An Interview With Pixie and the Partygrass Boys
Pixie and the Partygrass Boys are a high-energy, fun-loving band out of Salt Lake City, Utah.
It seems like they have been showing up at all of our favorite festivals this summer, instantly increasing their fanbase with every set they play. They have a unique way of blending beautiful harmonies with quirky lyrics, pulling together grit with grace.
We had a chance to sit down with band members Katia, Amanda and Ben after their spirited afternoon set at Rhythms on the Rio. They had a few minutes to relax before making the 5-hour drive to Arise Music Festival, where they had a full day of band performances and individual sit-ins scheduled.
Let’s Talk Partygrass
We didn’t want to take much of their time, but we had to get down to the question on all of our minds: What exactly is a Partygrass?
Katia: Somewhere between bluegrass-newgrass-pop-punk-&-rock-n-roll. That’s Partygrass. And also, Chickens ’n Whiskey…
Amanda: …and tutu’s and space pants!
Katia: …and Tchaikovsky!
Ben: …and Tchaikovsky! Tchaikovsky fits under the Partygrass umbrella. So does Usher. So does Bill Monroe.
I guess there’s no real definitive answer, except that Pixie and the Partygrass Boys clearly have a lot of musical influences. From jazz to bluegrass to industrial to pop, each band member brings their individual musical passions into the mix.
Katia “Pixie” Racine (vocals/ukulele) grew up in Maryland, and brings the pop-influence to the band. Although, admittedly, she loves industrial music and her favorite artist is Trent Reznor.
Ben Weiss (mandolin/vocals) brings jazz into the eclectic mix, along with the ability to score ballets. Yes, ballets.
Amanda Grapes (fiddle/vocals) definitely puts the grass in “Partygrass”.
Amanda: I’m from Kentucky, and I’m kind of the most bluegrass of them all. They would probably go down the jazz hole if it weren’t for me.
Ben: We all crawled out of the jazz hole. I was playing Jazz guitar in a trio with Zach (Downes –bass/vocals), and then me and Andrew (Nelson –guitar/vocals) were starting a gyspy-jazz guitar trio when we met Katia. We started leaning towards bluegrass. That’s why we called it Partygrass in the beginning, because it wasn’t quite bluegrass. None of us were bluegrass musicians. We didn’t grow up learning in a traditional way. We were just easing our way into it. But when Amanda showed up, it kind of tipped the scale – like oops, now we’re a bluegrass band.
Well, technically a Partygrass band. But I digress.
Chickens and Whiskey
While the band may have all come from different backgrounds, the love of skiing the Utah mountains is what ultimately brought them together. Chilling in lodges after a long day in the snow can often lead to late-night jams and drinking whiskey, which is how all five member eventually discovered each other.
Katia: I believe Ben and Andrew were playing together, and they were talking about singers. And they both were like “I found one”, and Ben was like “I found one that drinks whiskey”. And that was ME! And then we started rehearsing at my house. And I believe we started rehearsing the first year that I got chickens. So I had these little tiny baby chicks. We have all this pictures of them sitting on our instruments.
That brings us to another defining element of the band: Chickens and Whiskey. You’ll hear it in their lyrics, and they’ll use it to refer to their friends and fans. And, now you know where it got its start. Simply, they drank whiskey and hung out with chickens.
Ben: The chickens, whiskey, and fun – that’s just like how we found our sound – with countless hours of drinking whiskey and having fun while there were a bunch of chickens around. That kind of became our rally cry. And it was our own inside joke – and we started writing it in our songs. And we started using it to promote. And it became Chickens, Whiskey and Fun for everyone!
So, how instrumental were the chickens to the development of the Partygrass sound?
Ben: They were really instrumental to our silliness – which is clutch for our sound.
Silliness abounds with Pixie and the Partygrass Boys. But don’t let that fool you into thinking their music is based more on fun than talent. It’s quite the opposite, to be honest. The band members have an extensive background that includes jazz and classical training, a degree in theater, composing ballets and musicals, and much more.
Amanda: I’ve been [playing bluegrass] since I was seven in Kentucky in the backwoods, and then also, I’ve been classically trained since I was two. We’ve all been classically trained. The silliness is what makes us fun, I guess.
Katia: ‘Cause otherwise we’d just play really heavy stuff for way too long.
Ben: And that’s the thing that I was finding as a jazz musician. Jazz is such a beautiful music and a deep art form, but at the end of the day, people sit down and listen to it. There’s not a lot of room for silliness in jazz. But bluegrass – you can play really high level music that’s still a lot of fun. And there’s a lot of room for shenanigans and good times in bluegrass, but also a lot of room for art.
And it looks like we came up with yet another description for Partygrass: Shenanigans and Art. Shenartigans? Shnart? Call it what you may. It all boils down to a really talented group of musicians who just want to have a really fun time playing music.
Wrote a Song About It. Like to Hear It? Here It Go!
Maybe, after all, it’s just not that easy to describe Pixie and the Partygrass Boys. All five band members bring something unique to the table, and they’ve managed to incorporate a bit of it all into their lyrics and compositions. A daunting task for sure, but a challenge with which they had much success.
But just in case it is still not making sense, Pixie and the Partygrass Boys wrote a theme song that may help.
We like Chickens and we like Fun. Let’s have whiskey with everyone. Pixie and the Partygrass Boys!
When a band brings together a love for classical arrangements with a strong jazz influence and the desire to bring a pop energy to their bluegrass instruments, you get Partygrass. Clearly.
Let’s be honest. Traditional bluegrass is slowly becoming a thing of the past as the sounds and styles have morphed over the past few decades. From bluegrass to newgrass to jamgrass, music lovers seem to welcome any and all variations. The sounds of Partygrass certainly seem to be equally as welcome on festival stages this summer.
The Festy Five
We weren’t going to let these guys wrap up an interview without our traditional Festy Five questions! Some of these were crowd-sourced, but it seemed appropriate to ask them sillier-than-usual questions. Here we go:
1. What was the last album you listened to?
Katia: Lady Gaga Born this Way
Amanda: Socks in the Frying Pan – Return of the Giant Sock Monster
2. First concert?
Katia: NIN (with Bauhaus and TV on the Radio)
Ben: 311 and Incubus
Amanda: Merle and Tammy Wynette
3. First Festival?
Ben: Reggae on the River (Northern Cali)
Amanda: I’ve been to a lot of fiddle festivals. Let’s say the Renfro Valley Fiddler All-Time Fiddle Festival.
4. Favorite Breakfast Cereal?
Ben: Honey Bunches of Oats
5. Beatles or Rolling Stones? (crowd sourced question)
All 3: Beatles
Bonus Round: If you could bring back the T-Rex would you? (crowd-sourced question)
Amanda: Absolutely not! (Oh, I’m also a geologist.)
Ben: I think in this day and age, it would make things interesting, so yeah.
Katia: Jurassic Park is my favorite movie, so as much as I know it’s a bad idea, yeah – but I recognize it would go wrong.
The women of Tico Time Bluegrass Festival took charge, threw down and dumped it out for an amazing weekend to kick off festy season.
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