Just because a band has a banjo doesn’t mean they are a bluegrass band. The Pogues, The Avett Brothers, Neko Case’s band, and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club all have banjos and they are as far from bluegrass as White Lion is from heavy metal. Christ, even Pete Townsend plays banjo on a handful of Who songs. In a town where people like to play bluegrass and even more like to hate it, it’s a misconception as common as accusing everyone with an electric guitar that they’re playing rock ’n’ roll.
Local band The Outskirts, fresh off the release of “You Only Live Twice,” have a banjo and what they’re doing isn’t bluegrass. The Outskirts have a busy weekend, celebrating the release of their EP Saturday night at The Balcony Backstage. They’ll also play a day gig Saturday at Ska at a benefit for local Mazzy Fortier with numerous other local bands, and Sunday at Purgatory’s Great American Lager Festival.
“It’s a rock band,” said electric guitar player Alex Forsthoff. “That’s what it is, influenced by certain bluegrass elements. When we add the electric guitar, the full drum kit, the electric bass, some distortion here and there, some delay here and there, it becomes a rock band. It’s not a bluegrass band.”
The Outskirts were born from playing at The Olde Schoolhouse North of town. The duo of acoustic guitar player Brian Morgan and mandolin player Aaron Cooklin would play in the corner on a borrowed sound system. Banjo player Jim Figora, then a Crested Butte resident, would come down for shows.
“Then we added our Alex Howard our bass player, we added Keith Dunning on drums, then shortly thereafter Alex joined the band to make a full six,” said Morgan. “It was probably a two-year process before we were an established band, and we’ve been going for a year and slowly ramping up.”
“You Only Live Twice” showcases the depth of the band members, a collection of folk and rock from a band with multiple singers and songwriters. It may hint at bluegrass because of the banjo playing of Figora, but the song structure, tempo and timing owes more to bands like Fruition, or even alt-country acts like Jackpot or Mulehead, than it does to Bill Monroe. It’s a record appealing to the acoustic, folk or jam crowd, but void of the fluff. It’s got enough weirdness in it that it’s favorable to indie rock fans that may also dig into a dash of weird electric folk, a strong representation from a band that has members that can wear different musical hats.
“We had four different people bring songs to this album, to represent each component of the band,” said Morgan.
“I think a major thing we try to focus on is getting as many people up and singing as possible, delivering their kind of flavor of music to the band,” added Forsthoff. “It keeps it interesting.”