Ashes to Immortality on its brand of free-range American roots; show tonight at the Granada



New bluegrass and roots bands form and fall apart frequently in these parts. Breaking apart from the pack of banjo-totin’ musicians is tough. How does local roots act Ashes to Immortality try to stand out from the rest?

“It's all heart," says Sonny Sparks, bassist. "No cutting corners, no face-paint, no gimmicks. We want to share moving, beautiful music because it's beautiful." Read on for Sparks' thoughts on recording, bluegrass and Split Lip Rayfield.

The Pitch: How did the New Year’s Eve show go? That bill was pretty impressive. I assume you guys are pretty close with the bands you played with that night.

Sparks: The New Year's Eve show was unforgettably awesome, sold-out in advance. The Bottleneck was spilling into the street before we started. One of our best shows, the excitement of a big NYE show made us play that much harder. Opening for Split Lip Rayfield was a milestone for a few of us.

We are indeed close with the other bands. Ashes to Immortality adores Split Lip Rayfield. We see Jeff around all the time — his workshop is a block or two from my house — and we've had good times with all down in Winfield. Dumptruck Butterlips is family, literally: bass player Megan Hartman is sister to our lead singer Bayley-Kate Hartman. We jam around the same campfires pretty often.

Anything special planned for 2012?

2012 is already super exciting. We're hitting the studio soon to follow up our demo EP with an album, which ought to drop sometime midspring. Right now we've got a ton of unrecorded originals, and we want to be able to pump those out over the Web and at shows. We absolutely love playing together. That's why we do it. But big crowds bring out moments that still surprise us.

In the immediate future, we're opening for Head for the Hills at the Granada Theater in Lawrence, Wednesday, January 25. We'll also be at Danny's Bar & Grill in Lenexa on February 11. With seven constant members and guest performers, jobs and gas prices, it's difficult to go on tour, but besides venues in Lawrence, KC, Manhattan and Wichita, count on seeing us at the Weston, Missouri, Bluegrass Festival; Festy Fest in Lawrence; Acoustic Vacation in Noel, Missouri; and the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas.

How would you define your band's brand of American roots?

Our brand of music: free-range American roots. A pasture of bluegrass with tall-grass stands of swing, skiffle, jazz, country, rock, and traces of punk and metal in the soil. Except for dubstep and manufactured pop hits (of any genre), we pretty much like it all. We remain acoustic on purpose; it's fun, it's challenging and very portable. It's all heart. No cutting corners, no face-paint, no gimmicks. We want to share moving, beautiful music because it's beautiful.

Did any of you study music/voice? Or did you just form the band out of friendship?

Everyone in the band picked up an instrument or started singing as youths, and in late 2010 were all actively performing around Lawrence in different groups. Bayley-Kate Hartman (lead vocal), Mike Hannah (mandolin), Rachel Killian (fiddle), and Brandon Allai (guitar) formed the initial project; Sonny Sparks {me} (bass) was added for {the} first show, and fellow high-school classmate Colby Earleywine (drums) soon joined; close friend Peter Oviatt (banjo) completed the lineup shortly after the band recorded a demo EP. {I} majored in music performance at Ottawa University (Kansas) and received a bachelor's in 2007.

Catch Ashes to Immortality tonight, opening for Head for the Hills at the Granada. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. for the 18-and-older show. Cost is $7 in advance.

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