Rabbit Room Interview: Ron Block

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What more can be said about the storied career of Alison Krauss and Union Station? Krauss has 26 Grammy wins to her name — the most for any female artist in history — and her colleagues provide the stunning canvas upon which she sonically paints. Each record is equally inspiring, beautiful and haunting, and Paper Airplane, the band’s first studio release since 2004, is no different.

Ron Block recently took some time away from dominating Russell Simmon’s Def Banjoetry Slam to answer our questions about coming together once again with Krauss and company and how the process affects him personally.

Q: Just to start, can you take us inside the process of Alison corralling the guys back together again? It’s been several years, so do you get a random phone call? Is there a Krauss phone that lights up Batman style?

A: No, I have an AKUS chip implanted in my cerebral cortex and she just pushes a button on her cell phone. Actually, I think after a certain amount of time went by it was just time to make a new record. There were schedules to juggle, songs to find, and everything else that goes with recording five people.

Q: Why so many years since the last AKUS record?

A: It just ended up working out that way. We came out with Lonely Runs Both Ways in November 2004, toured it, then Alison released A Hundred Miles or More in April 2007 and we toured that until the middle of August in 2007. The plan was to then take a year off. Making the Robert Plant record came along for Alison soon after that, with some touring once it came out.

When that was over she hadn’t actually been able to take much time off. Once we started in the direction of making a record, it took a long time to find the right songs and make the entire record, so all in all it turned into six-and-a-half years since our last band record and nearly four years since we’d toured extensively.

Q: Was it clear that the chemistry had changed in any way after that time apart?

A: I think everyone has changed in certain ways, gotten older, more experienced in what matters and what doesn’t. Viewpoints have changed. From my personal standpoint it took me most or all of the record to figure it all out, where we were going, what people wanted, what I am supposed to do, what is my role, what is my place in the band. There have been a lot of shifts externally, too, shifts in Alison’s management and booking, so everything became different and new, and there’s a learning curve in figuring those things out as well.

Q: Why do you say it took you so long to figure out what was going on this time around? Was that disorienting?

A: Well, we’ve all been apart for awhile. When people are apart they are having separate, differentiated experiences. These experiences can lead them to come to differing conclusions about the things they do in common. If a husband and wife are apart a lot, they are having a lot of different experiences, which may cause them to come to differing viewpoints about reality.

For instance, on Paper Airplane there was a shift from thinking of recording as a tracking/overdubbing process to simply doing the best to get almost everything at tracking. It is a move from seeing it as a process of getting a solid track and then painting varied colors and fixing things, to wanting it to be a single, continuous, experiential moment in time. Overdubs were still done, of course, extra guitar added here, lap steel added there. But the overall idea was to capture an entirely great moment in the first place. “Dimming of the Day” is one of the high water marks of this method on Paper Airplane.

I have been the last to move from the concept of recording as painting. And yes it was very disorienting for me, having done it so long the other way. I haven’t been out there these past few years making records with various people and seeing a different way; I’ve been doing it the way we’ve done it before. Shifts like that aren’t easy for me.

Q: Are those shifts that you’ll carry with you in your own solo work?

A: Definitely. This time off we’ve taken, and these shifts in viewpoint in others have caused quite a bit of disturbance in me, and disturbance can be good. It can be a plowing of hard ground to get ready for the future.

Q: With such a legacy for AKUS, how much discussion of this goes on within the band? Do you discuss the longevity or influence or platform?

A: Not really all that much. Our discussions are usually more about what is happening now, what we are doing in the immediate future — touring, recording. I do feel like we are moving into an entirely new era for the band. Everyone is older, gaining experience, depth, wisdom, and that reflects itself in the music. Alison’s singing has reached an entirely new level with the new record, and Dan’s as well. It has been interesting being in a band this long; I’ve been with AKUS almost as long as I’ve been married, and in many ways the band experience is similar to marriage.

Q: Can you expound on that last line — about marriage?

A: In marriage there is courtship, falling in love, commitment, and then as that initial in-love phase dies away we must learn to live with one another as we are, to trust God with — and in — the other person, and to know that no matter what happens, no matter what outer or inner circumstances bring, that initial commitment still stands.

I feel that way about AKUS, that no matter where our band goes, or no matter where each of us goes individually, I’m committed to the group both as a band and as individual people. I may sometimes kick against the goad of circumstances; I may feel down at this or that, but when the dust clears I find myself standing up with a renewed sense of knowing I am supposed to be in the band; I was meant for it, musically shaped for it.

Being in AKUS has been productive in every way, from being musically satisfying, to relationally growth-producing, to financially sustaining, and especially in my spiritual life. Figuring out my place in the band has helped me sort through a lot of junk inside of me.

Q: Just in terms of album support, what should fans expect when it comes to touring?

A: We’ll be touring essentially from the beginning of June through possible mid-October. The set will likely contain a lot from the new recording but like other tours will also feature many songs from past recordings. Our tour schedule is up and running at Alison’s website.

Matt Conner is the teaching pastor at Trinity Church in the heart of Indianapolis and the founder of Analogue Media.


11 Comments

  1. Sir Jonathan C. Andrews

    Will the Ron Block fans be following the tour from city to city? You know the Block heads.

  2. Nick and Susan

    That was an interesting read. I can’t but help be reminded of AP’s song Dancing in the Minefields song (and also, Ron, your own marriage song ‘The Kind of Love’) whenever the idea is mentioned of marriage after the ‘falling in love’ stage is over. There’s something very precious about it and unless a person has got to that stage, they won’t quite understand.

    Also, although this interview is talking about the relationship changes within a band, I’m wondering whether the ‘marriage’ application could be applied to church. When you find a new church where you’re happy, being fed and you can’t wait to go there Sunday morning. Well eventually that newness wears off doesn’t it and you get to know people better, and even though the thrill of finding where you belong may wane, the commitment that comes from a mature relationship can be sweeter even though it is different?

    Susan

    😉 P.S. Proud to be a ‘Block head’

    😀 P.S.S. Really hope AKUS makes its way to England (though I may get my husband to kidnap you so we can sit down with a pot of tea and talk about the Bible)

    Susan

  3. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Susan, we may be coming for press/television/radio soon. It will be London, though, but if you and Nick happen to need to make a trip to London we could have tea somewhere.

  4. Laura Peterson

    Thanks for the interview. Ron, I took a peek at the AKUS tour schedule from the link you posted and emailed it to a few of my cousins in a wishful-thinking sort of way….but, they are planners and dreamers, so a potential 9-cousin road trip to see you guys in New York is now in the works. Exciting!

  5. Stacy Grubb

    That’s funny…I referred to myself as a Block Head last week when doing a small set where I did a few of Ron’s songs. I ran across an old status update the other day where Elijah had walked into the living room while I was listening to something on my record and he jeered, “Huh. I’d wather be wistening to Won Bwock.”

    Ron, I love how you see growth or the potential for growth in everything and then even see how you can apply that other points in your life. It’s a living reminder for me to quit bucking up against my circumstances or being a victim of them and just laying down to cry about it all until it passes. Elijah, too, has that sort of inner drive to see what things have in common and I’ve seen how he uses it to make order where I would only see random chaos. There is a freedom that can stem from finding the recurring theme: recognizing what seemingly unrelated situation share in common can sew up a whole bunch of shredded up problems with one common thread.

    I’m looking forward to seeing you guys again in Knoxville. I’ll have a new Block Head in tow for you to meet by that time!

  6. Sir Jonathan C. Andrews

    I can’t claim to have come up with the block head thing. I saw a picture ,whilst Facebook stocking Ron, of two guys that had hats with pieces of wood attached.

  7. John Shaw

    What a great little interview! Ron, your testimony and over-the-top talent have inspired my family and me for years. AKUS has been a treasured part of our lives since your 1st album, and it was much appreciated to get this brief little ‘inside’ look from your perspective. Can’t wait to see you guys in St Augustine, FL this summer…(bring the mosquito repellent, though!) Blessings to you and the AKUS gang.

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