Up close and personal

Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys on a musical mission

Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys is a band that has “hit the ground running” when it comes to experiencing success with its music.

The band, which played at The Gate this past Saturday, is composed of six members, including Ferris student Rob Mason, who is a senior in the mechanical engineering program.

In addition to Mason, the band includes Gunnar Nyblad, acoustic guitarist, singer, songwriter for the band, and MSU graduate in the agricultural science program; Joe Rood, singer, acoustic guitarist, and student in the communications program at Grand Valley State University; Shane Grehan, lead guitarist and MSU nursing student; Chris Newberg, keyboard player, guitar player, MSU communications graduate, and Cooley Law student; and Joe Connolly, drummer and MSU communications graduate.

Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys formed in 2009 when Nyblad began looking for a band to help him perform his songs. He met Grehan, Newberg, and Connolly at MSU and asked his hometown friends Rood and Mason to join.

“Gunnar was attending MSU when he called me up and asked if I wanted to be in a country band with him and some MSU guys,” said Mason. “I kind of chuckled and said, ‘What the heck, it could be fun.’”

Mason and Nyblad went to school together and have a musical history that goes back to before the formation of their current band.

“In eighth grade I joined a punk band with my two best friends from high school, Gunnar Nyblad and Tom Rau,” said Mason. “We stuck together through high school.”

That band eventually faded and Nyblad began working on solo acoustic pieces.

“His songs sounded pretty good to me and I kept telling him we needed to get some guys together and play some of these tunes as a full band,” said Mason.

Newberg had similar thoughts on Nyblad’s songwriting and said, “He’s good at it and does a lot of it. He sings a lot of songs from his point of view on life experiences. It’s all pretty real stuff.”

The band tries to stay close to its country roots, and on July 23, 2010, they released their first album called “Homegrown.” The album features 12 original tracks, which were all written by Nyblad.

“We tend to stick close to what people would consider Americana-rock or country,” said Newberg. “That said, we’ve also been known to play some ‘90s punk songs from time to time. I guess that’s a part of our lives we just can’t shake.”

The band draws inspiration from many sources including Bruce Springsteen and The Zac Brown Band. Mason said his personal sources of inspiration include his dad, who encouraged him to pursue music from a young age, his sister, and Bob Dylan.

“My older sister Rachel is probably the person who first inspired me to pick up a guitar and start singing,” said Mason. “She is incredibly talented and essentially taught me everything I know.”

The band has really caught people’s attention and started out by opening for a sold-out Justin Moore concert at the Intersection, a music venue in Grand Rapids.

“In a little over a year’s time we’ve played a dozen or so more shows at the Intersection, won the B93 Honky Tonk Heroes country battle of the bands, released an album, have been lucky enough to get decent radio play, and played dozens of shows in and out of Michigan,” said Newberg.

“I owe our success to Gunnar’s personal drive, our amazing hometown fans, and all our friends and family who have never stopped supporting us,” said Mason. “And maybe a little hard work and practice.”

Mason was driving to East Lansing from Big Rapids once or twice a week during school to practice, but said he still managed to do alright in his classes.

The band has designated practice usually once a week, but even when they are just hanging out together they usually end up playing music.

“I guess you’d call that having a one-track mind,” said Newberg. “Collectively, we do like to fish anywhere we can. Some of us hunt, some of us study, some of us don’t. We pretty much all hang out together most of the time though. We seem to have similar interests and dispositions, so I guess it works out pretty well.”

Mason reflected on how much he enjoys simply creating music with his best friends and seeing people enjoy the songs he and his friends play.

“My favorite thing about being in this band is traveling in our 1986 Dodge Ram Van, aka the Hillbilly Hummer, and playing music for new people every weekend,” said Mason.

If you missed their show this past weekend and want to know more, check out Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys on their website at gunnartunes.com. You can also follow them
on Facebook. n