How often do you come across such a fine band like Grey River & The Smoky Mountain, finely mixing americana, folk and bluegrass? Not that often! This Sunday, December 17th, the band will present their debut album ‘Captain Death’ (Ikaros Records) at ILION Plus, so this is the right time to talk to GR&TSM. This one to be read in the right atmosphere. Lower the lights, a glass of wine…. and enjoy!
First of all, feel free to introduce the band to Last Day Deaf Readers. Cannot avoid asking about your name too…
The band was formed in 2014, in Athens, Greece. We are a bluegrass/folk/americana string band, often mixing American and European elements in our music. The members are Rena Papageorgiou (vocals/mandolin), Sarantos Goumakos (guitar/vocals) Tasos Gousetis (fiddle), Thanasis Giouleas (double-bass) and our newest member Meletis Pogas (banjo).
As for our short and discrete name, we have a short and discrete story to tell… Grey River and the Smoky Mountain are literally two different parts of the world. Grey River is a river in New Zealand. Its mouth is protected by a large sandbar, which is a notorious danger to shipping and Smoky Mountain refers to the Great Smoky Mountains, a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern U.S. Metaphorically our Grey River refers to the ancient Greek River “Acheron” through which “Charos” Hades ferryman (and our “Captain Death”) escorts the souls to their final journey. Smoky Mountain is the Purgatory where souls are purified though fire so as to achieve “heaven”. The name is our way to imply that beyond all this confusion, despite our different beliefs or languages or ways of living and thinking, we are all the same mother’s children and same captain’s crew! Even if when you see mountain fog… we see burning souls.
You are involved with the “difficult” bluegrass genre. Especially in Greece, it’s not that common. Would you agree with this?
We definitely would… but there’s always a good thing when it comes to folk music. It is made by one’s soul and it can speak directly to another one’s without trying too much. So, you may have never heard an Irish gig or a southern immigrant mountain song but in a strange way it feels like home. It is really easy for us to enjoy our gigs and even easier for people to become an active part of them despite the fact that few of them are familiar with what we are playing.
So far you have released ‘Something’s Wrong EP’ in 2016. Would you like to talk about this EP and its songs? Personal favourite is ‘When Everybody’s Gone’, a really bittersweet gem…
‘Something’s Wrong EP’ introduced the band, choosing four out of a few songs, that represented in the most exact possible way, our music influences. As for ‘When Everybody’s Gone‘, it was actually written on the deck of a ship on our way back home…
Are you self-taught musicians or have you studied your instruments. Mandolin? Fiddle? Double bass?
Sarantos and Rena are self-taught but Thanasis and Tasos have studied their instruments. As a matter of fact, Rena met Tasos as her mandolin tutor and soon after the band was formed…
Have you ever participated in any international Bluegrass/Americana Festival abroad? Which one would you like mostly to be part of and why?
We were actually given the opportunity to perform in a UK festival in the summer of 2016, we had just started performing at that time so we were thrilled just to be accepted, but due to some external issues we were unable to go. This year our goal was to release our album, but performing abroad is something that we really want to do. There is a great variety of folk Festivals abroad to choose from although most festivals do not cover your expenses so it might be difficult to organize such a journey… Nevertheless, there are many Festivals we would like to be part of… The Tiree Festival, in Scotland, has hosted bands that we admire and it actually seems like heaven on earth… so we really want to cross this one of our list… and of course we would love to perform in one of the many festivals in the U.S.A., right there in the heart of our music!
On December 17th you will be performing at ILION Plus. What are you going to present to the lucky ones attending?
We are very excited to present our first LP album, titled ‘Captain Death‘, including ten songs, four of which are brand new and have never been heard before. We will perform songs from our EP as well as a few of our favorite covers. We will also have special guests on stage with us and of course the night will start with the dark folk tales of Manos Six + The Muddy Devil who not only are great musicians but they are also great friends. It is always an honor and a joy performing with people you admire and we are thankful they are joining us on stage on a night like that!
Which bluegrass artists have you mostly been influenced by?
We have been influenced by artists, not necessarily pure bluegrass artists, like Tim O’ Brien, Doc Watson, The Devil Makes Three, Brownbird, Gary Davis and of course let us not forget all the “artists” whose names remain “unknown”… the whaler man and the sailor with their shanties, the cotton field farmer, the civil war soldier and every guy that, once upon a time, played the blues in his own way, sitting on his porch with a broken heart. We are influenced by all those men or women mentioned above, that we were lucky enough to hear something from.
Thanasis (Giouleas) also plays with Golden Nugget. What about the rest of the band? Any other side projects?
Golden nugget does not feel like a side project to the rest of us, it kind of seems like a part of our family, if it makes any sense…. Tasos has also got a lot on his back but our focus is on Grey River & The Smoky Mountain for the time being!
Should we expect your debut album within 2018? By Ikaros Records?
Our album will be released by Ikaros Records and although we do not know the official release date yet, the vinyl will be available on our presentation on December 17th.
Photo credits: Milo (Dimitris Milonas)