Do All Musical Roads Lead To Bluegrass? Mustered Courage Think So

20 August 2015 | 3:54 pm | Michael Smith

"We've kind of freed up the reins a little bit and we didn't really cut any genres out."

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This past Northern summer, Melbourne-based alt-bluegrass combo Mustered Courage did their second tour of the US, two months based around an invitation to play the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. The year before, they'd been invited over to Raleigh, North Carolina, to play the World Of Bluegrass Conference & Festival, an invitation that grew into a 60-date tour across 70 days playing 43 states. Meanwhile, January this year saw them pick up a Golden Guitar at the CMAA Golden Guitar Awards for Instrumental Of The Year for their track,
Candle Creek
. Not bad for a bunch of guys who met studying jazz.

"Nick [Keeling, banjo], who's a Texan, from Austin, has obviously been exposed to bluegrass," Mustered Courage bass player Josh Bridges explains of the band's evolution, "but it had never been in the forefront of all his musical listening. But he has some pretty well-known banjo players in his family, so it's been around for him.

"We always approach our live shows with a bit of a rock mentality."

"For Jules [Julian Abrahams, guitar], my understanding is that someone left a mandolin at his house and he picked it up, tried to learn a song on it and wondered, 'What do you play on a mandolin?' A bit of Googling led him to New Grass Revival and that was it. At the same time, Nick had bought a banjo."

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Doing the same jazz course, Keeling and Abrahams decided to play bluegrass together instead. Bridges, who had gone through grunge and metal but was playing in a klezmer band at the time just happened to be living with Abrahams and the trio decided to form a band.

"The first [self-titled] album we put out [in 2011], "Bridges continues, "was kind of like trying to work out how to play bluegrass, and we had a whole bunch of pop songs and put bluegrass instrumentation on them, and then the second [2013's Powerlines] was more trying to knuckle down and get the traditional side of things covered and really learn how to do it. So now the third one [White Lies & Melodies], we've kind of freed up the reins a little bit and we didn't really cut any genres out, you know? We really opened up and threw a lot of ideas together."

The choice of Forrester Savell, whose credits include Dead Letter Circus and Karnivool, to produce their third album of bluegrass-flavoured, three-part harmony folk Americana wasn't necessarily an obvious one but, as Bridges points out, "We always approach our live shows with a bit of a rock mentality, and a lot of us have come from rock backgrounds too, so it kind of made sense to go with a more rock/prog/metal producer to really kind of harness that mentality of the live shows, bring it into the studio and really let loose and see what happened. And also he's just an incredible producer and pulls amazing sounds, so that part of the bargain always makes it easy."