Front Country’s “Sake of the Sound” Shakes Up Bluegrass

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In the spirit of Halloween, here’s a spooky number from San Francisco-based bluegrass ensemble Front Country. Read a Q&A with bandleader-songwriter Melody Walker, then hear “Sake of the Sound” — the title track of their brand new album — rumbling at the bottom.

CMT Edge: I’m imagining the phrase “feel the room shake” could be taken a few different ways. What kind of imagery was on your mind when you wrote “Sake of the Sound”?

Walker: It was sort of an impressionistic set of senses that came to mind when trying to describe the power of music. Like the ecstatic feeling when a room full of people are all rocking out together and music becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s more than just a little sexy and transcendent — and also scary — to fully immerse in the experience.

I started with the chorus — which was a sketch with lots of room for interpretation — and then the rest of the song is based on fleshing out this sort of earthquake metaphor … which is tres Bay Area, really. What can I say? I grew up here. I was definitely recalling images of the 1906 quake that burned San Francisco to the ground. Music and earthquakes as vibration. Ecstatic obliteration.

There’s a teeny bit of “Thriller” mixed in there (with the second-person narrative verses). I was a huge MJ fan as a child.

I like the dramatic arrangement especially. How did you go about capturing that eerie feeling in the studio? What do you remember about this particular recording experience?

The thing I love about this band is our ability to build textures that create spaces, moods, other worlds — but with all acoustic instruments. So when I brought the song “Sake of the Sound” to the band and we arranged it together, much of the eeriness and anticipation was just built in. If you close your eyes, it’s all there.

But I wouldn’t be a diva if I didn’t demand proper mood lighting for recording sessions. So, yeah, luckily we were in a nice studio with tons of dimmers and track lighting and got to set the tone to make it extra creepy and dark. Most of us in the band are into different types of metal and prog rock, so we relish the chance to indulge those sensibilities — even if it’s still all fiddles and banjos.

I see you have a hometown record release show coming up. For folks who haven’t seen you play, how would you describe your music?

We are officially celebrating the release of Sake of the Sound on Nov. 15 at Slim’s in our hometown of San Francisco. Definitely hoping to see some new faces out there and have some folks take a chance on a new band. One of the big things we hear from new fans is, “I didn’t think I liked bluegrass, but I like you!” So maybe our genre is bluegrass for people who don’t like bluegrass?

In terms of the usual nomenclature, we are a progressive bluegrass and Americana band with some pop and indie-folk tendencies. Our second set at the Slim’s show on Nov 15 will sound exactly like The Band — because we will be covering the entire second album of The Band! Front Country is known for creative cover songs, but it’s our first time covering a whole album, and we are really excited for the challenge.

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