Sean Patrick is a vocalist and banjo player for The Griddle Pickers. The group originated in the summer of 2012, when Sean was invited to participate in Orillia's annual Arts for Peace rally. He assembled a family band comprised of his brother Dale Patrick, girlfriend Sarah Bea Milner, and her father Mike Milner. Realizing their potential as a band, the group formed The Griddle Pickers early in 2013, and have gone on to play various events in central Ontario, including Orillia's Canada Day Celebration and Washagofest.
ARTIST INTERVIEW — The Banjo Reserve interviewed Vilai Harrington, here's what he had to say.
Q. WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND RAISED?
A. Orillia, Ontario, Canada.
Q. WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME NOW?
A. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
Q. DID YOUR GEOGRAPHIC AREA HAVE ANY INFLUENCE ON YOUR DECISION TO PLAY THE BANJO?
A. There is definitely an appreciation for bluegrass and old-time music in my hometown of Orillia, and I was lucky to find a lot of very supportive people who encouraged and inspired me to play.
Q. HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN THE BANJO?
A. My grandfather gave me his banjo and said that he wanted me to learn to play it. I had grown up listening to old-time and bluegrass music whenever I visited my grandparents, but at the time when I was given the banjo I wasn't really listening to any banjo music. I began searching the Internet for music to listen to and play. I quickly discovered the clawhammer style from Patrick Costello's youtube video and was very inspired by the music from the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou?
Q. WHAT BANJO STYLE(S) DO YOU PLAY, WHICH DO YOU PREFER THE MAOST AND WHY?
A. I love the clawhammer style. It really helped me with my rhythm when I first started playing. It's a very complete musical package and approach to playing music that incorporates rhythm, percussion, and melody. I find that style easier to sing over as well. I also play three finger styles. I really enjoy the melodic styles that Bill Keith helped to develop. I've been seriously working on my Scruggs style picking lately while studying with Emory Lester, who has passed down a lot of great tunes and knowledge that has really changed the way I play. The scruggs style stuff works really well in a band setting. When I play live, I tend to switch between clawhammer and three finger a lot. I also like to experiment with a metal slide sometimes to fill out the sound.
Q. HOW DID YOU LEARN THE BANJO AND WHAT METHOD OF LEARNING DO YOU FEEL IS MOST EFFECTIVE?
A. I've learned a lot of clawhammer technique from Patrick Costello's youtube videos. Patrick has been very influential with my outlook on music and life. He is an incredibly positive guy who plays from the heart and I highly recommend his videos, ( www.youtube.com/user/Dobro33H ). I've also learned from instructional books. Ken Perlman's books on clawhammer banjo have been very helpful. The influence and support of my whole family, especially my parents and both sets of grandparents, has been really crucial to my development as a musician. Taking lessons is great; unfortunately when I first started I was unable to find a teacher. Ultimately I'm still learning everyday. In my opinion, the best way to get better is to get out and play with others.
Q. DURING THE EARLY STAGES OF LEARNING TO PLAY THE BANJO, WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING?
A. Rhythm has always been a challenge. Bluegrass music plays with rhythm in interesting ways. There is a lot of push and pull and fast tempos that take time to get the feel for.
Q. WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU STILL HOPE TO MASTER TODAY?
A. I'm always working on my rhythm and feel. My goals are to play more freely and naturally.
Q. WHERE DO YOU SEE BANJO MUSIC GOING AND WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN THAT?
A. With guys like Béla Fleck elevating things to such a high level, I think we're going to be hearing more musically sophisticated banjo going into the future. The popularity of the banjo seems to be on the rise and I don't see that slowing down anytime soon. As a banjo player, I will continue to spread the good news that the banjo is a wonderful sounding instrument with a lot to offer the world of music beyond the stereotypes and cliches.
Q. WHAT MOST INSPIRES YOU TO PLAY?
A. I think it's simply a love of music that to inspires me to play, but it's also seeing the effect that music has on people.
Q. WHAT SONG(S) DO YOU ENJOY PLAYING MOST ON YOUR BANJO?
A. Wild Bill Jones, Red-Hired Boy, Cripple Creek, Devil's Dream
Q. IS THERE A SPECIFIC BANJO PLAYER OR BAND THAT HAS INFLUENCED YOU THE MOST?
A. Ralph Stanley, Bela Fleck, Bill Keith, Emory Lester.
Q. WHAT GENRE(S) ARE YOU MOST ASSOCIATED WITH?
A. Bluegrass, Old-time, Acoustic
Q. WHAT VENUE(S) DO YOU ENJOY PLAYING THE MOST AND WHY?
A. Jam sessions and open mics are great. Performing live is nice but I always enjoy just relaxing and playing with others in a casual setting. Campfire jams are among my favorites.
Q. WHAT BAND(S) ARE YOU CURRENTLY A MEMBER?
A. The Griddle Pickers, Awesome Revelation, Chris Thompson.
Q. DO YOU ALSO SING OR PLAY ANY OTHER INSTRUMENTS IN THIS BAND(S)?
A. I play banjo and sing. I've also done acoustic and electric guitar, bass, and fiddle with a few of these groups.
Q. WHAT BAND(S) WERE YOU A MEMBER OF IN THE PAST?
A. The Barley Juice String Band
Q. DO YOU ALSO SING OR PLAY ANY OTHER INSTRUMENTS IN THIS BAND?
A. I play banjo in all, and attempt backup vocals from time to time in The Morning After and Barefoot/Acoustic Manner.
Q. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BANJO MAKE AND MODEL?
A. I currently play my grandfather's Ibenez Artist Series from the mid 70's. I haven't had an opportunity to seriously play many other banjos, but I would love to get a Deering open back someday.
Q. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BANJO PLAYER(S) THAT IS STILL ACTIVE TODAY
A. Ralph Stanley is one of my favorites. It's amazing to see him still out at his age.
Q. BASED ON YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AS A BANJO PLAYER, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR BEGINNERS?
A. Learning to play the banjo is all well and good, but focus on playing music rather than just your instrument. Go jam with people, anybody on any instrument, in any style, just have fun. Learn the banjo's place in the music relative to the other musicians, and respect everyone's musical space. Work on listening and pay attention to every member of the band. Learn to play and sing. It will build your coordination and really make the music come alive.
Q. WHAT OTHER INTERESTS DO YOU HAVE?
A. I'm also a Graphic Designer and Artist. I run a company called the No Son Of Mine Design Co. that specializes in working with musicians and the entertainment industry.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF THAT YOU THINK OUR COMMUNITY MIGHT ENJOY.
Before I got into playing bluegrass, I was a guitarist and vocalist in a metal band. I still listen to a ton of metal which has a huge influence on my playing.