An Interview with Floodwood’s Braided Mandolinist Jason Barady

A veritable supergroup in the newgrass world, consisting of members from Upstate NY’s own moe. and Taos-based WoodenSpoon, Floodwood’s newgrass and rock and roll stylings appeal to a wide range – and growing number – of fans, as made evident by the band having playing everywhere from small packed clubs to large festivals such as moe.down. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Jason Barady, Floodwood’s gifted mandolinist, who gave us some insight on the magic that is Floodwood.

So far, the band has put out two albums, one studio album (which was funded through a Kickstarter campaign) titled This is Life, and the cleverly titled follow-up live album This Is Live. Having just returned from playing moe.’s Tropical Throe.down in Negril, Jamaica, the band will be hitting the road next week for a handful of shows in Massachusetts and New York, including a stop in my hometown, where they will be performing at the Oneonta Theatre on January 30, with local favorites The Spectacular Average Boys opening the show.

Amy Lieberman: How did five such masters of your respective trades come to play together?

Jason Barady: I played with Zach [Fleitz] in my band WoodenSpoon, and I had met the guys from moe. [Al Schnier and Vinnie Amico] because they went to the same high school as Zach. I used to bug out about an acoustic thing, and then I met Nick [Piccininni] when he was 14 at a bluegrass picking circle, and he blew me away at 14, so I was like, “I’m latching on with this kid,” and we’ve been playing ever since. He’s 25 now, so I’ve known him for about 11 years. I’m the kind of center point who’s played with everyone. Vinnie and me have done a jazz thing every year for the last 9 years on the holiday. And then I played in Al & The Transamericans as a sub for Gordon [Stone] when he couldn’t play, so it’s like we’ve all kind of known each other. I introduced Al and Vinnie to Zach and Nick, and – I don’t know –it just worked. Once in a while you get it right!

AL: Yes, it definitely clicked. We’re glad you all came together.

JB: Me too.

AL: What drew you to want to play “newgrass” music?

JB: I lived out in Taos, New Mexico, for about 9, 10 years, and I wasn’t really performing much. I would go to Telluride Bluegrass Festival and all the little bluegrass festivals around there trying to learn how to play my mandolin. One night at Telluride, I saw Sam Bush come out, and it blew me away like Jerry did with the Dead years before. He had something that took me away. I was like, “I want to do that!” That changed my way of thinking musically and I’ve felt that ever since.

AL: It’s just a fun type of music. It kind of gets in your head and your feet.

JB: Yeah, especially the way Sam portrays it. You know, a lot of the bluegrass, the real traditional stuff, it’s not that they’re stuffy, but it can be all about the way you act, the way you dress. You can’t do this and you can’t do that, and Sam never took any of that. He played all the great music, whether it be old-timey or Bob Marley, and it was all the same, it’s all music. Make it fun.

AL: Obviously newgrass has its roots in bluegrass music, and bluegrass is often passed down through generations, with family bands being fairly common. Was there a family member in particular who you gained your love of music or gained inspiration from?

JB: You know, it’s weird. My family wasn’t very musical. My grandfather, he would sing – he was from Lebanon – but I don’t recall much of that. It was more my own drive. My brother introduced me to the Grateful Dead, maybe that was the first thing. But no one was playing instruments or singing in my family really. I don’t know where it came from. It just was inside me, I found it one day!

AL: I know that you left this region for the west for a bit. What drew you back to the region?

JB: Family. My father was sick, so I moved back to spend his last years with him, then I ended up planting here and having kids. I enjoy the area very much – I don’t really enjoy the winters as much anymore, but I do love Upstate New York and the Adirondacks and the lakes, and the greenness of it. But mostly family. You’re always drawn back to from where you started, I guess.

AL: There’s definitely something to be said for that, being closer to family. Now that you are back in this area, is there something about Central/Upstate New York that is conducive to producing the type of music you do?

JB: Well, that’s the thing: everyone thinks you’re from NY, so that means you’re from New York City. They don’t understand that we grew up in a rural area that is very much farmland and country and mountainous. I lived in the Rocky Mountains for years and I’ve been through the Adirondacks for years, and the people are very similar. They all have that same roughness to them. So the inspiration comes from anywhere, when you’re on tour or seeing something, not necessarily where you’re playing it. I think it’s because I grew up here, it’s so familiar with me. Like I said, I love it here – I love the summers and the springs and falls – the winters…. I guess the older you get, the harder the cold is!

AL: Well, lucky you for having gotten to escape the cold and play down in Jamaica!

JB: I’ll tell you, I’ve been dreaming about going there for a long time, and thank God for moe. for inviting us. All the hard work that Vinnie and Al have done over the years, doors open where they wouldn’t be open. This band has been a blessing, even though we only play about 40 dates a year because of everyone’s commitments and families and other jobs, but it’s magical. We’ve got five musicians that get along amazingly well, and musically I’ve never been a part of something like this where we’re really good friends but we’re all very competitive. You always want to one-up someone! Even though it’s all in good friendliness, it’s part of the way we get better, more than anything. Then you run into the little 25-year-old kid who’s blowing us all away. Nick was born with that magic, he’s got it.

AL: Is there a story behind how you came to name the band Floodwood?

JB: It was funny…it was all thrown together at the last minute. Someone cancelled for moe.down, so Al texted me and said let’s do the band thing, and all of a sudden we were a band! We had no name, so Al just emailed everyone and was like, “We need a list of 5-8 names that you can come up with.” We had thought of Floodwood Road [a local street and lake in the Adirondacks well-known to a bunch of kids in the area] originally, and we all voted Floodwood, and so it was as simple as that. It speaks to the music, and it ties the music to where we’re from.

AL: A lot of local bands around here are named after streets or rivers or other landmarks.

JB: It’s pretty common in this music. It’s almost like postmarks of areas where you’re from. A lot of bluegrass bands are named like that, even songs too.

AL: I know you just came back from Jamaica. Do you prefer playing larger festivals like this one, or smaller venues?

JB: It depends. We’ve played huge festivals where no one’s paying attention, and we’ve played tiny little clubs where it was so packed you couldn’t even breathe. I like them both. I like being in front of people, period. I’m an attention hog for sure, I love it! To me, with this band, the more people who see us, the further we can go. The only thing that holds us back is that we’re not allowed to be a full-time band because of our commitments. I feel like our music is good for everybody. We haven’t had problems appealing to any age group or fans of a particular style of music. A lot of people who don’t like bluegrass like us. It’s because we mix a lot of things together. We’re definitely not a bluegrass band. We may have flavors of bluegrass because we use bluegrass instruments.

AL: Yet your music is ageless, and it does appeal to some people who like bluegrass music.

JB: Right. We can do the traditional thing and keep those people happy, and then we can do the crazy rock and roll thing for the hippy kids. That’s what’s good about playing with these musicians: there are no boundaries. We can play any style of music that’s put on the table, which is just awesome.

AL: Can we expect a new album from you guys in the near future?

JB: Yeah. We should by the end of this year have something out, a new studio album for sure. We’ve all talked about it. Again, it’s a time factor. It was the same thing with our first album; it was like we needed to do it so we finally bit the bull and recorded everything in one weekend. It was great for us because, because of our schedules, we don’t get time to rehearse. Our rehearsals are our sound checks. When we did the album, it was the first time we ever really got to break down our music, and start organizing it and orchestrating it, and to start to shape the band itself and know whose parts are what. From that point on, it’s like we became a real band. It would be neat to hear what we could do if we actually had time to rehearse!

AL: Well, you definitely couldn’t tell by listening to your music that you don’t rehearse.

JB: Thank you, we appreciate that! It’s amazing what you can get done with one rehearsal if you come prepared and everyone has something to put in. That’s what we end up doing. We get on the road in the van together, and we totally live like a family – the mother, the father, and the three kids – and it’s a riot. We play constantly in the van and come up with new stuff, so by the time we get to sound check, we can put a song together.

AL: It’s great that you’re all able to do that, to just bring what you have, and you’re talented enough to bring that to the table and get it out there. I’m excited to see you guys later this month in Oneonta!

JB: Yeah, we’re excited to get back. It’s been a while since we were there, and we had a great time last time!

AL: Thanks for making the trip back.

JB: If it was up to me, we’d be playing there a lot more! But that’s the thing: when you get into the bigger business, you have management and booking agents, which is actually a blessing for me, because I used to do all that work, and it’s a lot of work – it’s a pain in the butt! So now it’s the other side where you just get emails and they tell you where to go. But sometimes you bite your tongue, you know, like, “I wish we could do this, why can’t we do this?” but it’s a different business now.

AL: It’s impressive that you’ve gotten to that point, so good for you, and in such a short period of time.

JB: Well again, that goes on Al and Vinnie for the 25 years of moe. that they’ve laid out, which is cool. We have a lot of cross-over moe. fans, but it’s definitely a different entity. The hardcore moe. fans don’t instantly become Floodwood fans.

AL: But they all will eventually, I’m sure.

JB: That’s right.

After listening to Floodwood, I am confident you will want to check out one of their shows. If you live in the northeast, check them out during their end-of-January tour, but in the meantime, you can listen to some of their live recordings on the Internet Archive.

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