UNMASKED interview by Chuck Foster
ntil a few months ago I wasn’t even aware that Clusterpuck existed, much less that they were a band from right here in these parts. And I get out more than the average foot-stomper. But that says a lot about the St. Louis music scene, mostly about its abundance, diversity, and numerous venues. It’s easy for an amazing act like Clusterpuck – a homegrown, washboard slapping, fiddle playing, bluegrass foursome – to elude the most avid music fan. And that’s what they have done to me. The band describes themselves as a blend of potent homegrown harmonies and morning melodies, utilizing a few traditional bluegrass instruments with a 4 part vocal attack. I’d say they come across as a good ol’, Kentucky Moonshine hootenanny. You know, back in the good ole days when all you needed for a hootenanny was a couple of guitars, a fiddle, a 5 gallon wash tub with a string, and a washboard. Not only was a drum kit unnecessary then, it was unpractical and too much dang trouble to haul to the still – something Clusterpuck doesn’t include in their line up, a drummer. Every member in Clusterpuck takes lead vocals at some point during their set, but for the most part you’ll find Chris Rader on banjo and guitar, Justin Torres on bass and guitar, Derek Rutter on mandolin and guitar, and Leah Osborne on her washboard and ukulele. It’s nothing short of staggering to witness this foursome switch instruments and vocalists throughout the night, but to keep your foot flat on the ground as it happens is damn near impossible. They’re gonna make you at least kick your feet and shake your head, if not grab a partner and swing ‘em round and round. When the last note’s hit, and the lights go down and the dust settles on the floor, the sweat dripping down your back will remind you that you just witnessed one hell of a hoedown. And that’s why I asked the band to answer a few questions for you. I hope you enjoy this time and find yourself craving a little shoe-stomping, hell-raising bluegrass afterwards... So how did Clusterpuck come to exist. Clusterpluck was started in fall of 2010 after a few years of Chris, Derek, and, Justin talking about starting up a string band. They had met previously when crossing paths while Chris and Derek played in the band “Leveld” and Justin went from “ The Driftwood Strings Band” to his own “Justin Torres Loop Project” which he still holds down today. Leah came on later to help round out the sound that was being created. Justin and Leahmet in culinary school and had played together in the band “Boom Tops”. Everyone’s role differs slightly but are mostly the same...write songs, perform to your best ability, and look out for the band like family. Justin and Leah primarily take care of the booking, Derek Records album material, and Me, well, I play banjo. What’s the story behind the name, Clusterpuck? Clusterpluck was actually a response to a Facebook post after we first got together. I believe we had a video attached and said we needed a name if any body had any suggestions. Clusterpluck stood out immediately and we thought it described us to a T.
What I enjoyed mostly about your set was the way you each shared the spotlight, vocally and instrumentally. How do you decide who sings a song or plays a certain instrument during the song? Whoever writes it, sings it, so far. We all find our own harmonies. As far as instrumentation, sometimes it’s what the song calls for, sometimes it’s just what we pick up first. Speaking of your performance, you guys describe your sound as “Newgrass genre”. What exactly is Newgrass? Newgrass, to us, is just a way of describing a non-traditional approach to bluegrass. We have elements of bluegrass and go roots deep in bluegrass but, we are far from traditional and incorporate a whole range of influences into what we do. We just try to keep it within a certain sound and with certain instruments, so those influences aren’t always so apparent. Let me ask about your song writing. Can you tell me something about how you guys produce such diversity in your songs, such as the case in ‘Pirates in a Bathtub’ and ‘Laundry Line’? The great part about our band is that we all write music. Its really a matter of who is writing and how that person is feeling at the time. Chris wrote Laundry Line and Derek Wrote Pirates in a bathtub. Both really awesome tunes! I was checking your Reverbnation page out and noticed you were ranked number 2 in Americana / Grassy / Pop. How does that type of recognition make each of you feel? We are very excited and we couldn’t have gotten to #2 without all our pluckers out there tuning in for new stuff and checking out our events coming up! I noticed you guys have done some really big festivals. How did you get on those gigs and what was your favorite? Last year we did the River Romp Festival and that was
probably one of our favorites! We were asked by the Bloom Heavy folks to join up and we couldn’t have been more pleased about it. Beesonstock was a hit last year as well and we have known those folks for several years. This year though we are really stoked about Summer Camp and John Hartford Memorial. Don’t forget about EARTH DAY at Green Mountain!! We are proud to support a Festival that boasts Sustainability and caring for the earth and each other! What would you say has been your biggest mistake as a band; and what has been your greatest achievement? It’s tough to describe something as your biggest mistake. Everyone at some point will make a mistake, from the beginner player to the most advanced. You may miss a note here, or there, but that is all about the wonders of learning. Sometimes it’s more about how well you can cover it up, and hopefully getting it right the next time. As far as greatest achievements go we have had many in the short time we have been a band. Winning the battle for Summer Camp Music Festival at the Old Rock House. Playing Bloom Heavy’s River Romp last year. We got to share the bill with such amazing musicians as Del Mccoury, Yonder Mountain String Band, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. As the years go on I’d expect many more great achievements to come our way. What about local bands, which do you each follow/ catch live?
It makes it’s difficult to actually get out and see bands due to our schedule. “The local music scene is bitchin’. We are a family, a strong, supportive group of friends just trying to make great music together.”(Leah)”. When we do get a chance we try to catch Jake’s Leg, Elemental Shakedown, Aaron Kamm and the One Drops, Stone Sugar Shakedown, Cumberland Gap just to name a few of the local STL bands. What can readers expect from Clusterpuck as 2013 begins...touring, shows, CD releases, arrests for moonshining? 2013 is already looking bright for us as a band. We are always writing new songs so I would expect us to get back in the studio, and start recording our second album. We are planning a CD release party for our freshman album here in the next few months. Followed by some touring to support the album. As far as arrests go, hopefully that isn’t in any of our near futures. That could definitely put a damper on some things, though out of all of us Chris is the closest thing to looking like he could become a moonshiner. Any last thoughts to share with our readers, or breaking Clusterpuck news? Our bond is growing stronger and stronger. Its amazing the feeling I get when I’m up there with those boys. Unlike anything I’ve ever felt, and or us to share that with yall is a treat in itself. We cant wait for summer time! So many new places, people, and beautiful music to be shared! As far as breaking news goes....well....Justin and I are currently on the look out for a touring van! That’s pretty exciting if ya ask me! How can readers find out more about Clusterpuck, or purchase merch like your new T-Shirts? We are constantly keeping our websites and events up to date. I try to send out a monthly Newsletter via ReverbNation as well to inform our pluckers about any local shows. This first batch of T-shirts will be available only at our shows...and there are sellin’ fast! SO COME TO A SHOW!! Last, when and where can St. Louisans catch Clusterpuck live again? We have a show coming up in April...the 21st I believe. 2720 InFest 2!! We love Loyal Family and are really looking forward to returning. May 16th we are teaming up with our new friends Old Salt Union at Off Broadway! That will be a show y’all wont wanna miss! If you’re interested in booking us please contact us via Clusterpluckmusic@gmail.com. YEE YEE!