INTERVIEW: MILTON BUSKER & THE GRIM WORK
Milton Busker & the Grim Work are longtime musical prescribers of what they call 'suit-folk', a sumptuous feel-good blend of Americana and Alt-Country. Making their songs for the people of Vermont and beyond, they have built up quite a following since their inception in 2014 and have released their highly anticipated second album 'Made of Stars' in fall 2022. 'Bucket of Blue' perfectly highlights the bands full works, with their free-spirited and melancholically upbeat approach to Americana. We sat down with Milton & co to discuss in length the album, the processes and inner working of this record for FLEX:
Hey Milton & Co., welcome to FLEX! Fun fact about the band please for our readers?
The band was started as a result of a chance encounter at a farmer’s market, which is the most-Vermont beginning to any band, ever. Other fun facts:
1. In the late eighties, Milton was asked by someone associated with the production to send a cassette-tape audition to Star Search. He did not make it to the first round.
2. Mandolin player Jom Hammack is frickin' professor of neuroscience!
3. Drummer Dave Simpson and Bassist John Treybal have been friends since grade school.
4. Guitarist Dave Ball’s first job in VT was singing songs for Alzheimer patients at a residential care facility
How would you describe your sound to people who have never heard you before?
A long time ago, a friend and local booking agent called our style of music “Suit-folk” and I really liked that, so I stole it. What is suit-folk? It’s a bit like if Cole Porter and his poker friends started a band that only interpreted Appalachian folk tunes. We fall squarely within the Americana/Alt-Country realm because of our instrumentation (Acoustic and Electric Guitar, Bass, Drums, Mandolin) but the songs are just as influenced by Pop, Rock, and Soul as they are Folk and Country.
Your second album ‘Made of Stars’ has just been released, congratulations! How long has this been in the pipeline for?
Thank you! We started planning this album in back in 2019 and had studio time scheduled for late winter/early spring of 2020 when COVID came along and shut it all down. There wasn’t much we could do, but in the summertime we would get together and play on our porches until the weather got bad again. When the vaccine came through, we all got shot up and scheduled studio time, but then the studio lost its rental space and we had to find another one. We didn’t start recording until early 2022 at Lane Gibson Studio in VT, but we had been able to play a few shows and rehearse during the downtime. I had originally planned to have about two years in between our first release and this album, but it ended up being four.
‘Bucket of Blue’ seems to perfectly encapsulate what you’re all about. What was the recording and writing process like for this one in particular?
I wrote this song in the spring of 2020 during the first COVID shutdowns – one of the only advantages of delaying the recording of this album was that it gave us more time to write and rehearse songs that otherwise wouldn’t have made it in time. The feel of the song was inspired by a cover that we play - “Stranger” by Devil Makes Three. We do a sped-up, almost-but-not-quite-sloppy version of that song that brings down the house at our live shows, so I wanted to write something in the same vein. The other inspiration was NBC’s “The Good Place”. There’s a line about how “everyone’s always a little bit sad all the time” and it opened up in my head a way to explore why most of my songs tend to be kind of dark, and how that’s ok.
The recording for this song was the hardest on the album. We did what felt like a hundred takes and honestly thought it wasn’t going to make the album, so we moved on. When we went back to the studio the next day, our engineer had queued up one of the takes and we were like, “Hang on, I think that’s it!” A few overdubs, and it was pretty good to go. I say this a lot, but don’t throw away your drafts, kids.
I went into some more details on our website blog: https://www.miltonbusker.com/the-story-of-bucket-of-blue/
Stream 'Made of Stars' here:
Your music holds a real vintage presence about it, has this always been a factor of your music and offering as a band?
I don’t think it’s anything that we consciously set out to do, but it makes sense that we would have more of a vintage vibe, given what instruments we play and that our major influences tend to skew older. Even if we were to play music directly inspired by an artist on today’s Hot 100, it’s going to sound vintage if you play it on an acoustic guitar, then add mandolin and a drummer who only uses brushes…
You seem to have a very dedicated following and audience, are you planning to take this album on tour?
A tour would be great fun, but I’m not sure all five of us can align our schedules to make that happen. That said, if Bruce Springsteen asked us to open for him I’m sure we could work something out… or Bruce Hornsby… or Bruce Cockburn… any of the Bruce’s really.
And favourite track off the record? Each member please! Thanks so much for your time!
Milton Busker (Vocals, Acoustic Guitar) – This is an impossible question, so I rolled some die and fate indicated that track 5 “Drones” is my favorite.
Dave Simpson (Drums) – Earth and Air because the music and the lyrics are so deeply intertwined. Quiet contemplation seesaws with anguish as we ponder what it means to leave this life behind.
Dave Ball (Electric Guitar) – Bucket of Blue is a raucous affair with an Animal-esque drum solo and words to make your brain smoke.
Jom Hammack (Mandolin) – Made of Stars captures so many elements of what we do well as a band, and it’s also a really great song.
John Treybal (Bass) – I guess I'm saying Bright Blue Days to be a contrarian because I also love Earth and Air.