“Hold on a second,” says Paul Hoffman—mandolin player, vocalist, and one of the lead songwriters for Greensky Bluegrass—as his toddler daughter, Juniper, squeals in the background. It’s every parent’s nightmare: The babysitter has called in sick. After a quick chat with his wife, Michelle, he’s absolved of parental duties, for the moment at least. Hoffman is still adjusting some to the chaos fatherhood brings to someone who prides himself on being exacting and meticulous when it comes to writing and recording songs. Greensky’s eighth studio album, aptly titled Stress Dreams—which Garden & Gun is proud to premiere today—is one of the most complete and engaging of the group’s more than twenty-year career.
Recorded in Vermont and at Echo Mountain studios in Asheville (a favorite haunt of the band), Stress Dreams mixes Greensky’s trademark progressive bluegrass with gritty, more rock-and-roll-inspired fare, like the slow burning “Streetlight” and the epic “Grow Together.” The band is currently on tour with openers Infamous Stringdusters—with dates in Louisville, Birmingham, and Atlanta at the end of February—and their blistering live shows are not to be missed.
Stream the album below, and read on to hear more from Hoffman on songwriting, parenthood, and reveling in the darkness. Stress Dreams is out this Friday, January 21, and available to preorder here.
Do you guys have a goal in mind for the album when you go into the studio?
Not really, but I think through the years we’ve developed a sense that we don’t want songs to be too bluegrass-y or too many slow songs. We want to make sure a few are edgy and more rock-and-roll. When we go through potential songs before we begin to record, if anything is missing, I just write another song [laughs].
Is it easier or harder to write songs now that you’re twenty years in?
At times harder because I’ve already discovered my style. But I’ve learned that being creative doesn’t have to mean new and unique. I can have a style and I can have a certain sound, so I try not to get myself so wrapped up about it. I don’t try and make the most epic thing I’ve written every time.
Your daughter is a big influence on a couple of your new songs, especially “Grow Together” and “Cut a Tooth.”
For “Cut a Tooth,” she was literally teething, and I was in a dark room rocking her and singing the melody. I was able to put her down and then had to go figure out the chords before I fell asleep myself. All my friends said being a father would change my songwriting style, and I was like, “You think?” I’m a darker songwriter and write very openly and honestly about painful things. Anything I’ve written that’s light I get bored with. I was worried I was going to do bubble-gummy pop songs and have this positive outlook all the time. There’s a really beautiful way to write about being a father. But there’s another way to look at it, where the pressure is crippling because everything means so much more.
For the first time in the band’s career, all of the members contributed songs that appear on Stress Dreams. How did that come about?
For Mike [Devol] our bass player, he’s had an ever-growing role in the band by working on my songs or the arrangements of jams and other musical things we do in the band. The next step for him was to write his own stuff, and when the pandemic hit, I think he needed something to apply himself musically and liked figuring out how to present his ideas. It was really inspiring for him. For a while, Anders [Beck, our dobro player] has had ideas for instrumentals. He moved to Nashville and wrote with our friend Chris, who has written songs for Megan Trainor. If everyone starts throwing out a bunch of songs, we’ll make a lot of records.