|where tired, wrinkled & mussed is a state of mind|
and other things that serve to bolster my enormous ego
This is a paper my friend Jennifer wrote for a college course, based on an interview conducted right after I returned from the Prairie Rehab tour. It's not technically 'press,' but it's a great little paper and I like it a lot. She passed the class, and after much begging on my part, granted me the OK to post it here. Enjoy.
Anti-Folk: Tulsa Style
Ross Greenawalt looks tired. His hair is mussed. A once neatly trimmed goatee is now an ear-to-ear beard. And his flannel shirt is wrinkled. His look is appropriate. Ross just returned from an eleven-day road trip that was supposed to be his Thanksgiving holiday. His travels took him from his current home in Tulsa, Oklahoma all the way to New York City and back, with several stops along the way. This past year Ross began using his vacation time from work to take small tours cross-country, stopping at various open mic nights and festivals to perform his humor-based anti-folk musical set.
Earlier this year, he self-released his first solo album News From Around the Bend. A man with a guitar and a real job, Ross plays local gigs whenever he can. His funny and thoughtful anti-folk pop songs and playful stage humor have won the hearts of a small group of faithful followers in the Tulsa area.
Now freshly back from his latest trip, Ross has photos and stories to share. One of his gigs on the trip included playing at a CD release party in the City of Brotherly Love for friend Adam Brodsky, a big name in the anti-folk scene. Ross was the 19th performer that evening. He went on just before Brodsky himself, performing a tribute to the Philadelphia-based icon.
“It was a lot of fun. I did a medley of Adam’s songs, just taking the music and structure from one of his oldest tunes and singing verses from about 12 of his others between the verses. And since it was Adam’s hardcore crowd most everyone got all the references,” he says.
The songs of Ross and his fellow anti-folk artists are chock-full off references and inside jokes. The music has palpable irreverence and charm throughout. And Ross says it came from many places.
“Basically, anti-folk is folk music that owes as much to Joey Ramone as it does Bob Dylan. It really is a lot more about an approach, an attitude, than a particular sound. I always compare it to 70's and 80's punk in that respect,” he says. “You knew that the Sex Pistols, the Minutemen, the Dead Kennedys, Hüsker Dü, and Black Flag were all punk rock bands, but they sounded absolutely nothing alike.”
Depending on which anti-folkie you hear, the music sounds different. But a common thread in this genre seems to be adept lyricism. The songs are less about polished musicianship than expressing a statement or thought. Humor floats in and out, but anti-folk songs have long been associated with pointed political ideals. Thus, the name “anti-folk” is somewhat misleading.
“It’s a great name, but it’s actually a bit of a misnomer because the whole idea was to get back closer to the old ‘real’ folk artists like Woody Guthrie and further away from wimpy singer/songwriters - like, say, James Taylor - who mellowed out the music and toned down the attitude in the late 60's,” Ross explains.
The origins of anti-folk are up for debate, at least in part. Such musical outfits as the Holy Modal Rounders, John S. Hall, Kinky Friedman, and the Violent Femmes are mentioned in relation to its beginnings. But a man named Lach is credited with officially beginning anti-folk. He surfaced in New York in the early 80's making brash and aggressive acoustic rock. After being pushed away by the conservative so-called folk scene, he decided to declare himself the opposite of that style.
The evolution of anti-folk is as interesting as its defiant birth. Still mostly a cult-followed genre, the sounds and attitudes from one artist to the next are subject to be notably different. Some artists of this category are still mixing punk rock with acoustic guitar, smart lyrics and a standup comedy act. But elements have been tacked on to the original template in the form of hip-hop (Beck), aggressive, hardcore guitar (Hamell On Trial), poetry (King Missile), country (Michelle Shocked), and of course, politics (Billy Bragg).
Ross Greenawalt knows all about the history of the music he borrows from to create his own blend. With childhood influences such as Tom Lehrer and the Smothers Brothers, he was probably destined to show humor in his work. But living his high school years in the early 80's meant developing a deep appreciation for bands like Devo, Frank Zappa and the Minutemen.
“Anything really original or unique immediately grabs my attention, and anything that grabs my attention probably winds up being some kind of influence along the way,” he says. “I think I’m probably a cross between Weird Al [Yankovic], Tenacious D and the Barenaked Ladies.”
He calls his style “comedy rock with a dark side.” When performing live, he bills himself “Acoustic Ross.” On-stage, Ross is typically clad in jean shorts, a slightly worn, respectable band T-shirt, and tennis shoes. He, alone with his acoustic guitar, can fill an hour quite easily with a handful of original songs, a few parodies and maybe an obscure cover tune.
As senior director for Tulsa’s KOTV News Channel 6, Ross seems to be content as a weekend rock star. “I never saw my own original music being my only source of income,” he says. “I think I enjoy it more as a hobby than I ever would as a career.”
Ultimately, he would like to open an independent record store and possibly turn it into a local label imprint for area artists. For now Ross intends to continue entertaining fans with his ironic, cough-and-you’ll-miss-a-funny-joke blend of music that pays homage to the enigma that is anti-folk.
"Acoustic Ross" & "News From Around The Bend" © 2002-3001 Northcraft Entertainment Organization. All content not otherwise specified is also © 2002-3001 Northcraft Entertainment Organization. While we're at it, "Northcraft Entertainment Organization" is also © 2002-3001 Northcraft Entertainment Organization.