Minutes before I had to interview Al Hare of Brewer’s Grade Band, I was scrambling around under my desk trying to find all of the audio cords to hook up my legendary “Phone Interviewing System,” which was just fine the other week at the old Chronicle Office — but since the move to our new location (I’ll stick with “across from Domino’s” until someone tells me the actual address), I’ve barely had time to unpack.
Nothing like necessity to get things going again.
My unique “Phone Interviewing System” involves a six-channel Peavy mixer, a black “Mystery Box” that connects my phone to the mixer, an XLR inter-connect cord and enough Radio Shack-type adapters and audio cables to start my own Electronics Outlet Store.
After plugging everything in, I started my recording program only to find that windows wasn’t recognizing the input.
Oh boy. And here it is, 2 p.m., exactly when I’m supposed to call Hare back.
A trip to the help menu, and some fiddling with the “Windows-Control Panel-Music-Input-Recognize-attachments-Mixer-Line-In_Do_You_Want This_To_Work Setting,” and I was back in business.
Since doing all of this kind of electronic maneuvering is very much like what bands go through when they’re setting up music equipment to play a gig, I thought that my successful re-boot would be a fun lead-in to talking with Hare of the Brewer’s Grade Band.
As you may have heard, Brewer’s Grade Band won the 2018 International Music and Entertainment Association Country Band of the Year award on June 16.
The band has been on a West coast tour recently, and Hare was glad to be home.
“I’ve been kicking around today, today’s been kind of my office day. I’m finally home the last 12 hours!” Hare said.
Most of the band was able to travel to the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, Ky., for their award and the award took the band by surprise.
“We flew into Nashville but then had a five-hour drive to Ashland. Winning the award was great; it was really kind of a surprise that we got nominated. They called and asked if we wanted to present at the ceremony and we got to perform, too,” Hare said.
According to its website, IMEA is “a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and serving as an advocate to individuals and organizations within the performing arts and entertainment industries. The IMEA Awards were developed to honor and recognize the best in independent music and entertainment, worldwide.”
“There were five bands nominated and IMEA covers every genre from classical to heavy metal, bluegrass to gospel. The presentation show was four hours long.
“IMEA works hard to find independent artists and give them a platform to work on. They’re really cool,” Hare said.
Brewer’s Grade Band also had a nomination in the song category, but did not win.
“They nominated one of our songs for song of the year, ‘Heartbreak Song,’ written by Zac Grooms, which is our current single, but we didn’t win for song of year. Our luggage was packed so tight it would have been hard to take home two trophies,” Hare laughed.
The band made numerous Facebook posts about the trip, including a video of the band playing “Heartbreak Song” live on a nearby AM radio station.
I asked Hare about the new song, the EP, and some details on the recording process.
“Our new EP, ‘Heartbreak Song,’ should be out by July 20. We have a marketing team that makes all of those kinds of decisions, but the record is done, and we recorded it last summer. The whole EP is themed around sad love songs, and the interesting thing about this EP is we’re actually producing it on cassette tape. Along with the tape, which you can keep as a memento or play it on a tape deck if you have one, you get a download card that you can use for your phone or listening device,” Hare said.
“We just got the cassettes in last week.
Brewer’s Grade Band features lead singer and songwriter Grooms and Cody Christopherson on drums (both have been playing together for 20 years); Hare has been playing guitar in the band for 14 years, Nolan Hare is on bass and Joe Smart is on fiddle mandolin, dobro and electric guitar
“We do our recordings at Rainmaker Studios in Pasco. We produce the records ourselves, everything you hear on the tracks is us, and we try to keep it that way. But, I just remembered that on this new EP, we decided to add a string section to one of our songs, so we kind of broke our own rule already!
“A friend, Mark Evitts, helped us out on that, and it turned out really great. He’s from New York and he’s a Grammy-award winning arranger,” Hare said.
Although the band has done weeks of West coast touring this year, some local shows are on the schedule.
“After five or six trips to California, Nevada, Washington and Idaho, we’ve got the Hood River County Fair coming up on July 28, and we’re excited to be opening up for country singer Craig Morgan — we’re a fan and excited to do that show.
“And we’re playing in The Dalles for the Cruise Night on Aug. 11. It’s right at the new Neon Museum, and that starts at 7 p.m.”
If you’re out traveling this summer this year, Brewer’s Grade Band will be at the Pendleton Round Up and the Western Idaho Fair.
Hare said that people are responding well to the music, a brand he’s calling Northwest Country.
“One of most common comments we get from people is, ‘I don’t like country, but I like you guys.’ Country music is always changing, especially if you look at what it was in 1955 to where it is now. But we are claiming ownership of a Northwest Country style of music.
“Everybody in our band is lifelong musicians, and we’ve taken our influence from bluegrass, to blues, and even hard rock, and it kind of comes out in our sound, and in our writing. We call it Northwest Country and it’s something we’re really trying to pioneer, and trying to push, and I’d say the response from people is good. I think it’s a really good blend of genres,” Hare said.
So with the IMEA award under their belts, what is next for Brewer’s Grade Band?
“Well, we’re basically home-based here in the Gorge, and two of us live in The Dalles. We just want to grow our fan base here in the Gorge. At the beginning of the year we teamed up with Deadhorse Branding, and with that we changed the name of the band from Brewer’s Grade to Brewer’s Grade Band. It may seem like a minor change, but for people on the outside — that helps narrow it down, because you may not know what a Brewer’s Grade is (referring to the local road in The Dalles). We know that local people liked the fact that we tipped our hat to Brewer’s Grade.
“And, with the name change came a new website and merchandising, new band photo and image, so we’ve really been revamped the beginning of this year.
“We love The Dalles, and always wish we can do more shows here,” Hare said.
Another Northwest band — Kathy Boyd & Phoenix Rising — were nominated to the IMEA for Bluegrass Band/Group of the Year and Bluegrass Song of the Year with “Stone in My Shoe,” and Bluegrass Album of the Year with “40 Years of Lonesome.”
Boyd was also nominated for Christian/Gospel Song of the Year with “Who Will Pray for Me.”