An article/ interview I authored in 2010 as a music writer for Alt Daily.
Q & A With Pioneering Bluegrass Vocalist Claire Lynch
Words Jen Clinehens
Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 at 10:15 am
This Friday at the American Theater, Hampton Roads welcomes Claire Lynch, a pioneering bluegrass vocalist and songwriter.
At the forefront of modern bluegrass and folk music since the 1970′s, she is currently touring in support of her 2009 release Whatcha Gonna Do. Lynch was recently nominated for three International Bluegrass Music Association awards including Female Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year, and Recorded Event of the Year. She is also a two-time Grammy nominee and past IBMA award winner. Backed by the Claire Lynch Band, comprised of Mark Schatz, Jason Thomas, and Matt Wingate, Lynch’s delicate soprano vocals are well complimented by a swing, folk, and country-influenced accompaniment. I was lucky enough to snag a few minutes of Ms. Lynch’s time to discuss her IBMA nominations, tour, recordings, future plans, musical influences and her take on the evolution of bluegrass.
AltDaily: Your album, Whatcha Gonna Do was released last September, and it’s been nominated for three IBMA awards. Recognition from your musical peers has to be gratifying. Can you tell us a bit about what it means to you to be nominated this year?
It feels wonderfully validating. It tells me that the community of musical peers that I deal with on a regular basis are appreciative of what I’m putting out there, even though it may not be in the traditional bluegrass vein. Oh my gosh, it’s wonderful.
Alt Daily: You’ve also been nominated for Grammy awards in the past. How is it different than being recognized by the IBMA?
Well the Grammy’s, most of the voters are not necessarily familiar with the genre and community of bluegrass. They’re more in the general pop or country areas, so they’re basically voting for whoever’s name they’re most familiar with, as a general rule. The IBMA has more specific musical knowledge of the community and music of bluegrass.
Alt Daily: Let’s talk about your sound. You self-identify with bluegrass but your musical influences seem to pull from all sorts of sources. Who would you consider your major musical influences?
I’ve opened up to the world of theater music, Broadway musicals. So I have sort of a theatrical view of music and maybe a little bit corny (laughing). I wasn’t really indoctrinated into bluegrass until I was about 19. Church music was where I learned to sing three part harmony, in a trio with my sisters, gospel music. The folk movement had a huge impact on me as well, especially when folk/pop moved into it’s appreciation of country music.
Alt Daily: If you could pick your top three artists in terms of influence, who would they be?
Well, I would say for the bluegrass vein, Ralph Stanley. In terms of singer-songwriters, Nancy Griffith. And in the country vein, probably Emmylou Harris or Dolly Parton.
Alt Daily: The definition of bluegrass seems to be evolving. You have very traditional groups, more country and swing influenced bands such as yours, and then groups like the Punch Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show that speak to the younger generation. What does it mean to you to be considered “edgy” in the bluegrass business but keep tied to those traditional roots? In other words, how can artists respect the past and still have room to progress musically?
Well that’s always the thing I wanted to do, to tweak [bluegrass]. I love the traditional community, I respect what they do and I appreciate it, but I can’t be that because I’m not. And the evolution of music and musical forms is inevitable. You see it in other musical forms like Celtic, folk, jazz, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary. There was a little resistance early on in my career, but I’m glad to see the bluegrass community opening up their view and embracing the evolution that’s happening within the music. That, I think, is always a positive attitude toward the roots music that you love and the best way to look at it.
Alt Daily: Do you feel like the bluegrass audience is getting younger? That the younger generation is opening up to it?
I think, yes. I have a daughter, she’s 21. The Punch Brothers are her favorite band, but she grew up listening to Celtic and folk music. So she has a deep appreciation for [traditional music], but she also appreciates a new twist on it, and it becomes more her own take on it. And I appreciate that and understand it because I did the same thing when I was her age. I think that a good portion of the younger generation’s appreciation of music, like old time string band music, is growing because of bands like Yonder Mountain String Band and Old Crow Medicine Show. And old time string music is a cousin to bluegrass. I’m hoping as they open up themselves to acoustic string music, that they will also open themselves up to the rich library of music in what they call the bluegrass vein.
Alt Daily: What’s coming up this year for the Claire Lynch Band?
Holding on, honey for dear life that’s what I’m doing (laughing). Well, we’re continuing to tour and in the planning stages for a new recording. We’re throwing around a lot of ideas now, but what I’m writing is kind of formulaic of what it’s always been: sort of a hodgepodge of great songs with a bluegrass band’s interpretation thereof.