When asked to name his musical influences, Mark Growden comes up with Joni Mitchell and Estonian classical-composer Arvo Pärt. Other than that, he draws a blank. “What I can tell you,” says the multi-instrumentalist by phone, “is that my main influence for this album [Lose Me in the Sand] is the banjo. The clawhammer banjo.” He explains that clawhammer describes a manner of banjo picking that dates back to the origins of bluegrass. “Spell-check will refuse clawhammer, but it’s a word.”
Growden is in the process of recording a series of concept albums. “Each in a different city,” he says. “So each album has a different feel.” He calls Lose Me in the Sand his Tucson album. Saint Judas was recorded in Oakland. “Saint Judas really reflects the complexity of that city. Oakland is very cosmopolitan. And there’s a lot of racial emotional complexity, which I love. I couldn’t record the Tucson record in Oakland because the banjo and the fiddle, that’s not really the music of Oakland. In Tucson, it’s country-slash-western — and I mean real country. It just blossoms in Tucson.”
Growden’s main instrument used to be the saxophone. He could have ended up a jazz saxist, but one night all of his horns were stolen out of a recording studio. He took that as a sign and began singing and playing different instruments, including the accordion and the banjo. So far Growden’s made two records in his “city” series. He says the third one will be recorded in New Orleans. “I’m not doing this for the music industry, man.” He laughs. “Bottom line is, I fking love music. You know what I mean?”
MARK GROWDEN: Lestat’s Coffee House, Thursday, February 24, 9 p.m. 619-282-0437. $8.