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New Groove

Published: 2005/05/08
by Chris Clark

Split Lip Rayfield

Trying to define the Split Lip Rayfield sound can be challenging. This month’s New Groove of the Month offers an interesting blend of two styles of music not often associated with one another, metal and bluegrass. Saying they’re merely a combination of the two would be an understatement. There’s also elements of rock, punk and folk. Instead, these four central Kansas pickers venture into an area of music characterized by speedy playing, short, jam-packed songs (some clocking in at less than 2 minutes) and a converted Ford gas tank. With a high octane live show, a solid foundation in bluegrass traditions and a little bit of small town charm, Split Lip Rayfield is poised for big things this summer, highlighted by spots at Wakarusa, the Northwest String Summit and Telluride.

The quartet is comprised of Kirk Rundstrom on guitar and dobro, Wayne Gottstine on vocals and mandolin, Eric Mardis on banjo and Jeff Eaton, whose one-string bass instrument was fashioned from the aforementioned gas tank. Founded as a trio, which released its debut disc in 1998, the addition of Gottstine the next year solidified SLR as a quartet. The band’s sound has been characterized as hillbilly hardcore, post-punk progressive bluegrass and onward.

I caught up with the Kirk and Wayne of Split Lip Rayfield in the midst of their Spring Tour as they truck throughout the country, foot stomping and finger picking away. They each took a little time to answer some questions about the band, their name and their sound, giving a little taste of the band’s humor and slight lack of words. You can find Split Lip Rayfield in the Midwest and a couple shows out east this May and at Wakarusa and Telluride next month. Also, visit www.splitliprayfield.com for tour information, audio clips and merchandise.

I just read an article in Relix that said something along the lines that characterizes your sound as punk bluegrass. Does that seem fitting to you?
Wayne: Having been on the other side of the stage while we were playing, it’s hard to answer. But from where I’m standing, it’s a wall of noise.

Where DO you classify SLR’s sound? Is it punk bluegrass, is it crazed blue punk? I’ve heard several interesting descriptions from the press; I’m interested to see where you put it.
Kirk: Aggressive acoustic rock and roll with bluegrass instruments.
Wayne: It’s aggressive acoustic music with country, metal and bluegrass influences.

So what got you actually playing music? What and when did you pick up your first instrument?
Kirk: I used to sing/scream in a punk band when I was 18.
Wayne: The trumpet was my first instrument, but when I heard Led Zeppelin as a 10 year old, I started playing guitar.

What does life in Central Kansas bring to you guys personally and to your sound? How has it helped shape SLR?
Kirk: Love and Tolerance.
Wayne: Central Kansas brings me many clashes with Christians, but it is where my people live.

Why play music so fast? It seems like even when you’re slowed down a bit you’re still fast. How did this come about?
Wayne: It’s not that we are so fast. It’s just the rest of the world is so slow.

Do you find it difficult to translate your live sound into the studio and vice versa? What have been the main challenges of making a coherent studio album?
Wayne: None really, the biggest difference is volume.

What does music and playing music for people a couple hundred times a year mean to you? Is there anything you’d rather be doing and what would you be doing if you weren’t in SLR?
Kirk: It means I get to eat. I would be polar bear hunting.
Wayne: I like playing music but I’m weary of traveling in a tin can. If I were not playing music, I’d be finishing my degree in Spanish literature.

Give our readers a taste of what everyday life on tour, and off tour is like for you guys.
Kirk: It’s basically drive, eat, play, sleep, wake-up, drive, eat, play, sleep… Off tour it’s eat, play, sleep, eat, play, sleep…
Wayne: Touring is so glamorous. Wake up in the morning, drive 500 miles, go to dirty bar, sound check, wait, play show, go to dirty motel, wake up early, repeat, lather, rinse. While not touring I spend all my time with my wife and kid.

Lastly, name a few CDs in your stereo, what kind of shit are you listening to and what are you influenced by?
Kirk: Mars Volta, Radiohead, anything Mike Patton does, John Coltrane.
Wayne: In my CD player I have Bruce Springsteen Live from Asbury Park, Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe, Metallica’s Master of Puppets, NWA’s Straight Outta Compton and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

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