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Deadly Gentlemen

deadly gentlemen

They began as “the world’s first bluegrass rap band,” explains The Deadly Gentlemen’s Greg Liszt with a wink, “specializing in rap songs that sounded nothing like rap.”

That was back in 2008, and according to Liszt, well, they’ve changed a lot since then, when they first began blending spoken-word with folk music and string instruments.

“Everybody sings lovely melodies now, we promise,” he chuckles.

Those lovely melodies have also caught the ear of landmark label Rounder Records, who released the band’s brand-new full-length album, Roll Me, Tumble Me, this past July.

With Liszt on banjo alongside bandmates Mike Barnett (fiddle), Dominick Leslie (mandolin), Stash Wyslouch (guitar), and Sam Grisman (bass), The Deadly Gentlemen are getting a deadly cool reputation as a alt-Americana group with an edge. They’ve got plenty of talent to back up their eclectic approach. And it all started… well, all over the place.

“All of the members of the band live in Boston these days, but we all met at various festivals across the U.S.,” Liszt explains. “The group crystallized into its current lineup back in 2010 with the addition of our guitar player, who is also a hell of a singer.”

Keeping the dense rhythms and rhythmic vocals from their rap, aka ‘spoken word,’ days, they now sing and harmonize in a more gang-based vocal style. (Think Boyz II Men. With a dash of punk. In the countryside. With banjos.)
“It’s more fun that way,” Liszt says.

To craft their setlists, The Deadly Gentlemen do write some of their own music and lyrics, but they primarily take old poems and set them to music, creating a totally original “epic folk” sound with non-stop orchestration and complex vocal and instrumental arrangements.

“Most of our songs start as poems, perfectly adequate to stand alone,” Liszt explains. “Once we have one of those, it’s time to have some fun with it. We set it to music, and try to approach it as though all five of us had just one voice.”

Finding poems and folk songs to reinvent isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do, though. Many have already been revitalized into other genres by other groups, and as might be expected, the subject matter is somewhat limited.

“There aren’t all that many folk song subjects out there, so we are trying to hit them all, one at a time,” Liszt says. “Moonshine songs, protest songs, cowboy songs, love songs, and so on – these are your bread and butter, but of the very modern, urban variety.”

As far as their own writing goes, Liszt says that they try to write about their lives as clearly as they can without being confessional.

“Being a musician is a crazy way to go, so we have a lot of stories to tell,” he says. “We’re trying to bottle them into music while having as much fun as legally and humanly possible…”

“With a banjo,” he grins.

For more about the band, visit www.deadlygentlemen.com.