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Amongst the intense shredding, soulful blues licks, classical fingerings, acoustic strumming, fusion phrasings and rock riffs you’ll be able to witness at the Melbourne Guitar Show, you will also find the very best bluegrass pickers Australia has to offer; The Davidson Brothers. Featuring a wide array of fretted instruments in their show, Lachlan, Hamish and band will mesmerise with their virtuosic instrumental skills. Greg Phillips spoke to Lachlan about the Melbourne Guitar Show and the band’s amazing career.  

It’s a long way from Yinnar, Victoria where the Davidson brothers grew up to the festival stages and major recording studios of middle America where they have spent a great deal of time during the last few years. Prior to that, the guys had been working hard busking, building an audience until they came to the attention of Australian country music identity Bill Chambers, who gave them a leg up. They’ve since won a hoard of music awards both here and overseas. There are around 50 listed on the band’s website including numerous Australian Country Music Awards from Tamworth and a treasured runner up award from a prestigious Bluegrass band competition in Tennessee.

Lachlan and Hamish succumbed to the music bug early in life, raised by bagpipe playing, country music loving parents. They were further inspired when they toured the festival circuit in America as teens and got to meet bluegrass music legends such as Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley.  “We met a lot of people on that trip,” recalls Lachlan. “I guess just seeing how approachable those people were in a music scene where they were known for their talent on their instrument. That approachability of the bluegrass musicians and seeing some of the great musicians just jamming at festivals. No matter where we went, in the bluegrass scene there was always that need to make music on stage and off stage.”

davidsonbrospicIt was also on that trip in 1997 that Lachlan purchased his first instrument with his own money, a mandolin he picked up in the Smoky Mountain town of Sevierville, Tennessee, the birthplace of Dolly Parton. Lachlan’s grandfather owned a mandolin and as a kid, Lachey would often ‘muck around ‘ with that. Although Lachlan plays various fretted instruments, including a guitar he built as part of his VCE, it’s the mandolin which has had an influence on the way he plays everything else.
“I took guitar lessons for a year in year 12 after playing mandolin for about six years, so I definitely had a different approach,” he tells me. “Especially bluegrass with mandolin, you set up the thing pretty heavy and you end up with pretty strong hands. Mandolin is very percussive, there’s not a lot of resonance with bluegrass style mandolins so you learn to let the thing ring out. I guess my right hand technique, the rhythm in bluegrass is very similar with guitar and mandolin in that the right hand is a pumping rhythm. Tackling guitar was a big stretch for me to reach the full length of the neck but I really got into rhythm guitar for a while. I still play a bunch but mainly mandolin these days.”

It’s that pumping rhythm and intent, something they learned growing up, which has earned them much respect in the bluegrass world. “We learned about bluegrass before the internet came around, so we didn’t know what the musicians looked like or didn’t know their techniques,” says Lachlan. “We weren’t exposed to how American bluegrass was played which definitely led us to develop our own skill set. A lot of that was based on the older style bluegrass, which is to hit hard. When we got to America, they were a bit blown away that we weren’t ‘contemporary-fied’, we were playing pretty solid. A lot of the newer, contemporary players are really light-handed and I think a lot more contemporary guitar technique has got into mandolin playing too. We learned on the traditional stuff. While busking, we learned how to project our instrument and attack it.”

The Davidson Brothers have released seven albums, the most recent being 2014’s Wanderlust. The album was engineered by Adam Rhodes at Sing Sing Studios Richmond, mixed by Mark Thornton (Jerry Reed) and Larry Marrs (George Jones, Randy Travis, Marty Stuart) in Nashville and mastered in Sydney by Ted Howard. Mark Thornton has also produced the band’s last 4 albums as the Davidson Brothers enjoy tapping into his wealth of experience. “Those guys came from country music in the 70s and 80s,” Lachey says of Mark and Larry. “Mark toured with Jerry Reed, he performed for 13 years with him and Jerry was a bit of a pioneer with guitar. Mark plays that same finger-style on gut string guitar. That was a different influence we hadn’t been exposed to a lot. We experimented and recorded with him a little bit. Larry Marrs played bass with Marty Stuart for a long time and he’s a killer tenor vocalist. He grew up in Kentucky, so he had this natural bluegrass sound that everyone in bluegrass aspires to. To experience that live in the studio was such a quick learning experience for us.”

Talk with any seasoned bluegrass musicians and they’ll tell you that they record together as a band, it’s imperative to capture the interplay and vitality of the various fretted instruments. For the Davdison brothers, it’s no different. “Yeah we learned that early on,” says Lachlan. “Dubbing in bluegrass doesn’t sound how you think it is going to. We just go for the old techniques, separate people as much as we can in one room or a couple of rooms but track it all live. The latest album, we just rehearsed in my garage in Brunswick every weekend and then just went in the one day and cut all the band tracks live in South Melbourne. We hadn’t recorded in Australia for a long time, we’d been working with session guys in Nashville and we didn’t think we were going to get through that much but we did.”

For Lachlan, capturing his mandolin sound has never been easy but through trial and error, they’ve arrived at a system which now works for them. “We always put a big ribbon microphone on it,” he explains. “Sometimes I will have a different microphone for playing rhythm parts to playing solos, to capture the tone when picking as opposed to hitting. The pickups on mandolins are nowhere near the level of a guitar pickup. It’s such a different attack from playing rhythm bluegrass to playing solo, trying to capture both of them in the same pickup has not quite got there yet.”

The Davidson Brothers have a busy year ahead of them with performances at the Gympie Muster and a tour of Tasmania as well as participating in the Melbourne Guitar Show. Not only will the band play an energetic show on the MGS Acoustic stage, they’ll also be presenting an informative bluegrass clinic, where they’ll discuss strumming, picking and arranging patterns, plus  take questions from the floor.
“We’re going to be showcasing some of our stuff from our latest album,” says Lachlan of the band’s Melbourne Guitar Show performance.  “I guess we’ll be featuring all of the stringed instruments that we play. My brother has been playing dobro and slide guitar quite a bit in the last two years. Our guitar player has been really flying high on the flat pickin’. He’s doing fantastic. We’ve done a couple of the IBMA World of Bluegrass Expos in the past, which is a big convention for bluegrass music but we haven’t done a guitar specific show like this, so we’re really looking forward to it. ”

See The Davidson Brothers at the MELBOURNE GUITAR SHOW
Sunday August 9th: 11.45am
Davidson Brothers Bluegrass Clinic
Workshop Room #1, Level 1. Take elevator west

Sunday August 9th: 3.30pm
Davidson Brothers Band in concert
Acoustic Stage. Level 1. Take elevator east


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