Trailblazers discuss new album – Space and Time

The Trailblazers, an up-and-coming young progressive bluegrass ensemble from North Carolina, has released their second album, Space and Time. The quartet has drawn national attention in the bluegrass community in recent years after winning IBMA’s 2018 Momentum Band of the Year, SPGBMA’s 2018 Band Contest, and MerleFest’s 2017 Band Contest, plus numerous individual awards.

Daniel Thrailkill, lead singer and guitarist, received IBMA’s 2018 Momentum Vocal Award, and Alex Edwards, banjoist, was a 2020 nominee for IBMA’s Momentum Instrumentalist. Jonah Horton, mandolinist, has taken part in MerleFest’s Mandomania in recent years, sitting in with heavy hitters like Sam Bush and Andrew Marlin. Will Thrailkill, the band’s bassist and Daniel’s older brother, grounds the band with his solid and creative playing. 

The CD is an eclectic array of 11 tracks that offer impressive instrumentation with an advanced level of musicianship that many seasoned artists never attain. 

The album features five original compositions, with Daniel Thrailkill writing Space and Time, Flyin’, and Different Kind of Plain and Horton composing Dawson Springs and Déjà Vu.

“Each original has a different feel; it is easy to hear how we were influenced by a broad spectrum of artists throughout the songwriting and recording process,” says Horton.

Space and Time features covers from The Doobie Brothers (There’s A Light), George Benson (Please Don’t Walk Away), Glenn Campbell (True Grit), and bluegrass songwriter, Larry Keel (Pioneers). 

Horton explained, “From those names alone, you can see how we have branched out into rock, jazz, and country, in addition to our bluegrass roots.”

The young mandolinist spoke to the band’s vision for their latest project.

“When compared to our first album (A Place to Call My Own), Space and Time couldn’t be much more different. We have matured musically, both as a band and individually. Our first CD focused on the more traditional side of bluegrass. Space and Time only has one song (Larry McNeely’s Sleepy Eyes) that would fit that description. This project is our attempt to explore a variety of musical genres through the lens of our acoustic instrumentation.”

Daniel agreed, “Space and Time is a great representation of how the Trailblazers’ sound has progressed over the past five years.”

Banjoist Edwards says, “I’m really excited for everyone to listen to the new project and hear how our band has grown. Space and Time is a mix of all our musical tastes. It has a really cool vibe and sound that flows from track to track.”

Recorded in six consecutive days, the band labored through eleven hour days in the studio.

“Preparation is everything. We tried to hammer out all the specifics before entering the studio. Jonah arranged our songs. We all had an equal hand in finding the right cover songs,” explained Daniel.

Horton elaborated, “Our goal was to create something that appealed to a large variety of musical audiences. There is at least one song on this album that everyone would enjoy.”

Horton discussed the two special guests who appear on the project saying, “We are honored to have two originals feature special guests: fiddler extraordinaire Jeremy Garrett from the Grammy Award winning bluegrass band, The Infamous Stringdusters, on the only instrumental on the CD (Dawson Springs) and Scott Vestal, 2020 IBMA Banjo Player of the Year and recipient of The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, play his banjo synthesizer (Déjà Vu).”

When asked about being a special guest on (Déjà Vu’), Vestal mentions, “I added Fender Rhodes piano and B3 organ sounds with a little jamming at the end. What fun!” In addition to being a guest on the project, Vestal recorded, mixed, and mastered the project at his Digital Underground Studio in Greenbriar, TN. 

Guest artist, Garrett, shared, “What a treat it was to play on a track with these young guys. I’m honored they would think of me, and I appreciated the challenging tune. It was a blast. I know these guys are going to go far!”

When asked about his experience in the studio, bassist Will Thrailkill said…

“The production of our second album was more enjoyable than the first. On the first project, we were a bit intimidated. Mr. Scott is a legend, and for some of us, it was the first time in a real studio. Now, being older and more experienced, it was easier to connect with Mr. Scott. We developed good rapport which made the studio experience more relaxed. This promoted an atmosphere of creative freedom and flexibility. I think it shows in the quality of the album.

I’m thankful for the gifts and resources God has given us. His hand orchestrated that music would be in my life. Without His divine influence, I would never have the ability or opportunities I’ve been given. For that, I give Him glory. I’m grateful for the people that God placed in my life: my parents who encouraged me to pursue music; Daniel, who patiently gave me my first bass lesson and stuck with me while I attempted to back him up; friends who tolerated me in local jam sessions while I was learning; and Alex and Jonah, my brothers in music, who influenced the stylistic tendencies I’ve acquired.”

Horton, an Appalachian State senior, played snare drum on four of the album’s tracks, as well as produced the project. “As producer of Space and Time, I made most of the musical decisions regarding arrangements and content. Leading up to the album, I spent time with each of the guys helping construct their individual parts. It gave me a platform to share the musical ideas that I was having with our listeners, and made me more invested in the project.”

Vestal praised the Trailblazers. “Space and Time is crazy good! I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. Very fresh and original. These guys are some of the most talented youngsters I’ve come across in a while.”

“I hope fans can hear our enjoyment, passion for this music, and meaningful concepts spread through the album,” said Daniel.

Horton concluded, “In my opinion, Space and Time is a truly unique album that I think can be enjoyed by music lovers of all ages, backgrounds, and genres.”

Space and Time is available at iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, and YouTube.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.