There may be better ways for a young band to launch a new album than by opening a seven-week tour for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, but the Greencards are quite content with this vehicle.
“It’s going fantastic,” enthuses singer and mandolinist Kym Warner. “It’s a great thrill to be walking into the minor league stadiums [where the shows are held] every day and seeing the stage there, getting to play in front of all those people and getting to see Willie and Bob every night. It’s just incredible — a wonderful opportunity for an up-and-coming band like ourselves.”
Warner’s fellow Greencards are Carol Young, who also sings and plays bass, and fiddler-singer Eamon McLoughlin. The band’s second CD, Weather and Water on Dualtone Records, will make its official bow Tuesday (June 28). “Time” is the lead single and music video.
Speaking to CMT.com on his way to a date in Connecticut, Warner says the band’s shows are “very, very heavy on original material.” The same is true of Weather and Water. The trio wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 12 songs. “The whole idea of the band is to be original and write our own music,” Warner continues. “However, we always throw in a couple of things [in our shows] that we just love to play and have been playing for years. We often do a Bill Monroe and Peter Rowan song called ‘Walls of Time’ [and] an old standard called ‘Bury Me Beneath the Willows.’”
The Greencards are backed in their shows by a guitarist, usually Robbie Gjersoe. But sometimes they call on Rich Brotherton, Robert Earl Keen’s lead guitarist, or Pat Flynn, who used to play in New Grass Revival. The “core guitarist” on the new album was Bryan Sutton.
Another guitar whiz, MCA recording artist Jedd Hughes, is also a frequent contributor to the band’s music. In addition to singing and playing on Weather and Water, he wrote the title track and co-wrote (with Young) “The Ghost of Who We Were.”
Warner and Young moved to the U.S. from Australia in June 2001 and soon after settled in Austin. McLoughlin, who’s from England, had arrived in town about four years earlier. Why Austin instead of, say, Nashville? “It had to do with the live music scene that is there,” Warner explains, “and [us] wanting to put a band together and be able to get work on a regular basis. Austin provided that opportunity. … Over the first two years or so of the band’s existence, we worked four or five nights a week.”
The first time they performed as the Greencards, Warner recalls, was “about three years ago” at Austin’s Cactus Café. At the time, McLoughlin was still a member of the Austin Lounge Lizards. “We were all doing various things with different groups,” says Warner. “We started getting together and realized we knew a lot of the same music and could put a set together pretty easy. The Lounge Lizards didn’t have an opening act for the show. So Eamon said, ‘Why don’t we get our little band to play?’ That’s what happened.” As luck would have it, fellow Aussie Hughes just happened to be in town that night and sat in with them.
The band’s name — a reference to the document that signifies an immigrant’s “lawful permanent residence” in the U. S. — was strictly an afterthought. Warner says, “Eamon was talking to the promoter of the show [who asked], ‘What’s the band’s name?’ We didn’t have one, and Carol and I weren’t there at the time. Eamon said, ‘Oh, golly, I don’t know,’ and he started off with a few [possible] names. … One of the names was ‘Commonwealth,’ I think, which tied in with the New Grass Revival album [title of 1981], as well as being the British and Australian connection. No disrespect to New Grass Revival, but I’m very glad we’re not called Commonwealth. … Eamon said, ‘Well, I guess we could call ourselves the Greencards,’ and [the promoter] said, ‘There you go.’”
Last year, the Greencards released their first album, Movin’ On, on their own label. Dualtone has since picked it up and reissued it. The band moved to Nashville in January 2005.
Warner still isn’t certain how they got the Dylan-Nelson gig. “I just know that Bob Dylan wanted an acoustic band to open the show and one that was somewhat of a bluegrass-type band. I guess our band was submitted along with numerous others from all over the country, and we were lucky enough to be chosen. Why we were chosen? He liked our latest record. And a lot of credit [for the album] would have to go to Gary Paczosa, who engineered the record.”
The band members have yet to meet the legendary headliners they’re opening for, but they have become acquainted with their bands and crews. Nelson’s harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, has even played with them a few times, Warner says.
It is obvious from listening to Weather and Water that the Greencards, although routinely labeled a bluegrass act, are that only by the loosest definition. To begin with, there is no banjo or Dobro, the vocal harmonies don’t have that “high lonesome” bluegrass keen and the lyrical imagery and subject matter are not as narrow as in traditional bluegrass.
“I don’t really refer to us as a bluegrass band,” Warner admits. “I don’t want to ditch bluegrass music or disrespect it because we love it. And that is certainly the biggest platform this band has, no doubt about that. However, I think the bluegrass purists would be disgusted if they thought this was a bluegrass record and were hoping for a Stanley Brothers or Del McCoury type record. It’s not that at all. So I get more frightened by that [designation] than disrespect it. … [The album] is just an amalgamation of the musics that we listen to and like and like to play. … We listen to a lot of singer-songwriters like Guy Clark or Steve Earle or Lyle Lovett — people like that. In the same boat, we listen to a lot of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and various pop and rock acts. All those influences are just going to naturally find their way into our music, I think. And that’s something we’re really not afraid of.”