Seven years and more than six-hundred live shows into its career, Whitewater Ramble has completed work on its long awaited studio debut, All Night Drive. It's been quite a road getting to this point. The Fort Collins-based act could easily write a book chronicling its path from playing tiny and grimy clubs like Cricket On The Hill on Wednesday nights to filling theaters and small amphitheaters as it does frequently now.
In the tradition of Rocky Mountain improv stalwarts like Leftover Salmon, the String Cheese Incident and the Yonder Mountain String Band, Whitewater Ramble blends bluegrass, jazz, electronic and funk with a whole lot of rock, creating a brand of music that is at once familiar, but impossible to pin down.
Tapping longtime friend Tim Carbone, violin player from psychedelic jamband superstars Railroad Earth, along with special studio guests such as Particle's Steve Molitz, Josh Clark from Tea Leaf Green, Grant Gordy from David Grisman Quartet, and Denver saxophone maestro Pete Wall, Whitewater Ramble shatter notions of what an acoustic band sounds like on its first studio album.
In advance of the outfit's CD release show tonight at the Bluebird, we spoke with singer, mandolin shredder and onetime Backbeat contributor Patrick Sites about the band's origins, how its sound has matured and what took so long to issue its first studio album.
Westword (Dutch Seyfarth): Where did the band get it's start?
Patrick Sites: Fort Collins around 2002-2003, mainly at the Avogadro's open bluegrass jam.
WW: What's it like to look back on all those miles traveled and time spent in the early days of playing weeknights at Denver institutions like Herman's Hideaway and Cricket On The Hill?
PS: Fun times. Really learning about the business, sound, good gear, how to get a crowd excited, really just places to hone in on what it is you're trying to do with music.
Ww: These days, how many touring miles do you suppose Whitewater Ramble travels?
PS: Well, considering we change the oil once a month, that would be about 3K per month -- so around 36K per year. Probably a good solid average.
Ww: Can you describe how your band finally broke through into getting booked at higher profile music festivals like Wakarusa?
PS: I still feel as though we have a lot a levels to break through. It's one thing to make it on the bill, but a whole other to get a better stage and slot. We're starting to get some of those better slots now, late night slots, bigger stages. All we can attribute it to is lots of work and really caring about the music and performance we put out there. So much time, thought and effort is put into the songs, where we extend and jam, where we just focus on the song...
It's such a group effort and like-minded goal for our music: That is, connecting with people, promoters and venues. We tried for a long time to play what we thought people wanted to hear, while we were searching for an identity. But then we really just banked on our musical skills and what we really liked playing. I think our enjoyment is coming through in the music, and people see that on stage.
Ww: Your band's sound has definitely matured from the earlier days playing clubs. Can you describe how your band came to find it's current sound and what the future holds for where your band might take it?
PS: Again, it's just focusing on making good, fun music, that entertains the band to perform and is also enjoyable to dance and listen to. Our early days were all about uptempo, uptempo, trying to punch people in the face with tempo for three hours. These days, we've matured in letting jams float, mellowing and also playing downtempo -- for us -- songs to give both the band and the fans a chance to breathe....
It makes the raging work that much more when we do get back into the loud, fast stuff. We had a lot of member turnover in the early days, and we feel like we've continually upgraded, in terms of musicianship. At this point, I'm the only original band member or even around from the first two-three years of the group.
Bringing a higher level of talent into the group has really helped cultivate these ideas and maturity. We've had a pretty consistent lineup the last couple of years, and that's helped us stretch our wings a bit. I think the future will just be improving upon these ideas, getting better with them and also exploring new thoughts and ideas.
Ww: The new album had your band working with noted musician and producer Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth. How did that collaboration come about exactly?
PS: Railroad Earth gave us our first big gig and break. I emailed an MP3 to the entire band, asking them if we could open for them at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins probably six or seven years ago. They weren't big yet, and we were newbies to the scene, but I was, personally, a huge fan of the band and saw their maiden performance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. They liked the song and added us to the bill, and it turned into a great draw -- still their best Fort Collins draw to date -- and we really connected backstage picking and hanging out.
We continued to do a few other support shows with them over the years in various places, but the few nights in Montana really pushed us towards [asking] Tim to make the album. It was their first time into Montana, and we'd actually been doing really well up there, so the shows were huge turnouts and amazing crowds.
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Tim really took note the first night when the kids were screaming so loud on our first song that we all turned around to crank up our amps louder just to hear ourselves. We asked him if he might consult with us on the album; he said absolutely, then starting dropping his producer credits of recent projects with Greensky Bluegrass and Great American Taxi. We were sold.
Ww: Why did it take all these years for Whitewater Ramble to release its debut album?
PS: Technically, this is our third album. The prior two being live releases, lots of covers songs, not the best recordings, but passable. This being the studio debut album, we decided to come with all originals and try to do everything right to the best of our budget and ability. Using Tim, he found the absolute best studio, helped slide the right guest into the right songs and helped us maximize the investment.
We didn't want to listen back to the recording with regrets on the mixing, playing, arrangement or just other general foul-ups... So far, the wait was very worthwhile for us, as we have very few regrets on this project and are extremely proud and pleased of the results.