I recently attended ResoSummit 2019, the annual dobro overload produced by Rob Ickes and Betty Wheeler. Along with classes taught by world class dobro players, ResoSummit includes three nights of concerts at the historic Station Inn in Nashville. After Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley performed on the first night, I was able to connect with Trey. I posed some questions regarding their new album, World Full of Blues, to which Trey graciously responded via email. — Vinny Nugent
HVBA: What was the inspiration behind your new album, World Full of Blues?
TREY: I’d say the inspiration for World Full of Blues was basically similar to our other albums: to document our music and to make that music as organically as we possible can. We knew we wanted to write more for this album and maybe go in a more Americana direction, which I think we accomplished.
HVBA: Although Mike Bub and John Alvey join you again on this album, World Full of Blues departs from the heavier bluegrass sound of fiddle and banjo; instead it brings in horns and organ. What was it like working with these other instruments?
TREY: It was a thrill! I’ve always wanted to work with B3 and horns, so it was a dream come true. There was a brief moment where we might have wondered if horns and B3 would actually work within the context of this duo, but that was lifted the moment we got into the studio and started working. It just felt great from the first note.
HVBA: World Full of Blues boasts almost entirely new material; the two of you have song credits on 10 of the 12 tracks. Tell me about your process of song selection for the album.
TREY: Rob and I had never really co-written together previously. We both had some ideas for songs, so we got together one week in the fall of 2016 and worked on a bunch of tunes. That week provided several songs that we recorded on this album (and quite a few more songs that will more than likely be on a later album). Rob and I had quite a few other songs that we had either co-written with other people or written separately… so we had quite a surplus of songs, somewhere around 25, ready to go for this new album. Brent was really helpful in narrowing down the 11 songs that worked together cohesively.
HVBA: Together you produced your first two albums, Before the Sun Goes Down and The Country Blues. Why did you choose Brent Maher to produce World Full of Blues?
TREY: We went into this album knowing we wanted an outside producer. Everything just worked out totally perfect with us getting to work with legendary producer and engineer Brent Maher. We had talked with our team about wanting a producer for this album and one of our managers, Bob Burwell, hooked us up with Brent. We were definitely thrilled for the opportunity! Brent was the driving force behind the “new direction” for this record … bringing horns, B3, and percussion into our sound in addition to our normal rhythm section.
HVBA: Why did you decide to cut the album live in the studio?
TREY: That’s the way we worked on the first two albums also. Recording live provides a vibe and a feel that can’t be replicated. It gets you out of “studio mode” and into just making music. My favorite albums were all cut live, so I love working live in the studio. It’s a little nerve wracking, but it’s worth the extra effort!
HVBA: What were the physical logistics of the studio for a live recording? Could you see the other musicians while you played? Was there a conductor?
TREY: We were all in one room for the most part. John Alvey and Giovanni Rodriguez (drums and percussion) were in a partitioned room with an opened glass door that was inside of the main room where Rob, myself, Mike Bub, and John Jorgenson/Pete Wasner were all recording. Basically no isolation, but we were all in the same room feeding off of each other for all of the sessions. The horns were all overdubbed later and the harmony vocals were also.
HVBA: Were any of the tracks cut on one take?
TREY: They were all one consecutive cut (no splicing together or overdubbing solos), but I’m not sure if any were first takes. It’s very possible. We would usually just do three or four takes, go listen in the control room and then move on to the next song. We would go back and pick “the take” later on.
HVBA: Which track was the most challenging to record live?
Seems like we worked on the arrangement for “Fatal Shore” for a bit … we had normally played that either as a duo or with the full band. Brent was hearing that with no drums, just percussion. So we just worked a little differently when recording that song. All of the songs went pretty smoothly though.
HVBA: How did the Taj Mahal connection come about?
TREY: We knew we wanted a special guest for the title track and Taj was at the top of our dream list of guest artists. We sent him the track to check it out and hoped for the best! He loved it and flew to Nashville from California (via Hawaii) and absolutely slayed it! Working with Taj in the studio will definitely be a big highlight in both of our careers.
HVBA: The lyrics of the title track refer to the myriad dysfunction of our world; however, the title also seems to refer to the wide variety of blues styles reflected in your song selection. Was that your intention or a happy accident?
TREY: Definitely a happy accident, but these songs were connected in subject matter (with the title track being a little more up-front). We tossed around the idea of naming the album “Stories of Trouble” because that is definitely a theme in the album. (I tend to gravitate towards sad songs.) I’ve always felt that our music was heavily influenced by the blues also.
HVBA: Your social media presence for World Full of Blues is so much more extensive than that of the first two albums. Tell me about this acceleration.
TREY: I think it’s more necessary now to be active on social media. We aren’t that great at keeping up with all of that stuff … we are on the road a lot of the year and when we are home, we want to just be home with our families. The road can seem boring at times and totally chaotic at other times, so it’s hard to find the time to engage in social media properly. We are definitely working on it though! We also have a great team in place with our managers, agent, and the label who help us keep the wheels rolling … figuratively and literally.
HVBA: You also seem to have a much more robust touring schedule. How has that been?
TREY: Great! We’ve always worked hard and keep our schedule busy, but the past few years have been awesome! We’ve gotten to work with a lot of great artists: Taj Mahal, Tommy Emmanuel, Hot Tuna, Jorma Kaukonen, Buddy Miller, and lots of other really great folks who have taken us in and let us hit the road with them. We are just glad to be playing our music for people who dig it!
HVBA: I have seen you perform a few times with John Alvey and Mike Bub. You recently performed at The Grand Ole Opry with the full band that appears on World Full of Blues. Are there any plans to tour with them?
TREY: Fingers crossed! We have had those discussions…
HVBA: Your stage performances are incredibly dynamic; the synergy between you two is exciting, not to mention the lightning speed of your picking. Have you considered cutting a live album with an audience?
TREY: Thank you very much! We have thought about doing a live record. That’s definitely on our short list of things to do soon.