Four out of five members of Old Salt Union are Belleville natives, and they’ve been getting their show on the road on their own since 2012.
That just changed.
Old Salt Union, a well-known bluegrass band that has performed at the Belleville Chili Cook-off and other local events, signed a record deal with a Nashville, Tenn., label in January. It means they’ll stop doing all their own promotions, their own marketing and their own distribution. They’ll still do their own driving, in three-hour shifts, to gigs that take them to New York, Colorado, throughout Illinois and Missouri and all around and then back again.
It means a five-year, three-record deal.
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Over the past 15 years, (Bluegrass) has really become less of a niche market. With bands like Mumford and Sons, it’s become very marketable. It’s not our goal to be a pop sensation, but it’s not impossible.
Jesse Farrar, Old Salt Union
“They’re putting some faith in us,” says Jesse Farrar, who plays the upright bass with the band.
The faith isn’t completely out of the blue. Compass Records recorded a single last year with Old Salt Union, the winnings earned from the band’s win at the 2015 FreshGrass band contest in North Adams, Mass.
“On My Way” is Farrar’s current favorite.
“I love performing our newest song we actually recorded at Compass Records — it’s also honest, not just a plug,” Farrar said. “It hasn’t gotten stale yet, that’s for sure.”
Compass Records is part of “Hillbilly Central” on Music Row, and is well versed in Old Salt Union’s niche. Compass has three dozen artists under their “Americana/Blues” label.
A spokeswoman for Compass Records confirmed the deal.
Old Salt Union’s last self-released album was “Cut and Run,” in March of last year. Their next album will be out this fall under the new label.
“Over the past 15 years, (Bluegrass) has really become less of a niche market. With bands like Mumford and Sons, it’s become very marketable,” Farrar said. “It’s not our goal to be a pop sensation, but it’s not impossible.”
Farrar said, “aesthetically we look like a bluegrass band,” but the upright bass player has a history with punk, jazz and funk as well.
“Me and Rob (Kindle on guitar) are both jazz majors, and we like to incorporate jazz. The fiddle (player John Brighton) was a classical major, so he likes to incorporate these dramatic string parts,” Farrar said.
At first, (John Brighton) was ‘I’ll be sound-checking the violin.’
Jesse Farrar, on the fiddler’s adjustment to bluegrass
Ryan Murphey on banjo and Justin Wallace on mandolin had been with jam bands before, Farrar said.
“We try to be very malleable,” he said.
Part of that malleability has been a little adjustment with the new guitarist, Kindle, of Edwardsville. He joined the band about three months ago after a founding member moved on.
For Brighton, there was a “sonic difference” between his classical violin and the bluegrass fiddle, Farrar said.
“At first, he was ‘I’ll be sound-checking the violin,’” Farrar said, failing to hold back a chuckle.
The band has enjoyed a version of success so far, the upright bass player said. They are “surviving” by playing music.
“It’s not comfortable yet,” Farrar said. “Being comfortable is the goal.”
That said, Farrar says the more than 18 years he’s been playing have gone by “in a flash.”
“When you really care about playing music and performing and writing, I can see how time flies ... Look at my dad and Uncle Jay (Dade Farrar and Jay Farrar, of Son Volt) they’re going to be playing until they physically can’t anymore. My grandfather did it ’til the day that he couldn’t; it’s kind of a way of life.”