An Interview with Steep Canyon Rangers, Woody Platt

steep canyonFrom Asheville, North Carolina, Steep Canyon Rangers are an acoustic Bluegrass group. In 2013 the band’s eighth record “Nobody Knows You” won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. Before embarking on a world tour backing comedian/banjoist Steve Martin, the Rangers were also nominated for two International Bluegrass Music awards including Album of the Year “Lovin’ Pretty Women” (2007). Steep Canyon Rangers were also named ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ in 2006 at the IBMA awards ceremony in Nashville, TN.

The group performs regularly in the Bluegrass and Americana music world at festivals like MerleFest, Telluride, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Grey Fox, DelFest and RockyGrass. Abroad, Steep Canyon Rangers have performed in Sweden, Ireland, England, Germany, Switzerland and Canada. Steep Canyon comes to Long Island April 18th performing at The Theater at Westbury with Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.  I had the honor of chatting with Steep Canyon’s Singer and Guitarist Woody Platt.

HOW DID YOU END UP RECORDING TELL THE ONES I LOVE IN WOODSTOCK AT LEVON HELM’S STUDIOS?

We always wanted to play the Midnight Ramble that Levon [Helm’s Studio] does there. It’s kind of a famed All Star Band he had put together and a special thing for people to go attend. We were nearby and we had our agent check in to see if we can open the show. They agreed to let us open the show and then Levon came up to us because he’s so personable. This was maybe about 6-8 months before he died. He came up to us and said “You know you guys are great. It’s really good hearing you and this room has never really had a bluegrass band recorded here.”  So we were flatted and honored and we kept that in the back of our mind and when it came down to record, even though Levon had passed away, we kept him to his word. We called his producer Larry Campbell who did most of Levon’s stuff and did a lot of Bob Dylan’s stuff. He’s an incredible musician and we called him and he said he wanted to do it and that’s how it happened.

DO YOU FEEL LIKE ANY OF THE TRACKS WERE INSPIRED BY LEVON HELM?

Little Bit. We used his drums, we used his studio, his stuff was everywhere…his vibe and his presence was very much a part of the session. One song particular it’s called “Camellia” really has a Levon feel to it.

STEVE HAS PLAYED WITH YOU SINCE 2008?  STEEP CANYON OF COURSE TOURS ON THIER OWN – HAS THAT BEEN DIFFICULT TO MANAGE?

Not really, it’s been difficult in the sense that, it’s just busy. There’s two agents and there’s two management companies so there is a lot of things to align. Steve blocks dates. We block dates way in advanced for Steve because we book way out…it could be challenging but for the most part Steve is so easy to work with as far as if we’re not available and it’s an offer that he really wants to do either we’ll cancel ours or he’ll just understand that we can’t cancel ours and we’re caught up. It’s really great, Steve has been incredibly humble and generous in so many ways that there are no negatives, in the relationships.

HAVE YOU BEEN SEEING A LOT MORE YOUNG ADULTS GOING TO YOUR SHOWS?

Yes and no. Yes in the sense that our music is Bluegrass that was more traditional at one time and was kind of geared towards a more traditional audience. We really stretched out a little bit and do what we want to do and not worry about a box. Yes there is a large audience of young people out there now really getting into the more progressive than oriented bluegrass. There’s a ton of great players that are really young that have grown up around it. I think the industry is really healthy and the genre is reaching out there and getting new fans all the time. What Steve’s doing with the banjo and touring these venues is really helping the genre I truly believe.

DOES EVERYONE IN THE BAND GET INVOLVED IN THE SONGWRITING?

Yes, it’s an interesting process. Our main lyricist’s are Graham our Banjo Player and Charles our Bass Player, but I do a lot of the lead singing so we’ll sit down with the song and they’re really open minded about hearing everybody’s input. I think that is what’s helped us develop our sound, everybody gets involved in a major way. Everybody has inputs on chord progression, keys and tempos. It’s a real kind of democratic process that we have almost to a fault. We really push out everybody’s ideas to find the right thing and we really try to have a unanimous compromise on everything we do. It can be painstaking at times but the end result is that it gives us our own sound.

THE BAND FORMED WHEN YOU WERE IN COLLEGE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA – HAS THE CORE OF THE BAND REMAINED THE SAME?

Yes four of the five are original. The fifth member Nicki Sanders has been with us ten years. We added a drummer about six months ago…a guy that was a friend of ours from childhood that’s very talented. He got a job working with Steve and Edie, we really enjoyed what he was doing and we just used his drums on our records so we just had to keep him on board. Now we have a sixth permanent member!

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN REGARDING YOUR MUSICAL CAREER?

Be yourself, be confident, be proud of what you do and try not to be something that you’re not. When we originally tried to make a traditional bluegrass band we didn’t sound like anybody else, it was hard to have that confidence to go out there night after night and be yourself but eventually it caught on and people know our songs and our sound is our sound.

WHERE DO YOU KEEP THE GRAMMY?

I got mine on a little wood shelf in the living room, we have some other awards that I have in my office but the Grammy is in the Family Room, out there where you can see it!

Hey you earned that Grammy!  Thanks Woody for chatting with SpotOnMagazine.

Don’t miss Steep Canyon Rangers at April 18 at the Theater at Westbury featuring Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

Interview by Christine Gerani

Christine Gerani

Christine Gerani

Editor of SpotOnMagazine at SpotOnMagazine
Christine Gerani is the Editor of Long Island’s SpotOnMagazine, a website dedicated for lovers of Food, Booze and Music! She's interviewed everyone from Grammy winners to Reality Stars and is Executive Producer of "Bites & Booze with Matthew Kourie." Before that, Christine was a session singer and sang backup for Long Island Pop Star Debbie Gibson. She's performed at countless venue’s including Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum and Wembley Stadium in England. She's recently been a judge at the Long Island Horseradish Festival and was lead judge at the My Country 96.1 Next Big Country Star! For the second year in a row she has been a "WingMan" for New York Best Wings Festival.
Christine Gerani

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