If you've been out and about or keeping your eye on the local music schedule, you had to have noticed a new name that keeps popping up around town. Especially over the past few weeks, Grazzhopper has been incredibly busy, picking up shows around town and making a name for itself.
Rest assured, the band name may be new, but you should already know the players. Currently a duo composed of Dylan Angleton (of Coleslaw and Saucy Gentleman's Club) and Cody Brewer (of Moai Broadcast and Coleslaw), the two are using this format to not only explore their passion for acoustic music and bluegrass, but also get out and play on a full time basis.
As Brewer explained to me recently, however, performances are probably best described as Grazzhopper and friends, as the duo is more than happy to have others sit in and join them to expand on their sound. Locally, players like Jesse Aycock and Jeff Porter have sat in with the group when playing clubs like The Colony or Soundpony and when venturing out, members of Mountain Sprout have even joined in the fun when playing at Backwoods Bash.
In fact, as Angleton pointed out, the ultimate goal is to grow and add more instrumentation, ideally growing the group's sound to include percussion and eventually grow into a full band. For now, however, the duo format is working well and having friends sit in when available keeps things fresh while adding another dimension when someone like Aycock sits in and adds some lap steel or dobro to Grazzhopper's already organic, bluegrass infused sound.
Hop To It.
Stylistically, Grazzhopper is a sprawling project that is rooted in folk and bluegrass, but also touches on blues, pop and classic singer/songwriter material. A shorter set, like the one the band will play this weekend at Free Tulsa or when it shares a bill, is usually anchored by original tunes while a full evening with the band stretches out to include more covers and eventually breaks out into a jam session between the two.
When settling in with Grazzhopper, however, the night proves to be much different than most evenings with a singer/songwriter pairing. Sure, the basis in songwriting is there, but the instrumentation alone makes them immediately stand out. The two occasionally swap instruments and vocals, but Angleton generally takes the lead as vocalists while Brewer favors the banjo, giving the duo a different flavor than you usually hear in local clubs.
When writing songs, the pair go with the flow and let inspiration take things where they may, but they often start in classic singer/songwriter mode and have fun with the arrangements as the banjo often take as the spotlight. Lyrically, Angleton prefers to send a positive message with his songs and told me "I like to write about life's struggles and how you deal with and get through them. I'm trying to lift people up and help them with our songs."
Musically, the most common touchstones for Grazzhopper's material are artists like Avett Brothers, Wilco, Bela Fleck and even Mumford and Sons, albeit on a small scale. Brewer takes his cues from influential players like Tony Rice, James Taylor, Dave Grisman, Bela Fleck and Jerry Garcia and tries to wrap them all into his own style of playing.
"I was already into flat-picking and bluegrass when my Grandpa taught me how to play banjo," Brewer shared. "It was really my Dad who got me into bluegrass, but my Grandpa got me into the banjo. I had kind of put it away for a while, but one day I decided to take it out start playing again." Although the instrument doesn't fit within the context of Brewer's playing and role in Moai Broadcast, when stripping back to a more organic sound and approach with Grazzhopper, it not only makes sense, but adds to the character of the band and its sound.
Brewer had already started playing banjo with Angelton as an addition to Dylan's primary band, Coleslaw, but that's in a bigger, electric band setting. The two stripped back to the acoustic format and debuted Grazzhopper at Moai Broadcast's Easter Island Festival on April 1 and drew such a favorable response that they decided to build upon it.
After a few more shows at clubs like Soundpony and The Colony, the two have ramped up their activity as Grazzhopper, booking more shows and even launching a website at grazzhopper.com Although Angleton said that the duo is looking at the possibility of touring and even trying to book a tour to take them to the West Coast and back, that wasn't the initial intention. As Brewer told me "We just have this passion for music and wanted to play together, so we said 'Let's do something together.' We never imagined all this would come together like it has."
"But people love the banjo!" Angleton added laughingly as we wrapped up our evening's conversation.
As the summer continues to heat up, so does Grazzhopper's schedule. This weekend sees a flurry of activity for the duo as Grazzhopper plays Soundpony on Thursday, July 28 and follows it with a 6pm set at Fassler Hall during Free Tulsa on Friday, July 29. The weekend then wraps up with a spot opening for Quiet Corral at Treehouse on Saturday, July 30, giving your three opportunities to see the duo in action and get a good feel for what Grazzhopper is all about. Now is the perfect time to check the duo and watch how it continues to develop as its schedule continues to grow.
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