Nonesuch Records releases Michael Daves's two-album set, Orchids and Violence, on February 26, 2016. Both discs are produced by Daves and have identical track listing of mostly traditional bluegrass songs. The first features straightforward interpretations of them and was recorded live to tape in a 19th-century church by Daves and a band of roots-music innovators: bassist Mike Bub, violinist Brittany Haas, mandolinist Sarah Jarosz, and banjo player and Punch Brother Noam Pikelny. The second disc was recorded in Daves's home studio and includes bass, drums, and electric guitar, mostly played by Daves, and takes a raw, experimental rock approach to the same old-time material. Both discs were mixed by Vance Powell (Jack White, Kings of Leon, Danger Mouse) and have a special guest appearance from Tony Trischka on cello banjo, and Daves's wife Jessi Carter played bass on the electric disc.
The album includes songs by bluegrass pioneers such as Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, plus one, "Stargazer," by the band Mother Love Bone. "It started out as a jokey thought," Daves admits, "doing two records, doing the same songs both ways. And then I thought, 'Maybe there is something to it.' I started getting excited by the creative challenge of having the two records relate to one another, two records that could also stand on their own."
He continues, "One of the things I love about bluegrass music is the tension between innovation and tradition. When bluegrass came together, it was a fabrication of a variety of influences in American music yet it quickly became something people assume has been around forever. With this project, I can respect and honor the traditional aspects of that but also reflect on the innovative nature of bluegrass music when it was being created, when it was new.
"In the early conceptions of the electric record, I was thinking about it as something of a grunge record, but as it developed it became something pretty different," Daves says. "Those sounds that were happening in the early nineties were part of my discovering music, what I was absorbing as I was going out on my own as a guitarist and having my own bands. But when I got into making the record it was much more about the fun of exploring new sounds than reconnecting with some musical past. The album followed a period where I hadn't been playing much electric music, so plugging in felt pretty fresh, like discovering something new."