Live Interview: Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass
22 May 2015 - DelFest 8 - Cumberland, MD
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Parker and Will had the opportunity and privilege of sitting down with Mr. Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass during DelFest 8 this year for a quick interview. Coming from a recent run of shows that included Merriweather’s Dear Jerry debacle, Richmond’s cathartic River Rock show, and then their mighty DelFest MainStage performance, Paul was able to provide very valuable insights regarding the band’s navigation of these intense and active musical waters. It was a very enjoyable chat with this incredibly talented mandolin player and singer which we bring to you now:
TLS: How much power now, either in percentage or fractionally speaking, would you say that you derive from your beard?
PH: //laughter// Oh, I don’t know. Tons, tons.
TLS: I like tons.
PH: That’s a good amount, right?
TLS: It seems an appropriate amount.
PH: You know, it’s like the song from the play, Hair, “it’s not for lack of bread” or something like that. It’s more like just a grooming thing, I’m just not really into it as you can tell.
TLS: I understand. Yeah. Once you stop you don't really want to go back.
PH: One time when I cut it off for a Halloween costume, Anders got really mad at me. He said //whispering//, “you’re ruining our look, man!” I’m like, “it’s my beard…”
TLS: So, has the band claimed ownership of the beard?
PH: Yeah, yeah. I should insure it.
TLS: A collective beard.
PH: Yeah, exactly.
TLS: Fantastic. That’s really pretty funny. Alright man. So, for you personally, you know since you guys formed the band, you’ve played for years, obviously getting incrementally bigger and bigger and bigger. So, from where I sit, that recent upswing has gotten all the larger, exponentially. What was a really significant, but unexpected lifestyle change for you that comes of an upswing like that?
PH: There hasn’t been anything that’s really drastic I’d say on that front. You know as you mentioned, it’s been one step at a time for us. You know we often really observe that and appreciate it. I think a lot of bands, or a lot of businesses, all things probably, that gain a lot of momentum too quickly maybe aren’t ready for it or maybe it’s like disingenuous like if there is some great pop success that has some media buzz behind it, you gain a lot of interest from people who aren’t able to sustain it. And you know, we’ve gotten fans 1 at a time, and then 5 at a time, and then 10 at a time, and etc, but people come on board and they stay on board. So, there’s that and I don’t know as far as lifestyle. We’re having a ton of fun, so, you know, success was obviously the goal, but to enjoy playing was really the purpose. It’s nice to do it for people who are really into it and appreciate it and totally embrace us.
TLS: I can imagine.
PH: So, maybe in some ways that’s changed. You know, there used to be this need to, like, impress and to get the people on board and now when we play there’s the fandom and the support and the appreciation is already there so we’re really free to do a lot of things. So, we’re just being really creative, I guess.
TLS: Love it. That’s awesome. This next question I’m going to enjoy because Colorado is near and dear to my heart: I grew up there, I live there now, and I don’t think I’ll live anywhere else for long before coming back again. You’ve recently moved to Colorado, yes?
PH: That’s correct.
TLS: Colorado is great, especially in our circles, in our communities for bits o’ weirdness, like odd-but-fun little corners. So, have you found anything yet in Colorado that’s kinda cool, something that makes you go, “man, I am glad I moved here for this reason”?
PH: //laughter// Dave, Anders, and I really like going to the 1-Up [in Denver] and playing Pac-Man.
TLS: Good answer. //laughter// That’s fantastic That’s a cool place.
PH: It’s fun. It’s just a cool vibe. It’s exciting being in that city — there’s a lot going on. Kalamazoo’s a city, but it’s a pretty small town. Even with a couple of colleges, it’s not really a metropolis, you know, per se. So, it’s just exciting for me to be in a city. Just everything about it: events, food, music, sports. There’s just so much going on, it’s so overwhelming. It’s awesome.
TLS: I agree with you. From the music standpoint, too, the phrase “too much music” comes up all the time.
TLS: Just because there is so much — you couldn’t possibly go to everything. So, you’re looking at your calendar going, “damn, it’s not going to be Larry Keel tonight…”
PH: …because it will be something else tomorrow.
TLS: There have been some great collaborations lately at the 1-Up, too.
PH: Yeah, he does a really cool thing there, you know, there’s so much going on in town that to have another small venue that’s trying to do shows is a lot to compete with. AEG and LiveNation and then the Cervantes team is so successful, so to do something unique and different is really cool.
TLS: We have a special connection with Justin Picard over there and with MusicMarauders, too. They’ve been good friends to The Lot Scene as we’ve grown up.
PH: That tabletop PacMan, man. Competitive — four-way. So fun.
TLS: I don’t think I’ve tried it.
PH: Oh, it’s the best. It’s pretty funny: Anders and Bruzza and I write the setlists, so we have a setlist thread that’s the three of us, and occasionally things would come up that involved the three of us and not everyone else, but now that Anders and I both moved to Denver, that setlist thread took on a whole new life and we call it the “1-Up Thread” now. We’ll be like: “PacMan?” //laughter//
TLS: //laughter// So, I guess it’s probably pretty cool being in Denver now with everybody.
PH: It’s great. Bruzza moved out here years ago, so, it’s been awhile since Dave and I just hung out. And it’s really nice.
TLS: Well, Colorado welcomes you. Very much so.
PH: Lovin’ it.
TLS: Is Merriweather on the table for this interview? There are a lot of questions circling around in the fandom and I figured you would be the man to ask.
PH: Sure. We can talk about it.
TLS: One big question that shocked all of us when we realized it was happening was that neither you nor Railroad nor Bruce were out for “Ripple” and, as that dawned on us, it was kind of like a double slap in the face, from the experience that we really wanted to have. You know, a lot of us were there for the entire event, but those of us that were there were also there for you guys.
TLS: So, what was up with that? If you don’t mind talking about it.
PH: You know, Bruce wasn’t there at all, because he was sick.
TLS: OK, that’s a good confirmation.
PH: I don’t know. It’s unfortunate that there was no plan and that the fans were really in the dark, so when things didn’t go as planned, there wasn’t really a need to excuse them in any way or to make an explanation. Um, as far as “Ripple”, just for myself personally, I just didn’t want to go out. We were, like, heartbroken, and it was just too emotional, so, I watched it from the crowd, you know?
TLS: That’s what we figured, I mean, to be honest. All the logic spoke to that, but it was one of those things where we didn’t really quite know.
PH: It’s unfortunate. And nobody was happy about it. I mean, clearly things could have been done differently and planned better, but, nobody was stoked. The other bands felt bad, you know.
TLS: Yeah, especially because there was a lot of grousing about…there was the original bill that was already set and then people were added, you know, and that kind of expanded things a little too much, etc. So, speculation, but…
TLS: And I’m no show organizer, I don’t organize shows…
PH: //laughter// You know, the easy elephant in the room to ignore is it was freakin’ Grateful Dead music. Like, of course it’s going to take longer than you planned. Right?
TLS: Yeah, if it’s going to be worth it’s salt, right?
PH: Yeah. People were like, “how are you even going to do ‘Eyes of the World’ in 10 minutes?” And I was like, “we were going to do it in 8:05, actually.” You know, it worked out for the best, because I think last night it was like 14:00 or something and it was nice. It was like, there was no pressure to do it any specific way, just play it. And it felt good.
TLS: It was awesome. It really was, thank you. Very special. Thanks for talking about Merriweather. It wasn’t something I wanted to delve too deeply into because we all know how rough it was. Would you be willing to talk about Dominion River Rock? And how cool a show that was?
PH: That was fun. That was a great show.
TLS: And how wild it was from where we stood. It was one of the most unique shows I’ve ever seen.
PH: Yeah, you know, Merriweather put us in a weird place. And that was really therapeutic. I wanted to do the “Black Muddy” opener and they [the band] were like “are you serious?” And I was, like, “let’s just do it, man. Everybody knows where we’re at right now, so let’s go for it.”
TLS: That’s fantastic.
PH: What a fun place, too. We haven’t really played in Richmond — we played at the Canal Club, like five years ago, and did probably really terribly. Maybe 30 people came or something. And that thing [Dominion River Rock] was huge. And now, apparently, we get to go back and play the real venue there, so now we’ve got a new city to play in.
TLS: Which venue?
PH: The National.
TLS: Good venue.
PH: We recently just started playing Charlottesville, VA, too. The Jefferson there is awesome — it’s one of my favorite venues. And it sounds so good, too.
TLS: The floor has this great, kind of gradual slope so that you can always see really well. It’s a great, great place.
PH: I dig that venue a lot.
TLS: Virginia has quite a few really great venues. We’re lucky to have a VA connection to The Lot Scene.
PH: You know there aren’t a lot of smaller venues in Virginia. We like never played in VA when we were touring, like at all. And then I guess that both of these venues, the National and the Jefferson, they’re kind of big venues so…
TLS: Check out The State Theater in Falls Church, VA, if you haven’t played there before.
PH: I’m familiar with it, but I haven’t played it.
TLS: Another great venue. Pretty cool area, too.
PH: Yeah, the dudes on BMX bikes while we were playing? That was so cool.
TLS: That was wild, man.
PH: Quite a view. It was like: river, train, sunset, 8000 people, bikes flipping.
TLS: Did anyone tell you about the protesters while you were playing?
PH: You know, I noticed, I saw after the fact, I saw photos.
TLS: Pretty crazy, right?
PH: I noticed it happening, though, while we were on stage; people started looking up and waving and stuff. And then I asked the band on stage what was going on and no one else on stage was aware of it. Later, I was like, “remember when I told you guys that the Martians were coming and you all thought I was crazy? Check this picture out.”
TLS: //laughter// That [the protesters] was really cool. Because they just kind of appeared out of nowhere and then, boom.
PH: And then they held them up for awhile, right?
TLS: And then they changed it to a hashtag afterwards.
PH: Oh, they changed the words? Whoa.
TLS: Yeah, it was wild. And then they were gone.
PH: “Frack is wack!”
TLS: Right on, man. Well, I’ve got one final question, and this is just to settle a matter of ignorance out here in the fandom. Some people call you “p-hoff” and there are rumors that you don’t like “p-hoff”…
TLS: …and that may be. I’ve had nicknames I didn't like. So, is that true? And, if so, is there a nickname you dig more than that so we can get that out there?
PH: //laughter// Well, the “phoffman” (pronounced “FOFFMAN”) thing, what I refer to myself as? Right, so when some people say “p-hoffman” they don’t understand. The game is that the first initial and the last name create a new word. And, being a Phish fan for all my life, people were like “oh like Phish, huh? Phoffman?” But it was actually born…I was opening for a band and there wasn’t enough room for my name on the marquee, so they abbreviated my name to “PHOFFMAN” and it was smooshed together because there wasn’t enough room. And I thought it was funny that I had never thought of it. And I was like, “wow that’s really funny: PHOFFMAN.” And then I started trying to do it to other people’s names, too. You can’t do it with a lot of names. My mom’s name is Paula, so she’s a “Phoffman”. And then Paul Hoffman, the lighting designer for Panic. He didn’t like it at first when I called him “phoff” (“FOFF”) — he was, like, “I don’t like that.” And I was all, “whatever, ‘phoff’.”
TLS: How often are you guys confused online?
PH: //laughter// I’ve checked into his hotel room by accident before. It’s funny.
PH: Or, like, I was checking into Strings & Sol and all his address and phone number and all his stuff was on my sheet. Because he’s in their database, too. His brother’s name is Preston, Preston Hoffman, so he’s a “phoffman”, too.
TLS: There’s a lot of them out there. A small army.
PH: Yeah. It just seemed funny to me and now tradition has kind of gone with it. And whatnot.
TLS: Quick parting question for you: you have to choose one or the other — Strings & Sol or JamCruise? Which one are you going on?
PH: Well, both. I wouldn’t pick. I think Strings & Sol is better for our band, but they’re both so fun. Strings & Sol is so much more relaxing. They’re both intense, but, JamCruise is just really intense.
TLS: It’s a marathon of sprints.
PH: Yeah, a marathon of sprinting.
TLS: It can be so tough, but it’s worth it.
PH: Yeah, I like being on JamCruise as the Artist at Large, too, because it’s less pressure and more fun.
TLS: That should be fun again — we’re looking forward to that. Belize this time.
PH: Yeah Belize!
TLS: Yeah, man.
Many thanks to Paul for his time and his friendship to The Lot Scene.
We are grateful for both, good sirI