Interview with Two Ton Twig

Karin McLaughlin
By Karin McLaughlin / January 16, 2019

​If you're a fan of bluegrass and you're from around the DMV, you've most likely heard of and seen Two Ton Twig at some point.  Based out of Alexandria, the band is growing in popularity and exposure by leaps and bounds and with the huge following of their genre of music, the opportunities to play with big names through the D.C. area are becoming endless.  The band jumped on a call with us to do an interview ahead of their newest work being released and a host of shows that include a night of bluegrass at Whitlows, something new the bar is implementing to keep up with the local love for the fun-loving sound.  

Karin McLaughlin: ​Thanks for doing this interview guys - I ​want to get a feel for the bluegrass scene from a  bluegrass band that's local and that's ​from here and playing here. ​ Now, especially as the the genre ​of Americana and bluegrass ​grows​ in this area how that's kind of influencing  you guys, and how you're influencing it​.  Let's start at the beginning.

​Brandon Boling:  Well, I started the band about seven or eight years ago in Alexandria, I was living there ​at the time.  Me and a couple buddies really just started getting into folk and bluegrass pretty heavily and decided we wanted to play this music so I got myself a banjo and my buddy Jordan got a mandolin.  We just started writing songs and playing the seven music without really knowing what we were doing.  It all was really rough around the edges early on.  The first iteration of the band which was very, we call it punk grass at the time because it was just so like I said, just very rough and raw.  Then we started moving more towards trying to emulate a little bit more of a traditional sound and really trying to hone what we were doing.  I put out a Craigslist ad to find some new members and some people who played this type of stuff ​more than we have.  We got Donnie on guitar and ​an upright bass player and started just​ developing our skills and songwriting and growing musically.  Then Alex and Ryan came along - Alex on fiddle and Ryan on bass - ​ and I think in the last what two or three years this ​lineup​ hasn't changed and we just sort of locked in and continue to ​ mature and experiment ​and just grow as a unit musically and friendship ​wise too (all laugh​).

KM: Craigslist has led me to many a new friend here or stories and then you hear stories like this, and I've made lifelong friends. I know it's crazy. I've actually had some pretty surprisingly pretty good luck with roommates on Craigslist, which you would never think but some that stuck with me for years and years.

BB: Yeah you hear some horror stories, but then also ones like this.

KM: So what was what was everyone doing musically before this band in this iteration kind of came together.

Donnie Riggs:  I was floating around playing in rock bands and I would go home back​ to West Virginia​ a lot ​because there's mountains, there's camping, there's rafting and all kinds of stuff to do.   All my friends back there play some form of bluegrass or another so just having a lot of campfire experience and then learning from these guys some of which were in touring acts, you know, small regional touring acts.  More bouncing around between rock bands and then I found something I like.  Actually right before I joined this band I met a girl, also on Craigslist, and we were playing music and were going to try to do like a Shovels and Rope type thing and we ended up dating after a little bit, which is never good, but it worked because if we hadn't broken up I ​wouldn't have been on Craigslist looking for another band girlfriend. I was actually dumped Australian to me very good time channeling. Yeah, I'm gonna pass it on.

​Alex(andra) Touzinsky:  ​So - funny story - they actually had a fiddler and a Hennessy that was in the group before me. She went on to get married and have a kid.  Her and I went to college together, so she calls me and says, "I have a great project for you and I think this would be fun!"  I am a classically trained violinist, I'd never fiddled before, hadn't even ​done any kind of improv before, so she kind of took me under her wings and said, "Try this.  Do this.  A little bit of these licks, this is how I do this part."  Then she just kind of let me jump into the group from there.  We did a couple of side by side shows where she was there with me, but then from there, I just kind of dove into it and was able to embrace the genre and​ grow as a musician  with these guys, which is really ​neat.

​Ryan Thomas:​ My story is kind of funny too. ​I met these guys through my barber, my hip, cool barber​ (laughs).  I'll plug him if I can - Dustin at Neighborhood Barber ​Shop. ​ I played mandolin for about 20 years​ in probably​ a more traditional bluegrass kind of setting but I had just always been drawn to the bass and so ​I bought a base finally.  Then about two months later, I was getting my haircut and just chit chatting and I was like, "Yeah, I got a bass​ and I to want to find a band."   Dustin mentioned that his friend Brandon had a bass player that was moving back to England and that there might be an opportunity ​there.   ​So I came in pretty early when I was new to that instrument and I feel like I've grown a lot with these guys and it's been a really cool adventure for me, just because they've been so embracing of every​ little vein of curiosity. ​ ​  I find since​ I've ​came up on bluegrass, I'm really ​also interested in other stuff, ​like rockabilly kind ​of style or things like that. ​ I'll find something and try to mine it just for ideas and inspiration and it would probably drive a lot of people crazy (everyone laughs) and these guys are great about just like, 'Let's go with this, let's see where it takes us!'  It's been a really fun adventure.

KM: So I also ​want to touch on the fact, especially being that you guys have been​ doing this for quite a while in this genre specifically, the way that it's​ changed and grown, especially ​being that you guys are local​.  There wasn't as much opportunity or popularity for this type of music years and years ago, and now you've got the whole ​new life that has been breathed into​ the jam grass scene and an in turn bluegrass and Americana.  You guys have played quite a few venues and ​get opportunities, like ​when you guys played back in September with Leftover Salmon at State Theater.  ​How have you guys seen this genre of music and the opportunities as a band grow over the years in the DC music scene?

​Brandon: Well back in the day​, DC had a really, really rich bluegrass scene for many​ years in the 50s and 60s, 70s.  ​You had The Seldom Scene​ and ​lots of other local acts.  I would say ​when I felt ​we were really starting to establish ourselves ​there was stuff happening, but I feel like most of it was a lot more either traditional or the jam grass stuff, like you're talking about with Leftover Salmon​.  Even in the past 5 or 10 years, there's been a lot of acts that are similar enough in the region that it's provided a lot of really ​good opportunities to connect with other local acts who are sort of in the same boat as us.  They're trying this stuff out ​and really just diving in head first to this ​pocket and music and really just having a good time with it.  ​

Alex: The DC music scene - there are so many people that are involved with it and it's a very supportive group of musicians.​  You have all these performing groups but you also have those groups supporting the bands that come into the area. I think in terms of our genre, I think we've tapped into something that is really starting to grow and that's due to things like Delfest and ​Kingman Island​.  Smaller music festivals that are becoming more and more popular because people want to hone in on things are kind of ​off the beaten path.  They want to know where is the true music coming from and where's the heart and soul ​of the city?  We're in a place where we have audience members that are also fellow musicians that support that, so we get pushed forward and we get these amazing opportunities like playing Leftover Salmon and opening for them or playing the 9:30 Club​.  Those are opportunities that have been provided for us due to the support of the area​.

KM: Now 2019 is ​here, it's the new year, you've got new goals​.  Donnie mentioned that you guys have a new album coming out, can you tell us a little bit about the process and what the album's going to be like?  ​Maybe what you were ​ trying to focus on or portray with this new album?​

Donnie: The process for this one was fun. ​ This will be our third​ studio album and this is the longest​ the same lineup of the band has been together.​  Since that's the case, we've really grown together.  We can start playing something and just give each other a look and immediately go in​to something else and it fits and it works​.  We have that chemistry now​.  Everybody, for the most part, ​can read each other's minds a little bit more musically and it flows a little better and the ideas just come faster.  Some of the songs on this album were wholly written by the individuals and some of them, you know, like, I was teaching music one day and found a riff that I liked and I came to practice I was like, "Hey, guys, what do you think about this?"  Then, by the end of practice, we have the framework and most of the lyrics for brand new song just based off of something we heard that​ wasn't anywhere near what we were trying to do, it just happened. ​

Ryan:​ There's that quote, 'The whole is greater than the sum of its parts​' and I feel like that's true. ​I think we all have talked about how​ individually, I don't know that any of us are these incredible musicians, but somehow we've come together and ​through the creative process, we're able to kind of bounce ideas off of each other and piece something together and something magical happens and we walk away from it and we're all kind of like 'Oh, my God!"  (all laughing)  I don't think that any of us could do that if we were stuck in a studio by ourselves, or, you know, on an island, there's something about the chemistry that we share​.  

Alex: ​Even today, we were talking about the credits that are going to be going through the album.  It's like,​ okay this person is the lyrics person, this one had the chord progression, this person was adding in the harmonies​.   It really is attributed to everybody.

​Donnie:  We were trying to remember who wrote the song (laughs) and how did we end up with these ideas.  So yeah, our creative process is very, very collaborative.  Just workshopping stuff and you end up spit balling stuff and somehow it works.  I've been ​part of processes or projects or teams this didn't happen, but​ with this group, somehow the end of it what gets kicked out is better than what you came​ with.  ​We're very much a result of organized or ​slightly organized chaos (laughs).  It's just kind of all this madness and ​ you have four equally creatively magical people just come together and and throw a bunch of ​ingredients in the pot.

​Ryan: I do want to say just as far as influences, I think it's important to know that​ while the instrumentation is bluegrass, our  influences range from punk to​ classical.  Sometimes we're almost playing like a classical ensemble in weird ways ​and then ​there's a couple ​just classic rock in there and some jazz kind of gypsy jazz kind of stuff. So again​, the instrumentation is bluegrass but​ I don't know that our our songwriting approach or structures are at all ​like that.  We just kind of blew that that stuff up.​

*We go on to talk about musical influences which, among a laundry list of options including The Wood Brothers, Cats in the Fiddle, Pearl Jam, Punch Brothers, Andrew Bird, Devil Makes Three, Rolling Stones, Trampled by Turtles and many more.

KM: So we'll assume that a New Year's resolution of the collective​ group was to do more partying and drinking​ (laughs).  You guys did a tap takeover at Union Stage last week and then ​another tap takeover​ at Whitlows is coming up on January 20th.  What else is on the list of things you guys want to do ​as a band, either a festival you'd like to play at ​or a venue maybe, open for someone or anything in between. 

​Brandon: I would say just to keep upping our numbers of shows per year and definitely play more festivals.  We're always a little a little behind on the game when it comes to festivals. ​ It's a challenge because t​hey book so early, but I would love to do ​more of those in the summer.  Alex is a school teacher, a strings teacher and Ryan also works for public schools, so during the school year, it's a little tough to get away for ​a while.  Once the summer comes around, we really need to have our A game ready to be brought.

KM: Well, hey, Delfest is always Memorial Day weekend and that a public school holiday!  

​Alex: ​We'd love to play Delfest, DELYEAH!  We also love Kingman Island (Bluegrass Festival).​​​

Donnie: ​There's a couple festivals that we talked about ready but you know, schedules aren't working out at the moment. ​ For me, the biggest thing this year is I'm just so excited to get this album out. I've been on the graphic designer for the band, so I've been doing nothing but working on the album cover and press material​, all the promotional material -  trying to get all that sorted out.  I haven't really thought too far past Valentine's Day, to be honest with you, because I'm just trying to get all that ready.

Alex: We were really excited to play ​Union Stage - that was a​ first one for us.  That  area has opened up so much over at The Wharf. ​ We've been frequen​tly playing at Pearl Street (Warehouse), which is fantastic, but we were really excited to also check out what Union Stage had to offer.   Actually, where we're going to have our album release party which is at Dangerously Delicious Pies, it will also be our first time there too.​ I feel like we're already kind of diving into some new venues that we haven't played before, ​which is on the bucket list to just do that and then also expanding.  Going down to Richmond, going down to Virginia Beach, kind of seeing what options are available to us outside of the area to just see where we can go from there. 

KM: Well thank you guys so much for doing this interview!

​Get tickets for the Two Ton Twig at the Solace BreweryTap Takeover Sunday January 20, 2019 at Whitlows​ here and also keep an eye out for the new album coming on Valentine's Day, February 14th.  More info on their website

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.