Ross was great to take some time to chat with Si recently, and gave some great insight into his background and the plans for the Noisemakers. Thanks for your time, Ross!
Were you born into a musical family, Ross?
My family is musical, but only my sister Katie, half brother Christian, and I are professional musicians. Our Grandad was a doctor in Fort Worth but played the fiddle and had a deep love for anything violin related. My sister started playing fiddle at age 5 after hearing Asleep at the Wheel – she said “I wanna play that violin you can clap your hands and stomp your feet to!” I don’t think anything has come as naturally to me as the fiddle – I’ve was involved in many different musical programs growing up, but the fiddle was my passion and, over the 20 years I’ve been playing, has become a complete extension of my voice and my soul.
Bruce is a chilled out cat and has reminded me many times to not stress, just let it happen, have fun with it.
What do you play – fiddle and mandolin?
Fiddle/violin, mandolin, guitar – these are my main instruments, but I do dabble on and collect many instruments. Since I play with many groups and do many recording sessions, having the right instrument to create the appropriate vibe is essential. A side note, a big goal of mine is to amass a collection of very fine instruments that I can one day loan to talented up and coming players. We didn’t have much money growing up and had to make do with whatever we could get our hands on. Having a great instrument really inspires creativity and progress, especially when you’re young and developing your chops.
Have you played with Bruce or any of his band before now?
I’ve been very fortunate to make music with many of my childhood musical heroes – Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, that whole generation of acoustic music legends. I was in a band for many years called Cadillac Sky and we recorded a couple of albums for Skaggs Family Records, Ricky’s label. It was around that same time that he did the first album with Bruce, which was my first true introduction to his music. I’d of course heard “Mandolin Rain” and “The Way It Is,” but didn’t know the rest of his catalog. When I heard this quasi jazz-folk-hippy-soul-pianist-singer man blend in with a bluegrass group, I was not only impressed with his ease of blending in surrounded by fiddles and banjos, but I was very intrigued by what must be a wide ranging career with collaborations near and far. We’ve met once at a festival, very brief hello as they were getting onto stage, and though I didn’t get to sit in with Ricky and Bruce that night, they made everyone in the audience feel like they were onstage and a part of the band. I’m psyched about getting to do it for real now!
How did your joining the Noisemakers come about?
Since Cadillac Sky stopped in 2010, I’ve been playing with the British band, Mumford and Sons. It’s been an amazing few years of music making, travel, collaborations, and friendship. A hiatus was needed and M&S has been off since Sept of last year, 2013. I was in Austin late last fall working on a project with my sister, who, as the world would have it, plays fiddle and sings for Asleep at the Wheel now, and had a random phone call from an East Coast number. I felt compelled to answer for whatever reason, and I immediately heard this familiar voice say, “Ross, it’s Bruce Hornsby.” Because I knew of Bruce’s deep list of collaborations, I thought that he might’ve been reaching out to do something with Mumford and Sons. As it turned out, he was calling to see if I’d have an interest in making music with the Noisemakers.
Are you guys in rehearsal right now to get everyone up to speed, or are you pretty familiar with the songs already?
Ha, rehearsals are very soon and will be incredibly beneficial and needed, at least for me! Bruce sent me a ton of tracks as well as a set list of about 80-90 tunes, a very daunting mound of material from a 30+ year career. I figured that he was the type to avoid the constraint of a set list and just call tunes on the fly – I was right, which means I’ve spent a lot of time listening to and learning BH songs, ha! Bruce is a chilled out cat and has reminded me many times to not stress, just let it happen, have fun with it. I’m excited about the first couple of shows with the band, playing these songs with such amazing players who can groove and jam like nobody’s business is going to be so rad!
You also play as part of a duo in ChessBoxer, touring with BH’s band this summer. What can you tell us about that?
ChessBoxer is my duo project with Matt Menefee, who was in Cadillac Sky with me. Matt’s probably one of, if not the greatest musician I’ve played with and this project is a very rewarding/challenging attempt at taking these big orchestral ideas we’ve created, and condensing them down to two instruments – fiddle and banjo. Since M&S went on hiatus, ChessBoxer has been my focus. When Bruce and I initially spoke, I told him about our CB plans for 2014 and, after hearing our music, he invited us to join him as support for the summer tour. We’re so very honored to be opening for Bruce and the Noisemakers, I think there will definitely be opportunities each night to roll in some ChessBoxer into Hornsby material – sonic explorations to tickle the ears of those playing and those listening! Haha!
Thanks again so much to Ross for giving up his time… we can’t wait to hear him on stage real soon!