Interview

Andy Dunnigan w/ The Lil Smokies

saw these guys live in Chicago @ BBQ Blues & Blues Grass in ST. Joseph, pretty f-amazing!

How would you describe the inner-band dynamics of The Lil Smokies?  Does it work the similarly off stage as on or do roles change some between the two? I’ve always firmly believed that one plays his instrument like he lives his life. This is certainly true for our band. That said, as much as it is a collaborative effort on stage, it is off of the stage, as well. Between interviews, conference calls, long drives, and loading up the van, we all try to do our share. I would like to tip my hat to our bass player, Scott Parker, and our banjo player, Matt Cornette, for being the primary drivers. Thank you, gents.

What's the craziest thing that's happened to you guys this year?  I think there are some secrets better left on the road. Talk to me after the show, in the alley in hushed tones.

How do you think being from Montana inform your music and vibe?  Indicative of Montana is space and serenity; my favorite of the vast catalogue of its great attributes. I think we’re able to appreciate that space and let that permeate into our music. Bluegrass, at times, can be incredibly fast and frantic. I think incorporating space can slow the song or set down and be quite effective. 

How do songs come about for you and The Lil Smokies?  It definitely varies song to song. For myself, it’s the constant battle between perspiration and inspiration. Usually, I tend to think there needs to be inspiration before the perspiration, but lately I’m trying to find the inspiration inside the perspiration. Once a song is ready to bring to the band, it can take a couple rehearsals to arrange it or months of coming back to. It really varies from tune to tune. 

Did you grow up with music in your family?  Yeah, my father is a musician for a living. He’s a singer-songwriter, guitar player, and multi-instrumentalist. I definitely grew up inundated with the music of James Taylor, Paul Simon, Chet Atkins, Earl Scruggs and the Beatles. Over time, even as much as I rebelled against it, there was no escaping the power of osmosis.

Was there a live concert experience that impacted you early on?  In high school, I went to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and was completely floored by the enormity of the festival. I think seeing Béla Fleck and the Flecktones’ set that year (2005) was a really monumental moment in my musical career.

What was your first personal public performance?  My first public performance was playing guitar with a jazz pianist at a fancy restaurant, my freshman year in college in 2006. It was all simple instrumental jazz standards. My jazz knowledge is incredibly poor. We got through it somehow. I was, personally, yelled at for playing my stratocaster too loud though. Victory.

How do you feel about playing covers? any personal fail-safe campfire goto's?  I love playing covers. We try to do at least one cover a night. I think it’s important to have a thread of familiarity with audience members that aren’t versed in your own original material. I think as long as the cover is special and authentic, you can make it your own. The Punch Brothers are an incredible example of embracing cover tunes, even with an extensive archive of their own originals.

What singers / songwriters are on your Mt. Rushmore?  In no particular order: Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Taylor Goldsmith, Chris Thile.

What advice do you give to a young musicians & artists seeking their path?  Play because you want to play and because it’s fun. That is the golden rule, which can be applied to writing and performing and touring and all the other subsections of the music industry. Also, be authentic and humble. People will really resonate with humility and authenticity.

The Lil Smokies are granted a wish by a NASA Genie in which you can time travel back to open for any show / band / concert in history -- what are your coordinates?  I’m not a Deadhead at all. Neither is the rest of this band, but I would think opening for The Grateful Dead in Egypt in 1978 would be one hell of a night. Plus, it’s on my bucket list to see the pyramids.