Volume Five

At the influence of his father, northern Mississippi’s Glen Harrell started playing guitar when he was nine years old, and picked up the fiddle when he was just 14. Just last year, the part-time insurance salesman, along with his band, Mountain Fever Recording artists, Volume Five earned two IBMA nominations – a long way from hometown, childhood fiddle and guitar contests – but not surprising. Quickly becoming a band to watch – Volume Five’s latest CD, Voices, just might be the record that puts them on the map for good.
In his early teens, Glen eventually got together with some kids his age that were playing, and they formed a band. Over the years he jumped in and out of different groups, all the while learning more and getting better as a musician and a singer. “We did a lot of jamming in between,” he recalled as we sat down to talk.
Heading Out
Glen landed in a bluegrass gospel group, which lasted four or five years, and then went on to play fiddle with Marty Raybon for about six years. “Being a fiddle player all the time, you don’t get to sing very much,” Glen laughed. “I’d always wanted to put my own group together,” he said. So he did. “I like to sing, and in the gospel group I did quite a bit of singing, (harmony and lead) and I missed it. I thought to myself, ‘if I’m ever going to do this, I better do it before I get too old,” he quipped.
“But let me tell you, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or who you’ve played with – when you put a group together you’re back at zero. I have really worked my butt off trying to build this band. I guess in some ways, I had no idea what was involved, but it’s worth it for sure.”
“More than anything,” Glen said, “I wanted this band to play music that would define us and let everybody in this band create their own identity. Instead of sounding like every other band – you know, having that same sound or same feel – and playing whatever is hot on the radio at the time. We really wanted to create our own distinctive sound. I want to be able to walk around places like IBMA and hear other people playing our songs too. To me, that’s the best compliment you can have.”
A New Breed
Volume Five is a one of the new generation bluegrass bands. They are a hybrid of contemporary and traditional sounds melded with a creative new approach to bluegrass. “I’m a baritone singer,” Glen said. “So I’m not going to put my guitar in a higher key and scream and try to reach the note – I sing in the key that best fits my voice – and sometimes the sound we get is not what a typical bluegrass band sounds like. We want the vocals to be really crisp and clear, and to play music not just for the people that have been going to bluegrass festivals a long time, but also for the people who are new to bluegrass. We want to attract a newer, younger audience, as well as the long standing bluegrass fans,” he said.
“I think we’ve got something for everybody. I just don’t want to be labeled as contemporary or traditional. To me, music is either good or it’s not. I’m pretty cut and dried about that. I really appreciate different styles of music, and I’m very open-minded. I appreciate the mountain sound of the old-time stuff – but I don’t just want to play everybody else’s music all the time either.”
It is hard to be completely original, of course, and Volume Five doesn’t mind mixing in songs from other bands and artists. “For example,” Glen said, “we love Lost And Found. I think those guys produced some of the best original music. So we’ll play some of their songs from time to time. It’s good to have a few familiar songs that audiences know right off the bat. And I love the old Country music songs too like those from Merle Haggard and George Jones. We don’t mind playing some classic stuff, but we also want to be know as a band that’s bring new, original music to the catalog for others to be able to play too. The only way to create your own identity is to be original as much as you can.”
We Write The Songs
“We probably write about half of our own songs, and the rest we choose from other song writers we know, or songs that get sent to us,” Glen said. “For the most part I’m the one picking the material, and the first thing I look for is, does it have a good story? Does it say something that’s interesting to people? And, could it impact a person’s life? Then I listen for the melody. If a song doesn’t have a good melody, I don’t care what it says, it’s just hard to sing. And if someone sends me a song, I’ll listen to it three or four times to see if it will work for us, and then I don’t want to hear it again. I’ll write the lyrics down on a piece of paper. If I listen to something too long I will start to sound like the demo. I really don’t to do that. I want to put our own twist on each song we do. After that, all these guys in the band are great musicians, and they can bring a great song to life.”
“Great songs are what really make a band great. I’ve been really blessed over the last seven years with this band,” Glen reflected. “We’ve had some guys that were really great song writers, or they knew someone that was a good songwriter. So we’ve been fortunate to find really good songs. I’m really, really picky on what we record. I have tons of music sent to me every year. A lot of them are really great songs but they’re just not what I’m looking for,” he said.
Making It All Work
“You’ve got to be a highly motivated person,” Glen said. “You’ve got to set goals, and more than anything, you’ve got to go after it. You really do have to work hard. People aren’t just going to beg you to play for them, or hand you a record deal. You can have the talent – but that’s only about 20 percent of what you need to make it in this business. It’s not the Friday and Saturday work. It’s the Monday through Thursday part that’s going to make you successful. The weekend work is the gravy.”
“Just because you can make it sound good doesn’t mean your telephone is going to start ringing. You’ve got to be a person who’s pretty good at talking with people because everything in this business is based on relationships. I love people. You have to love people in this business, and it’s the people that I’ve met – the relationships that this business has allowed me to make – that means as much to me as getting to make music.”