Founded in 2006, the band is currently touring in support of their sixth album, “Pocket Full of Fire: Gangstagrass Live,” with an appearance at The Holding Company on Aug. 15.
The band has previously toured through the area, with Gangstagrass founder-guitarist Rench considering OB an ideal spot for music. “We have played in San Diego before, including OB,” he said, “It’s very cool to get to hit the beach for a minute to cool out before the show. We've definitely run into some characters there,” he said.
According to Rench, the idea for the band goes back to his childhood. “Hip-hop and country are the big influences I've been listening to since I was young,” said Rench. “Hip-hop exploded in the ’80s when I was in grade school and I started breakdancing with all my friends, while hearing honky-tonk music at home in my dad's collection. He's from Oklahoma.
“Growing up listening to both, I always wanted to get some hard beats and rapping along with twang and harmonies.”
The band has scored major successes along the way since having their song, "Long Hard Times to Come," selected as the theme to FX Networks TV drama, “Justified,” and having their most recent studio album, “American Music” (2015), debut at No. 5 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts.
After five studio albums, a live album was a natural progression. “We've done a lot of touring, and developed a really dynamic live show that is really different from the albums,” Rench said. “It was definitely time to share that with a bigger audience that includes people who don't get the chance to see us in person.”
He notes there is no one way Gangstaghrass’s music comes together. “We start in various ways,” Rench commented. “It helps create different dynamics in the songwriting that sometimes we start with bluegrass jams, sometimes with rap verses or a hook idea. Depending on which part we start with it brings a different approach to the song.”
As skilled as the writing is, part of the band’s appeal is their ability to improv, making each show truly unique. “Bluegrass and hip-hop both have a strong improv element and we take full advantage of that,” Rench said. “Each song features solos and some spontaneous stuff, and some songs end up with new verses being freestyled or new structures being followed where we can repeat or add solos or breakdowns as we feel it. You may hear something about the city we are in or the shirt your wearing, worked into a verse. So yeah, the shows take things in really different directions from the recordings.”
While the current edition of Gangstagrass is a quintet, featuring Rench, as well as banjo player Dan Whitener, fiddler Brian Farrow and vocalists R-Son The Voice of Reason and Dolio The Sleuth, dozens of musicians have taken part in their recordings.
“Collaboration was part of the conception of Gangstagrass from the beginning,” he said. “The group brings in a lot of collaborators, to get hip-hop emcees to jump in on it, and bluegrass pickers and singers to jump in on it and see what comes of the collaboration. It’s a beautiful thing.”
“We feel grateful to be traveling making music,” Rench remarked. “A special benefit of doing it with Gangstagrass is the really different audiences we play for in different areas of the country, and the inspiration of seeing that despite how much we think we are divided, people who might consider themselves to have nothing in common, will actually party to the same band,” he said.
Gangstagrass: Thursday, Aug. 15. The Holding Company, 5046 Newport Ave., 7 p.m. 21 and up. $12.