Editor’s note: May is recognized as Bluegrass Month, and CMT.com will be running a series of stories this week focusing on bluegrass-related music.
You could say fate brought the Greencards’ Kym Warner, Eamon McLaughlin and Carol Young together, or perhaps it was their collective love for music.
Warner (mandolin champion of Australia for four consecutive years), McLaughlin (an established violinist from London) and Young (a successful Australian artist in her own right) met nearly a decade ago after moving to Austin, Texas, in hopes of playing live music.
“Austin is a magical place,” said Warner. “Funny how those things happen in life,” he said of the three uniting.
Though each member played in different bands when they first moved to Austin, they eventually created their own group. The band’s name seemed to form as naturally as their music. One night before a gig, McLaughlin lightheartedly suggested “Greencards,” and the band immediately embraced the tongue-in-cheek suggestion.
“It’s worked well for us because, straight away, people can identify with that because we’re all foreigners. Although in the early stages, a lot of people would go to a show expecting a Tejano mariachi band,” Warner laughed.
But there’s nothing funny about the Greencards’ drive and love for their music. Since forming, the trio has completed four studio albums, toured with the likes of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, nabbed several Americana Music Awards and, last year, were nominated for a Grammy for best country instrumental performance for the song, “Mucky the Duck.” Since then, they’ve been touring, writing and completing their fourth and newest album, Fascination.
Warner says Fascination is their most focused project to date.
“I think it’s been a real natural progression for a touring band,” he said. “We’ve identified with ourselves, discovered who we are, and that’s taken a while. When we started and we did our first record, we had no touring under our belt. We just played in Austin. We just wrote probably anything, which was the only stuff we knew, which was more of a traditional thing. But since then, we’ve had five or six years of touring, all of the experiences, all of the people you meet. We’ve been so fortunate to play at all of these festivals which have a really eclectic form of music styles.”
The Greencards, who travel by van rather than a huge tour bus, have nearly a dozen music festivals lined up for their touring schedule this year. They’ll be traveling all over the nation — from the recent MerleFest in North Carolina to California’s Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival and to Chicago’s Lollapalooza with big-name acts like the Beastie Boys, Ben Folds and even Snoop Dogg on the bill. Warner says it’s this diverse mixture of music and artists, along with their commitment to keep an open mind for new sounds, that keeps their music fresh and inventive.
“We’re playing Lollapalooza this year, which is going to be great, and that’s going to get us in front of a crowd that has never heard of the Greencards,” he said. “Those are the things that we hope for — that we get that opportunity — and then it’s up to us. I hope we can win over some new fans. That’s where it is: getting to some different places and meeting some different folks and hopefully winning over some different people.”
Warner says their previous process of making an album was a mixture of the three throwing their individual ideas together until they’ve formed enough for a record. This time, he says all pride was put aside to come up with new, strong material, even if that meant coming from an outside source. However, he says they managed to write and craft enough material to form a real theme for the album, with many of the songs lyrically positive, yet fused with a contrasting melody.
“We kind of think of music in almost a visual way, like it’s going through these scene changes,” he says. “I love really good soundtracks for that reason, and so that’s kind of how we approach most of our songwriting and our arrangements — the scene changes and the mood changes that you can get within a song to get those textures. Sometimes it’s a really eerie sounding thing, but it’s a positive message. I guess it was a conscious effort to get all of those things in there and some subconscious things that just happen.”
One such song, “Water in the Well,” has a haunting melody with positive undertones, describes having faith when all hope seems lost, seemingly fitting of today’s economic crisis.
“It wasn’t a specific thing to write that, but it was certainly something that I was feeling really positive lyrically when we were writing,” he said. “We needed this positive energy, and I was feeling really positive about it.”
Another such song is “Three Four Time.” Robert Earl Keen bassist Bill Whitbeck provided the melody, and Warner and Young soon came up with lyrics during a lunch break.
“The song itself is actually about relationships. It’s about a relationship with music,” he said. “It’s not about a person. It’s about music coming to you, not like a loved one coming to you. It’s sort of embracing that. That’s what that song’s about. It’s just about the feeling that you get from music — which is an incredible thing.”
Warner bears this same optimistic outlook for the new album and the future.
“We got a Grammy nomination off our last record, and I never would have thought that would have happened,” he said. “You can’t ever expect things like that to come along again. Just the fact of getting to play for an all-new audience and trying to win them over, that’s the exciting thing.”