Most of us know Chris Pandolfi as the banjoist from the Grammy-winning Infamous Stringdusters, but today we’re introducing the producer and non-traditional solo artist who just released his first album, the instrumental, Trance Banjo. Just a week after its release, the album made it into the top 10 of Billboard bluegrass albums, and the word still has yet to completely get around. Nearly four years in the making, Trance Banjo finally surfaced proving the true versatility of Pandolfi from the traditional bluegrass player we know and love.
Ten years ago Pandolfi kicked off his career as a producer — producing both his own music and the work of other bands. Paying close attention to the music, Pandolfi began experimenting and putting sounds together. The result slowly became these genre-bending instrumentals that were mixing seemingly opposite influences and musical styles. “I was branching out with my listening and really loved Washed Out, Tycho, Pretty Lights,” Pandolfi said about the journey that led to Trance Banjo. “These are sounds that are definitely far away from bluegrass,” and he wondered, “what if I could draw on these sounds and use them in the creation of the sound-bed to back up my banjo?”
The album reflects Pandolfi’s eclectic taste in music, which naturally includes elements of bluegrass and influences from artists like Bela Fleck. Trance Banjo is the spawn of, in his own words, Pandolfi’s “love of producing and crafting songs and sounds in the studio,” and it put all of his skills to the test. In his personal studio, he played almost everything on the album, other than features from Stuart Duncan on the fiddle and Nick Falk on the drums on a couple of tracks. The rest came from sample libraries that had been in the works for the past four years.
Pandolfi’s mission with the album was to recontextualize the banjo, “to give it a new home,” and that goal took some time to reach. From the beginning, Pandolfi wasn’t constantly working on it, what with working and touring with the Infamous Stringdusters, but all that changed with the onset of quarantine. “The tracks are really dense and complex and needed a lot of time to go through the experimentation and conception phases.” While he sees traditional bluegrass as a more difficult discipline, the music on Trance Banjo came to Pandolfi even more naturally. “This is my thing. There’s nothing to compare this to and that’s something I’m really proud of. This is a long journey and a long time coming, and I’ve found a stride in my own sound.”
With a typically busy recording and touring schedule with the Infamous Stringdusters, Pandolfi hasn’t quite figured out what the next steps will be for this solo passion project of his. He feels he definitely scratches his touring “itch” with them, and live performances of Trance Banjo would certainly be a whole other undertaking. When reality returns, Pandolfi plans to see where the fate of the album takes him, to trust that process and to be ready for the next project.
Listen to Trance Banjo by Chris Pandolfi here.