The Yellow Dandies: Not Your Average Bluegrass Band January 10, 2018 13:27
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Best described as a commanding absurdist string band, The Yellow Dandies apply a manic energy to their shows that keeps audiences hooked from start to finish. Whether they’re dazzling crowds with tongue and finger twisting original compositions, or dusting off Bluegrass standards and old-time fiddle tunes, the Birmingham, AL based band takes listeners on eclectic romps that never quite spin out of control. Don't let the title of their debut album The Fun and Reckless Indiscriminate Merry Making fool you - the Yellow Dandies are comprised of skilled and serious musicians.
Led by the prolific songwriting duo of Bailey Hill (mandolin) and Ben Hood (guitar), the group is rounded out with Ryan Brown (bass) and former GA Fiddle Queen Aerin DeRussy (fiddle). The Yellow Dandies have infused every song with outstanding musicianship, distinctive humor, and authentic style. They are guaranteed to leave any crowd pumped full of holy Dandies spirt, hootin’, hollerin’, dancin’, and demandin’ more.
We recently had a chance to catch up with Bailey and Ben ahead of the band's debut performance at Moe's Original BBQ in Montgomery, AL on Thursday, January 11th. See below for the full conversation.
Let's start off by talking a little band history. You guys officially started The Yellow Dandies back in 2016. Was there much history amongst the four of you? How did the band come to life?
Bailey: So, me and Ben kind of started this project...I think it was back in November of 2015. We hung out and played a gig in Sewanee, Tennessee with a good friend of ours. After that, we decided that we wanted to put some of our originals onto an album. We sat down over a weekend and just hung out, recorded, and wrote.
After we got done with our project, we thought it would be really interesting to hear how it would come together with a full band. So how we originally approached it, Ben and I did all of the instrumental recordings on the album with a lot of help from our friends.
Around February or March, we got together with two of our dawgs, Dr. Wink and Nasty Nate, who we frequently jammed with out at Rockin Tree and decided we'd throw a band together. We did our first show at The Nick around the last Wednesday of March in 2016. That's kind of how it all got started.
Ben: We originally had five total members, but the one...we found out he liked The Beatles, so we fired him. We don't like that new music. Bluegrass only.
Bailey: Now we have Aerin de Russy and Ryan Brown. They have responded to our propaganda well. You know, the reeducation.
So you mentioned recording these originals onto an album. Was this the 2016 release, The Fun of Reckless and Indiscriminate Merry Making?
Bailey: Yeah that's it.
When was that album actually recorded?
Ben: Umm...from January 1st to January 2nd. (laughs)
Bailey: (laughs) Over the course of about two to three days. In a bedroom.
So the album was released prior to the official 'launch' of the band...
Bailey: Yeah...the band was something that was in the back of our minds but didn't really become a full-fledged thing until the album was over. We didn't really seriously consider it until we had seen the finished product of the album.
Ben: So, we recorded for two or three days, then there was about a month of obsessive, neurotic Pro Tools tweaking. Overdubs and a bunch of weird things. After that, we finally got the album and said, "Hey...this isn't half bad. Maybe it's not just a present for grandma."
Bailey: (laughs) It's definitely not a present for grandma!
Ben: Actually, my grandma loves our album.
Bailey: We sold out of our first run of albums, and now we’ve almost sold out of our bootleg copies. That’s the second edition. We autographed ‘em and shit. They’re gonna be worth a lot of cash.
Watch The Yellow Dandies perform "Food In The Wintertime" here:
There you go. There's always a unique story for early stages of every band. A lot of times, you hear of bands playing gigs for a year or two before getting into the studio.
Bailey: Yeah...we're a pretty backwards group, in general. Me and Ben have been playing together since high school, so there is a long history there. This was the first time that we actually sat down and decided to create something together.
Ben: We have a long, “Will they? Won’t they?” kind of dynamic. The tension has kept things going for a while. We're like Ross and Rachel, but with bluegrass.
That's great. First time I've heard that analogy. I'd imagine you guys have now written a fair amount of originals since 2016. Are you looking to get back into the studio this year?
Bailey: Yeah, we actually are. We've been writing for the past two years and have a fairly large catalog of new material that hasn't been recorded. It's something that has been in the back of our mind that we've been discussing as a group for the last few months. We're finally starting to get some concrete plans and get the wheels turning. We're going to hopefully be running a fundraising scheme soon. We're currently planning a 24-hour live stream to raise some money to get things going. We have a bucket full of songs that we're gonna be picking from. It's gonna have a much more live feel than the previous album. It's gonna be a bit more professional, as well.
Right on. I've read that you guys have been best described as a "commanding, absurdist string band." That obviously contains elements on bluegrass, folk, and plenty of other influences. How would you best describe your overall approach to your music and performances?
Ben: Hmm...well, usually, we get up on stage and take a traditional song, or we take a song that we wrote, and then halfway through, I'll start yelling chords at our bassist. Some random words will come to Bailey’s mind like, "It's football time," or "Who's the boss?" or something. We just start rolling from there and see what happens.
Bailey: (laughs) It's a weird, improv approach, in a way, to a fiddle tune or traditional tune. But a lot of times, it's not how you would typically expect a band to improv. So, there are a lot of newgrass or jamgrass bands out there today, and they'll do their own original thing with a fiddle tune. They'll put a hefty amount of improv into it, and it sounds beautiful. It's really cool. I like how a lot of these bands approach that. We try to have more of a rhythmic and overall approach to changing the way that the fiddle tune sounds...to keep it sounding original. We also try to throw in some weird, improv comedy onto it as well.
Ben: We're really just trying to think...”What would the Lion of Zion, Haile Selassie, do?” And Bob Marley, you know.
Bailey: We try to have a really Bob Marley, Rastafarian approach to the bluegrass experience. There's kind of a good football mix to it also. We're trying really hard man. (laughs)
Ben: We're trying so hard, dude. (laughs)
I would imagine that no song and no show is ever going to be quite the same.
Bailey: Yeah.... (laughs).... it's kind of impossible for it to be at this point, which is kind of the fun aspect of it. We don't even know what the hell is gonna happen half of the time. We'll go in with a plan that we're going to follow. That's the thing that I love about playing with this group so much. You can go in there with a plan, but if something gets thrown off, someone wants to do something different, the group does a hell of a good job following. For someone as ADD and sporadic as I am on stage, it's really nice to have a group that's ok with taking a drastic turn into another direction in the middle of a tune.
Ben: We're trying to figure out how to make the album different every time someone plays it, but that technology doesn't exist.
Not yet. That seems like a wild, complex idea, but you never know these days.
Bailey: Science, man.
Ben: You can get an app on your phone that wakes you up. It's like an alarm clock. I don't know. Things are so crazy now.
Bailey: Dude, you can get an app now...when a song comes on the radio and you don't know what it is, you can use the app, and it will tell you what the song is. That's crazy. That's the kind of shit that just blows my mind.
Ben: They have these pianos now that play themselves. It's got a little roll. I don't know. It's a rolling pin or something. The piano just plays itself. They don't even need us anymore. We're going extinct.
Bailey: A lot of this technology has reshaped the way that we approach listening to music. Man...we're trying to reshape the way people look at music, in a live show. We're trying to do something different every time with it. There's nothing more fun than sitting down in a good bluegrass jam and playing some old tunes. But we're trying to bring something a little more fresh to the genre. Not just in listening and instrumental sense, but a lyrical sense, too. That's where I feel that you find the least amount of variation. In most bluegrass, in general, you don't find as many lyrical songs that really get out there and push limits.
I love that. So, the Birmingham music scene has really taken off in recent years. Not just with local acts, but new venues, the overall culture, and willingness of the community to support a wide variety of music. What type of impact would you say that this local scene has made on the band?
Bailey: The cool thing that I've found about the Birmingham music scene is that it's a very supportive scene, which is nice, and it's also very goofy. There's a lot of participation found in Birmingham with different groups hosting jams, or people from different bands getting together and playing. You find people in all other sorts of rock bands that also like to sit down and play some bluegrass or jazz.
I feel like Birmingham isn't just a good scene for a new band like us, but also just a good community for new musicians to start getting involved with. That, in a lot of ways, has helped us. We've gotten a lot of help from friends in other bands. They've helped us find gigs and get our name out there. I haven't played in a lot of other cities, but that's something that I've very much appreciated about how bands in Birmingham approach shit around here.
Ben: It's kind of like The Giving Tree. We're the little man, and the Birmingham scene is like the tree. They just keep on giving, and we just keep taking. It's great. I've played around in the bluegrass scene in Nashville a little bit. Everybody is nice to your face, but they're out to get you...and you're out to get them. It's like espionage.
Bailey: Which is fine...and kind of fun.
Ben: But then you come to Birmingham, and everybody is so nice and supportive. They just don't see it coming...that you could take everything from them and give them nothing. It's great. They do not see the betrayal coming. It's very easy to take advantage of people here.
Bailey: (laughs) So you can see kind of the balance we have here.
Ben: I would say in the Birmingham music scene, that's the way we're most innovative. It's not that we like to play goofy bluegrass, it's that we're the first people to really show them how to screw over other bands and that type of thing.
Well, you never know. Maybe that can develop into a successful blueprint for you.
Bailey: (laughs) Musical espionage...the new way to progress as a band.
Mastered and produced by The Yellow Dandies.
Ben: Yeah...we've got a great system. If I get caught, I just blame it on Bailey. If he gets caught, he just blames it on me. If both of us get caught, we just blame it on our manager, Cammie.
Bailey: We usually just blame it on Cammie.
There's always something to be said for accountability.
Bailey: That's right, and we don't have much of it.
Well one more thing, before we wrap up. It's obviously a brand new year, and everyone has their resolutions and goals for 2018. What are you guys hoping to accomplish as a band, and what are you most looking forward to?
Ben: Obviously, we're really hoping to get out there, get touring, spread the message, and spread the great love of L. Ron Hubbard. Get this album done, and also just to let people know that Jeffrey Dahmer was framed. That's our big goal.
Bailey: Yeah, it's a message that needs to get out there. We have a few points that we're gonna try to hit pretty big things year. We've got a show over Memorial Day weekend at the Horse Pens 40 Bluegrass and Crafts Fair that we're really excited about. It’s a special weekend for us because it’s the same weekend as the former Acoustic Café Festival that, after 21 years, is no longer a thing. We hope to get a lot of that crowd out to Horse Pens 40 in May. It's such a beautiful area.
This summer, hopefully we can hit the road with some out of state touring. Spread our wings a little bit. It's new territory for us, but we're looking forward to doing some adventuring. Pushing forward on more of the creative side too. Getting more of these songs going, working on our stage show; getting more of a concrete idea for where this album is gonna be going, and getting some hard information soon for people as to when it is coming and what they can expect.
And the whole Jeffrey Dahmer thing too is very important to us. We've been working for a while to try and make sure it’s understood that he didn't do what people think he did. He was definitely framed by the government.
We'll have to look into that one a little further and see what we can do to help.
Ben: Plus just getting people into bluegrass around here.
Bailey: It's a genre of music that while its so prominent in our culture, a lot of people don't know much about its roots. Especially its comedic roots, in general. Ben always brings up a good point that if you look at old time music, in the early days it had a steep comedic element to it. People didn't take the lyrics too seriously. It's what people did to relax and laugh. It's gotten a lot more serious over the years in the way lyrics are viewed. People are a lot more general with their lyrical approach to the music. The comedic element and originality lacks some times, while the traditional element remains very strong.
We strive to behold and respect the traditional roots of the music, while lyrically maintaining originality, and a comedic story telling aspect. I think there is a lot of fun to be had when you can add that element of entertainment and comedy, while loving and beholding the beautiful, traditional roots that make the genre what it is. In a way, it's weird, because it feels like a kind of aggressive approach, but, in a lot of ways, it's trying to bring it back to where it used to be. We’re trying to bring it back to the goofiness that it once maintained. Sometimes your art is meant to be laughed at to be enjoyed.
Ben: Here's a fun fact. The first time that Earl Scruggs, who's kind of the father of bluegrass banjo, the first time he was on the Opry, he went to play with Bill Monroe, and someone went backstage and asked Uncle Dave Macon what he thought about it. He said, "He sounds ok, but he's not a bit funny." We're taking the Uncle Dave approach. We're like 'woke' Uncle Dave Macon.