The Core: Railroad Earth
Todd Sheaffer on Railroad Earth’s new album, current lineup and old friends
Andrew’s Early Tracks
[After bassist Johnny Grubb left after New Year’s Eve], over the winter we had auditions and ended up with Andrew Altman. We played just a few local New Jersey shows to work Andrew into the fold and, in late winter, we finalized our deal with the label One Haven and got to work on the new album [ Railroad Earth ]. Anytime you lose a band member, it’s a little worrisome ‘cause you don’t really know how things are going to unfold. It’s a lot more than just the notes; it’s the entire spirit of the project—the vibe and the chemistry between all the members. But the fact that we were able to dive into a new project where Andrew could put his stamp on the band’s sound was a good thing. His feel and sound have added tremendously to the record. There’s strength to it. It’s different and fresh. The band is moving into a whole new world and Andrew is a part of that.
We don’t consciously make our musical decisions by saying, “We’re gonna stick specifically to acoustic on this song” or “Let’s play electric now!” It’s usually more of an organic process and the songs that I bring to the table dictate what people play. For example, on [2008’s] Amen Corner, there’s the song “The Forecast.” Timmy [Carbone] played electric guitar on that song, and it was a color and a texture that added to the song. Whereas a song like “Bringin’ My Baby Back Home” was a flat out bluegrass romp and called for some bluegrass pickin’—so that’s what we did. It’s about creating a mood or an ambiance for a song.
A New Shade of Americana
We have a lot of colors at our disposal, musically, with the guys in the band. Andy Goessling can play pretty much anything [including guitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle and saxophone]. We’ll try anything. We’re not restricted to bluegrass instrumentation, although if the song wants that, that’s what we do. The songs on this album are what led us into a little more of a rock sound.
[Our last release was the archival Railroad Earth Retrospective:2001-2009 ] John and [drummer] Carey Harmon were largely involved in that, but the project was mostly led by Mike Partridge, our sound engineer. He recorded everything, so he had all the materials and knew which shows sounded good. I personally didn’t have a whole lot of involvement in that one. I’m probably unusual in that way—in terms of musicians—but I play the show and that’s it for me. I rarely go back and listen to that stuff once it’s done.
From Different, Good Homes
I’ve enjoyed putting on all these different hats [in the past year] and playing some solo and reunion shows with [my previous band] From Good Homes. Each enriches the other. It’s good for me to play my solo shows because I stay in touch with that side of my work and I’m able to play a whole bunch of different songs that don’t really fit into the Railroad Earth or the From Good Homes context. It’s a different mood. It’s a strange thing with the From Good Homes shows because I thought there would be more of a crossover with the Railroad Earth audience since they are both largely based on my songs. But for a lot of From Good Homes fans, the band was part of a period of their life that was dear to them and now their lives have changed. So those shows are largely about reconnecting to a part of their life and seeing some old friends.
Although [Railroad Earth] is from New Jersey, we do well on the West Coast and one of our strongest places is Colorado, where we’re doing New Year’s. We love it there—we’d move there if we were able to, but we are anchored here. Touring and playing shows is a big part of what this band is, but the albums are where the songs live. That’s where people find the music.
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Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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