If you haven’t heard of Ragged Union, you are in for a real treat! The band is made up of founder Geoff Union (guitar, vocals), Elio Schiavo (mandolin, vocals), Rebekah Durham (fiddle, vocals) and Matt Thomas (bass). Ragged Union has gone through some changes over the years, but this latest incarnation feels and sounds more than just right on their new album Round Feet, Chrome Smile.
Luckily that fall, a mutual friend intervened and introduced Geoff to Elio. “We started playing together, and then with Rebekah (Elio’s then fiancé, now wife). Then COVID hit. We got together when we could and played music and tried to have fun … outside, wearing masks, twenty feet apart. So, the three of us have formed the core group of the new version of the band.”
Musically, Geoff says, Ragged Union’s sound has shifted in a more interesting direction than the original band. “The musical scope is way broader now than it used to be. You can still hear bluegrass in the music, but there’s a lot more going on and more places we can go with the sound, the music, the style, the composition and arranging. It’s fun!
“Another big difference is the band before was me, my wife (Christina) and a bunch of great musicians who were just sidemen, which is perfectly fine – lots of bands operate like that. But now the cool thing about this version of the band is that everyone is here because they want to be in the band. We like the band, we like playing together and it feels more organic and like we’re on the same team.”
Just Call it Good Music
The Gateway Drug to Bluegrass
For Elio, his first experience with bluegrass was his “dad having The Seldom Scene’s Live at the Cellar Door and Willie Nelson’s Stardust on repeat for a long time. I remember loving that Seldom Scene record. And then obviously the Jerry Garcia/David Grisman collaboration that was happening in the ‘80s. That’s how I found my way into playing mandolin and learning about bluegrass music. That was a gateway drug for a lot of people who were into the Grateful Dead. Good stuff.”
Weird, Magical Lyrics
For Geoff, inspiration comes from a number of different places. “On the one hand, I sometimes cowrite with an old friend of mine. He’s kind of a poet so he’ll send me his poetry and sometimes it translates into something that’s useful for songwriting. Some of it is out there and I don’t know what he’s talking about. That’s part of it - finding some cool lyrics he sends me. Sometimes shit comes to me in the middle of the night and I write it down or record it. Then later, I have to turn the sound up all the way because I was whisper singing in the middle of the night. I get inspiration when I’m driving around. Your subconscious sometimes comes up with some cool ideas and you’ve got to get it down somewhere. I like to write about something that’s real to me.
“Growing up listening to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, you get used to those weird, magical lyrics. I like country music but writing wise … none of that bad stuff every happens to me, fortunately. The things that come to my mind writing wise are more like Robert Plant or David Crosby. For me it’s always an intersection of that bluegrass sound and instrumentation and feel, and the songwriting style that’s not traditional country.”
A Unique Recording Space
34 Years of Iron Maiden
Rebekah is practicing for some upcoming symphony performances, so there’s a lot of symphony music around the house for her and Elio these days. He’s also a big Radiohead fan. “That’s been my mainstay of listening and gaining influence. We just got a new record player and shopped for a bunch of records. We’ve had Harry Styles stuck in our heads for a week straight. There’s also Jon Batiste’s new record, which is really good. I’m trying to not just listen to the oldies I’m used to – trying to listen to new things.”
Taking Music to the People
“We like taking the music to different places, playing for new people and for those that haven’t seen us in a while. The music and the players are really good, and we have a sound and an approach that’s a little bit different. We have something to offer that’s different than what’s out there. The festival circuit is really where it’s at for me. The audience comes to hear that kind of music. They hear us and we’re interesting and we make some new fans and friends.”
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