Relative newcomers Mile Twelve are carrying on the tradition of young virtuosos playing bluegrass music. Think of some of the absolute greats in the more modern history of the genre—Chris Thile, Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, Sara Watkins; there’s so many to list and they all started young.
The members of Mile Twelve have that going for them, but they’re also pushing the genre and the instrumentation in new directions and pulling relatively young audiences everywhere they go.The band, who formed in Boston, Massachusetts, just released a full-length album produced by the acclaimed Bryan Sutton, and they’ll be coming to Randy Wood’s Pickin’ Parlor on Sat., April 27.
Ahead of the performance, we spoke to mandolinist David Benedict about the band’s rise and what bluegrass means to him.
How did you all find each other?
Benedict: The band is from all over the place, but we got our start in Boston. Evan [Murphy], our guitar player and singer, is the only Boston native. Everyone else kind of moved to Boston for different reasons. I actually joined the band a little bit later, once things got started.
The band met at local gatherings—we all are young and wanted to do this for a living, and were looking for other people who wanted to do that. There’s not that many people out there who meet that criteria, so we all found each other that way.
Would you say that you all came from bluegrass backgrounds, generally?
Benedict: Yeah, I mean, none of us grew up in bluegrass families. But we all found it differently. Me and BB [Bowness, banjo player] playing mandolin and banjo, those are just very specific instruments to the genre that we kind of found music through that community.
Bronwyn [Keith-Hynes, fiddle player] played a lot of Celtic music and competed in a lot of competitions in Ireland, and Evan got into it through Bruce Springsteen’s sort of bluegrass album he did a while back. Greg Liszt was playing banjo for him, he’s an amazing player from the Boston area. So yeah, all different backgrounds. But we kind of found our way here through this music.
We were just talking about that. The IBMA [International Bluegrass Music Association] has a big conference every year that we go to, and it’s a homecoming of sorts. You get to make music with your friends and your heroes, which is pretty special.
What I love about modern bluegrass is that it’s a particularly progressive genre. There’s a lot I see in common with you guys and bands like Punch Brothers or even New Grass Revival. What’s your approach in this day and age to bluegrass? Do you have a more wide view of what you can do on these instruments?
Benedict: That's a great question. We definitely look up to those bands. It's cool you mentioned New Grass Revival—I was just watching this Sam Bush documentary, and there's this clip where someone asks him, "Why is it called New Grass Revival?" He points back to groups like Seldom Scene, who often would take popular music and reinvent with bluegrass instruments. So I think there's been a long tradition of progression. A lot of forward thinking players.
For us, it’s kind of more about following our own musical tastes. With this most recent record, City On a Hill, I think it’s been more focused towards songwriting and storytelling. That’s something that I feel often gets overlooked in bluegrass.
What was your experience working with Bryan Sutton? He’s somebody who’s played with and worked with seemingly everyone. How was it having him around as a producer?
Benedict: It was our first time getting to work with him in that setting. We've all just looked up to him and the amazing catalog of music he's had. We sort of leaned into the experience that he's had. We did most of the arranging and pre-production, but after that we kind of just put it into his hands and let him direct us as he thought was best for the music.
I really loved it because he was hands on and gave us some really practical advice on performance and recording techniques, but then he kind of let us do our own thing and wasn’t overbearing. He was always interested in what we thought.