Railroad Earth | They Get Around

“There’s immediacy to playing live and there’s no other experience like it.”



Railroad Earth will be in St. Louis at The Pageant this Friday, January 27, and like its name implies, this is a band that gets around. Formed in 2001 as a way for the original six members to just hang out and play some songs that lead songwriter Todd Sheaffer, formerly of From Good Homes, had written. Within a few weeks, however, they decided to go into the studio and track five songs – quickly landing themselves a manager and a spot at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  A few short months later, they went back into the studio and tracked five more songs, completing their album The Black Bear Sessions, which was released a week before they appeared at Telluride (only their 10th gig), landing them a record deal.

After such a harried first few months, it would be expected, almost for the band to burn out and for all members to quit the band and start well-meaning if poorly executed “side projects,” but the band has avoided this catastrophe. Eleven years in and they are still releasing albums that manage to maintain the core feel of the group while letting the more minor details change as they need to.  The band released their sixth album, the self-titled Railroad Earth, in 2010. It is different, for sure, than the previous releases but not in a way that makes it seem as though the band had lost some of its focus. It is just the natural evolution of a band that, instead of changing band members every six months as some seem to do, have only had one position change since the original lineup, with the position of bass player rotating twice.

Multi-instrumentalist Tim Carbone, who plays violin, accordion, and electric guitar, was kind enough to shed some light on this evolution for me.  As he puts it, “The approach for recording changes with each album. On the last record,Railroad Earth, we had a producer. That involves a completely different process than self-producing your own record. On the album just before that, Amen Corner, we set up in our lead singer’s [Todd Sheaffer] house and wrote and recorded it there.” Perhaps the band’s ability to adapt both on stage and off is what has helped keep them going so long.  They are known by this point for not playing directly from the album; they improvise as they go and the set lists evolve, but not to the exclusion of the earlier works. Railroad Earth has managed over the last 11 years to grow and change but still posses what it was that let them go from six guys hanging out playing music to a record deal in such a short time.

Despite their skill at performing live, Carbone professes love for working in the studio as well.  He calls it “controlled inspiration” and he prefers it over playing live. He is quick to reassure, however, that he does love playing live (and anyone who has seen him play will know this is true).  “I always love playing live.  I don’t think that will change. But my favorite part of being a musician is working in the studio,” he informs me, before adding, “It wasn’t always that way.”  He explained further, “There’s immediacy to playing live and there’s no other experience like it. Working in the studio is more clinical yet there is time there to be incredibly creative.”

Whether in the studio or playing live, there’s no doubt that the men behind Railroad Earth are incredibly creative—and talented—and they put it to good use.  They’ve released an album every two years since 2002, so we can only hope we’ll get more recordings from them soon. In the meantime, they’re bringing their own brand of bluegrass Americana to The Pageant—and great local band Pernikoff Brothers will be opening for them—and it’s no doubt that those in attendance will get to see what makes this band so great. | Teresa Montgomery 

Tickets for the show are $20 in advance, $23 day of show. Doors are at 7 p.m. with the show starting at 8.


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