Listen to Run Boy Run’s third album, Something to Someone, and you can tell there’s certainly something unique about this progressive bluegrass band. Maybe it’s the way the lush and stately strings dramatically crest and fall, or the way the airy vocals of Grace Rolland (cello) and sisters Bekah Sandoval Rolland (fiddle) and Jen Sandoval (mandolin) blend like soft winds around guitarist-fiddler Matt Rolland’s picking and bowing.
Whatever it is, there is definitely an atmosphere to the Tucson, Arizona–based four-piece’s new album. The band will bring this atmosphere, thickened by blood bonds (the band is composed of two sets of siblings), to SOhO on Sunday, April 10. Joining them will be our friends from Ventura, The Ventucky String Band, who have an upcoming appearance at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival in April and European shows in December.
Matt Rolland— brother to Grace, husband to Bekah — credits the album’s sound to famed Bear Creek Studios, a barn in Woodinville, Washington, whose walls have encapsulated resonances from performers such as Brandi Carlile and The Lumineers, as well as James Brown and Modest Mouse. Run Boy Run recorded with a newly deep attention to detail, recording hallways to get a cabaret-jazz-lounge sound, or handpicking precise microphones for each sound. “They really worked with us to produce this very warm inviting sound, and we approached the record by trying to give different songs different textures,” Matt Rolland said.
It’s in the textures that Run Boy Run distinguish themselves as decidedly different. Less banjo-heavy than more traditionalist acts along the bluegrass circuit, almost every instrument the members of Run Boy Run play is bowed, creating a rhythmic rise and fall of string swells and swings. “It’s kind of easy to overdo the backward-looking aspect of bluegrass in my opinion –– that’s an important part of the community, but I love all the innovation that’s happening,” Rolland said. So while they’re “constantly quoting things that came before us,” Run Boy Run is more interested in seeing where bluegrass might go than where it has been before.
Yet if there is something Run Boy Run holds in common with other bluegrass bands, it’s in its deep appreciation for community, respect, and humility. With both sibling pairs in the band having been raised by musical clans — the Rollands grew up in a “cowboy family,” playing twin fiddle and buck dancing in RV parks, while the Sandovals came from a family of bluegrass festival founders — music and community are inextricably linked. “It’s the genuineness of it,” Rolland said of what has kept him in bluegrass. “There’s a big emphasis on being able to play the music yourself, no matter how good or how perfect it sounds, so that creates a community. It’s not so much about being the most impressive player in the world but about having something to say and wanting to say it.”
The expansive and relatively affordable horizons of Tucson allow musicians to be a little more fearlessly experimental, Rolland added. Unlike scenes in coastal metropolises, the rents are lower and the expectations and approaches resultantly more open-ended and for-their-own-sake. These conditions let the band continue to grow and be challenged, a pursuit Rolland credits to his grandmother, who, along with his grandfather, was a classical musician. “She taught me there’s always new things to learn in music — and she told me that when she was 87,” he said.
This won’t be the first time Run Boy Run and The Ventucky String Band have played together. The two bands met in 2014 with a few shows in Michigan, first at two legendary breweries, Bell’s Brewery (in Kalamazoo) and Founders Brewing (Grand Rapids), and then at the Hiawatha Music Festival in Marquette, where the bands partnered on a workshop and played together in late-night fireside picking circles. “I think we complement each other really well,” said Ventucky’s Matt Sayles.
Run Boy Run and The Ventucky String Band play Sunday, April 10, at 8 p.m. at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.). For more information, visit sohosb.com.