Joe Ulrich / WITF
Joe Ulrich / WITF
What was old is new again. Bluegrass music has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years and an expansion into new territory. But the York group Weathervane (formerly Kozma) has coined their own genre, which I struggled to pronounce.
“Psycha…wait hold on. Psychadelamericana. Is this something you coined? Or is this a preexisting…condition?” I asked.
“It’s probably both. I think I made it up,” says Paul Kraft, the band’s mandolin player and singer. He and Rin Royer, who plays banjo and sings, are Weathervane’s main singers and songwriters. Alex Griggs plays the guitar and Cain Kline plays the washboard.
Bluegrass music has long had a kind of flirtation with psychadelics and the jam band culture.
“Bluegrass is really big in that scene” Paul says. “Jerry Garcia was a banjo player. That’s all sort of stemmed out of The Grateful Dead, and we’re all dead-heads. That’s kinda…the common thread that runs throughout psychadelic music is The Grateful Dead and some of that stuff. So yeah, we do stem from that sort of jamband culture.”
Traditional bluegrass music has had a focus on hard work and struggle. And that subject is in some of Weathervane’s music, but the struggle today is a bit different than in the past. Rin and Paul talk about one song they played in our studio called “Bottom Scrapin’ By”.
“In the beginnings of bluegrass you read the hard time lyrics and it’s very relevant again,” Rin says.
“I got all kinds of college debt,” Paul adds. “I don’t have a very good job. You know, ‘The American dream is an American fable’ is sort of like, we’ve all been duped.”
It’s a modern take on bluegrass, and Rin tells me they try to avoid labelling themselves as bluegrass.
“And there are a lot of new genres now. A lot of people use ‘newgrass’, ‘Americana’, labels like that to go with this kind of, kind of like a groovy folk sound. We play bluegrass instruments but we’re not bluegrass. But we appeal to, I’d like to think the younger crowd, that they’re not necessarily listening to Ralph Stanley but they’re getting an appreciation for the instruments and for the sound.”
Another song called “Spirit and Ash”, talks about an experience in which Rin came to the end of her religious beliefs, prompted by a walk in the woods.
“The spirit and ash is basically a cremation,” she explains. “I saw some open-air cremations in India and it was a really beautiful experience with the ash flying into the sky. Is there a spirit there? The ash comes back and becomes part of the ground, does our spirit come back and become part of the trees or [go into] another body?”
Is there a spirit? Where does it go? How do I pay off my college debt in a bad job market? Weathervane ponders these questions with humor and levity. If Americana is an interest in the culture and history of this country, Weathervane’s take on the genre is a groovy, folky and sometimes psychedelic commentary on today’s culture and issues.