Looking for a band that might have slipped under your radar? How does one that combines the instrumental dexterity of bluegrass with excellent songwriting chops sound to you? If that all sounds good, might we suggest Breaking Grass, a five-man collective out of North Mississippi whose latest album, Cold, encapsulates all that the band does well and represents a new high point for them.
Breaking Grass is comprised of Cody Farrar, Britt Sheffield, Tyler White, Zach Wooten, and Jody Elmore. American Songwriter spoke to Farrar, the band’s lead singer and chief songwriter, about the band’s development process.
“We were pretty young when we started 13 years ago,” Farrar explains. “Our first shows started in a little community center in a town of 250 people. We did a weekly show that was free admission and everyone brought potluck. People would get up and dance, or sing along. It was really like a big family. We outgrew that building and moved to a larger one, then started getting bookings further and further out. Fast forward to 2020 and we are blessed to be headliners at some festivals we always hoped we’d get the chance to play at. The music always grows and matures with us, but how we’re growing as a band has been fun for me.”
What’s also been fun for Farrar has been writing songs to be played for ridiculously talented musicians. “It really takes the pressure off for sure,” he says. “I know that when I write a line, whether it’s in a serious or lite tone, one of the guys is going to come right behind it with something that enhances the power of it. Words can be powerful, but music can create such emotion underneath them. I depend on them a lot to bring the stories to life.”
Yet you can hear on Cold how Breaking Grass, as talented as they may be instrumentally, give their songs room to breathe. “The guys are tasteful when it comes to the music,” Farrar says of the band. “They know when the song needs a little or a lot, and don’t try to wedge something in that doesn’t belong. I’m still amazed by them, especially on stage. They are really at that studio musician level, but they all have full time jobs. I don’t see how they keep up their chops like that and balance careers and family. Pretty remarkable.”
When you hear the term bluegrass, you might think of a sort of traditional songwriting bent, and there is some of that on Cold on songs like “Lazurus Bell” and “Pharr Mounds.” Yet Farrar can also keep things very much in the here-and-now, as he does on the standout title track which icily dissects a fracturing relationship.
“It’s easier for me to write outside the box, and with songs like ‘Cold’, that’s the style I tend to gravitate to,” Farrar explains of the dichotomy. “I didn’t grow up in the world of bluegrass, so my influences were more along the lines of Ozzy and Prince and Elvis. I have to focus to stay within the realm of bluegrass and create something that’s not going to put off a fan of the traditional. We depend so much on our friends who are bluegrass DJs, so we do strive to cater to them and their listeners as well as push the boundary and create something fresh.”
The band plans to hit the road again once virus concerns fade, and Farrar says there is new music constantly in the works with this quintet. But, for now, he is filled with gratitude looking at just how far Breaking Grass have come. “It’s amazing to me, mostly because I didn’t expect it,” he muses. “We started so small and there were so many up and coming bands that we started out alongside. But, even from the beginning we had such devoted family and friends. People from home would travel to our first few shows that were hours away and wear their homemade Breaking Grass t-shirts. We felt like we were rock stars.”
“It’s even more humbling now to get an email from someone in Germany or France that likes the music. Or to get a message from one of your musical heroes that is into what you are doing. It’s all kind of surreal. It’s not lost on us either. We’re grateful to anybody that takes a minute to encourage us.”