinion. It very comforting and I can relate to it more than any other music.

Do you like to experiment with new instruments or musical styles in your records or do you prefer to stay within a certain style?
ZS: YES! New instruments, new styles, we love new! “At the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.” –Krakauer

What are all your favorite instruments to play? How young were you when you started?
ZS: Mandolin when I was 24 and I just recently added a baritone 5 string electric mandolin to the mix. Also picked up a banjo recently and love playing it. 

JS: I found an orphaned acoustic 6 string guitar at my dad’s house when I was 7 or 8 and haven’t set it down since. 

SH: Been playing guitar since about 16. Settled in with the bass guitar about 5 years ago.

What are the band’s plans for the spring and summer months?
JS: Heavy touring all over the country.

ZS: Touring and festivals.

Does the band have any performances scheduled in the region during the months of March and April?
JS: We’ve got a lot of local shows coming up in the next few months before we hit the road in the spring/summer for tour. Our schedule can be found on Facebook and Reverb Nation. 

ZS: Around April is when we would like to start a tour from our hometown to the western and northwestern states and basically anything we can link together. Still planning it.

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