Just a few weeks ago, bluegrass luminary Sam Bush released his first bit of studio music since his 2016 album Storyman: an intense bleugrass rock anthem quite simply titled, “Stop The Violence.” As Bush himself describes it, the song is politically neutral, motivated only by the turbulent state of affairs becoming more and more prevalent around the country. The new song was released via a brand new music video, directed by Nashville’s highly acclaimed David McClister, which features Sam Bush Band in its most electrifying state yet. Bush of course rocks a dynamite solo on his Fender electric mandolin, while singing hard-hitting verses that were co-written with longtime collaborator Jeff Black.
The Poke Around sat down with Bush recently for a brief interview, to discuss the song, the video, and a few other interesting things. Below the interview, stream the new song’s video yourself courtesy of Sam Bush’s YouTube channel.
The Poke Around: Thanks so much, Sam Bush, for taking the time for an interview today. To start off, can you tell me a bit about what moved you to write “Stop The Violence”?
Sam Bush: Well, it was around ten years ago. I co-write with a person that I think is one of the most wonderful songwriters that I’ve ever met, named Jeff Black. Boy I urge you to check out his solo stuff. He is just a marvelous writer and singer. Anways, so I play electric mandolin, in addition to the acoustic stuff too. I like to play a 1956 Fender solid body four string mandolin. So I made up a little instrumental on my Fender mandolin, wrote up a little tune, but it felt like it needed something else, right? Good riff, but not a great tune, right? So, I went over to my friend Jeff Black’s house, and we got to talking. And, one of the things we realized that was bothering us was that the world was just so violent. The two of us talked about how disappointed we were in our society. And not just America, but America is mostly what we’re concerned with.
So we just started thinking about what we would like to say about that. It really is just two songwriters wishing for a less violent society. We have never meant to be political in any way, because we don’t understand why violence would be a political issue. It does touch upon some different kinds of violence within. We speak a little bit about gun violence, a little about violence towards women. But it’s not about any one type of thing, other than a wish from us two about a less violent society. It started as an instrumental, but as Jeff and I talked, he would say, “Well, what would you want to say, Sam?” And I just said, “The only thing I have to say is ‘stop the violence.’” And so we say that four times in one chorus. Which, really, the way Jeff and I write, we don’t always like to state the obvious. But I guess you can’t state it any more obvious than that.
We had written it ten years ago, and I didn’t know if I would ever record it. I had hopes of recording a whole album of electric music, but I don’t really have an album’s worth of electric music to do. So, thinking of how we’d like to release this song. I’d acquired new management last fall, Rainmaker management, and I said to my manager Chris, I’d like to put out this one song, how do we do it now? And he said, you make a Youtube video. So that’s what we did!
I like the way the song has been described in the press, with the electricity of the band “amplifying” the message of the song. It’s works in multiple ways there.
Yes, exactly. It’s kind of like shouting it out. When we were writing the song, we said, “how do we want this to begin?” And we agreed: with drums! With the cannon fodder of the drums setting the tone. But, really, as I was making up the music to it, I hadn’t realized up until a couple of months ago that it’s really a Jimi Hendrix style song. Those are the kinds of riffs that the Band of Gypsies played. And of course I really like them.
You’ve done tons of music videos in your career, you must be a natural at them now.
Ahh, you know, music videos are just a part of the whole process, a part of the business that I’m in. I don’t really watch them that much, I prefer to listen to the music then watch on screen the people doing it. But yeah, this kind of video I like the best. Just the band playing, performances without necessarily a storyline or actors. With David as the director, I left it up to him, as to what else he would want to put on it. I had worked with David last year, of all things, on a Loretta Lynn video. I played the fiddle on a Loretta Lynn song. For my video, David just said, “I just want to put on a straight rock concert. He said to me, “How do you see it?” And said, “Heavy metal.” He said, “Me too. I know just what to do.” (Laughs). I’m really happy with his treatment and the way it came out.
I was checking out some of David’s other work before this interview, and it turns out he did a really lovely music video late last year with John Prine. It has him playing and hanging out with a whole bunch of people in it, like Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, a bunch of others. It’s a great video. Have you seen that?
No shit, David did that? I have not seen that, I’ll have to check that out. Man, I do love Prine.
When it comes to current events and politics, do you like to keep yourself informed, and think that’s important? Or, given the volatility of things lately do you end up tuning out a lot?
Oh no, well, my wife and I do, yes. Lynn is political, I am not as political, but I very much keep up with things. I tune in, and track current events, and I am the person that called my congressman and senators, to leave them messages on the phone. Mostly encouraging. But my wife, Lynn, she’s the frontline feminist, she helped her aunt start NOW (National Organization for Women). But at any rate, I do think it’s important to keep up. One of the things that urged me on, was that back in November, when I had turned on one of the early morning news shows, and heard this statement that sickened me. It said, “This was the worst mass shooting in America in the last twelve days.” So, in other words, it had only been twelve days since the last mass shooting. And that just made me so sad, to think that that’s the norm now for our country. So, it spurred me on to getting the song out now. We know a song won’t change the world, but if we could just get the conversation rolling, just converse with each other, and together, not on our computers, about how we could have a more peaceful society. I don’t have the answer. We’re a couple of songwriters raising the question.
I do see a lot of debate right now between people who, on the one side, want to see their favorite musicians address issues, and on the other side, people who would rather not see their favorite musicians enter into that territory at all. Do you have any feelings about that?
I think that’s a personal choice within each person. This is the first time I’ve felt moved enough to make a statement, and yes I’ve already taken some criticism for being a blonde-haired mandolin player that shouldn’t have an opinion about the world (laughs). I understand. We’re all entitled to our opinions, and musicians and sports players are entitled to their just like the rest of the world. The reason I mention sports, too, is because we’re entertainers. Athletes, they’re entertaining us, we’re paying to be entertained. And so, yeah, there is a thought that people that entertain for a living shouldn’t have any thoughts about the world or what should happen. When, in fact, we’re the ones that travel the world, and we get to have a pretty clear view of what’s going on around the world. So, yeah, in that way, I’ve already taken a few criticisms. “We love your music, we don’t love this.” Well, that’s okay.
Politics aside, has positivity and hope been an important element in the music you’ve made across your career?
Oh yes. That’s been kind of one of the underlying themes, as I think of types of songs that I like to sing. Most of them would revolve around a positive thought. I realize this thought is not as positive, but we are trying to make a positive. Many of my songs have positive messages, and we’d like this to be one, too.
I will say that “Circles Around Me” had a pretty profound impact upon me when that first came out. I can’t really say why, but it just made me feel whole.
And well, thank you, because that’s exactly how music hits me too. It’s an indescribable feeling, but that’s what it is. A feeling. Jeff and I wrote that one, too. And boy, he overwhelmed me then. We thought we had the song written, and he called me one day and said, “I’ve got a bridge, and NOW we’ve got a real song.” If Jeff says it’s good, then it’s good (laughs).
On a different topic, you’ve played some pretty exciting gigs recently, like at The Broadmoor with Leftover Salmon. That must have been fun.
Oh, heck yeah! Of course, I’ve known Salmon from the get go, right when they got going, right? I got to meet them early, when they were actually young guys in the audience while my band New Grass Revival was playing. I’m in a fortunate position that when my band’s not playing I have the opportunity to jam with other groups. Of all the bands that I jam with now, like Greensky, the Stringdusters, Steep Canyon Rangers, Yonder Mountain, well Salmon was the first one that I jammed with. Now, they used to do The Boogie thing every year at the Stanley Hotel, but now it’s at The Broadmoor, and what a beautiful place that is. So I got to play with Salmon, and earlier in the day I played with a group called The Bluegrass Generals, with Andy Hall and Chris Pandolfi, and Dave Bruzza from Greensky and Greg Garrison from Salmon. I’ve done the Generals thing before, that’s so much fun. Pandolfi and Hall conceptualized that, but how it works is basically each guy says I’ve got these four or five songs I’d like to sing, and before you know it, you have like four to five ours of music to play! That’s the thing about this music, it just lends itself so much to jamming and a sense of camaraderie.
But Salmon, yeah I love those guys. You know they just had a book come out, and they gave me a copy, I’m just starting to open it up. I tend make friends with all the mandolin players, and Drew is one of my closest friends, and I love his playing. I was fortunate enough to play with them twice actually, at The Broadmoor but then also out in Tahoe the weekend after.
Right, WinterWonderGrass. You know, right before this interview I came across this video from that weekend of you playing Leon’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” I love that song.
Oh really? Cool. Yeah I actually talked Leon’s wife yesterday, it would’ve been his birthday. I saw him quite a lot before he died, and so of course I’ve been thinking about him a lot recently, and how much I love his music. It took me a number of years, though, because I like to do that song in the style that he did it on Leon Russel and The Shelter People. And our band New Grass Revival played with Leon as his band for two years, and we did “Stranger” then, it was fast and bluegrass tempo. But I like the slow, rock tempo that he did on that first album.