Up Close and Personal

Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys on a musical mission

by Published: Feb 2, 2011

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 gun​nar​tunes​.com. You can also fol­low them
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