Avery Ballotta Of Brooklyn Bluegrass Trio Damn Tall Buildings Talks New Album ‘Sleeping Dogs’

Brooklyn-based roots trio Damn Tall Buildings has developed a reputation for their dynamic sound with shared vocals, deft bluegrass-style picking, and good sense of humor. (as displayed in the photo above)

The vibrant group is a few months removed from the release of their versatile new 11-track album, Sleeping Dogs.

“Our hope is that the joy that making this music brings us will somehow get passed along to the people listening, which they can then take with them to pass along to someone else,” says the group.

Damn Tall Buildings is made up of Max Capistrano (guitar and banjo), Sasha Dubyk (bass) and Avery Ballotta (fiddle). In addition to their own individual instrumental prowess, each member provides a an impressive range of vocals for the group. 

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Sleeping Dogs revolves around how it has become impossible to not be constantly influenced by the media and current events that engulf our everyday life. Throughout the album, the theme of chasing truth, honesty, and living in the moment is apparent.

We got to chat with Ballotta to discuss the new record, the origins of the band, end of the year plans, and much more.

So how has the year treated y’all so far? 

What a year it’s been! 2022 has treated us well. It has been a blessing to get back on the road and a bonus to make it out to places we had yet to play. We’re all excited by the responses to our latest release, and building a show around these new songs has been a blast.

I see the three of you are from all over the country. Can you talk a little bit about how y’all met and the band’s origins?

We all met in Boston, Ma, while studying at Berklee College of Music. We became friends beyond the classrooms and cafeteria, and started busking on Newbury St. nearly every week. Little did we know this would be the catalyst of a decade-long endeavor! We were just a bunch of pals making sweet music together and once we recorded and released our first album, it was off to the races.

All three of you play an instrument and sing. It’s not too often you see a band that does not have a lead singer. How do you make that work and how do you decide who sings what parts?

We draw a lot of inspiration from the old-time, bluegrass, & Americana roots traditions where two or three-part harmonies play a big role in the feeling of the music. When it comes to our originals, we tend to get a collective gut feeling on who should lead what. Often, the original songwriter will start on the lead vocal and we’ll explore what we like from there.

How do you think being in this band has helped strengthen your own individual musical talent?

We’ve learned that practice is the path to betterment and we get a ton of practice in collaboration, creation, and performance as a group! Each of us gain creative strength thanks to DTB, but a favorite example of these instances is the fact the Sasha picked up the upright bass just to join us on the street while we busked back in Boston… look where that ended up!

We’ve definitely learned lots about listening to and following our guts through these past 10 years, and that has proven to be an incredible invaluable lesson and practice collectively and individually.

So you recently dropped your new album, Sleeping Dogs. Are there any overarching themes or motifs throughout the record?

As the name suggests, we drew inspiration from the old adage, “Let sleeping dogs lie.” The proverb tells us to avoid interfering in a situation that is currently causing no problems, but might do so as a result of such interference. 

A lot has happened in the world (as we all know) since the release of our last (2019) album. Something we’ve noticed is a big shift in consciousness that has been occurring for the planet, and we’ve realized that it’s time to reconsider some things. This album carries the tone of the title track which says “Don’t you let them sleeping dogs lie” (DTB proverb), in other words: open up that can of worms. It’s all about facing things head-on even (or especially) when it’s uncomfortable. We’ve learned through our many travels and collaborations that we are ALL here sharing this Earth and *honest* communication is a key to true growth, and beyond that, healing.

What was the creative process like both in writing and recording this album?

Very fun! Some of the big highlights for us include taking the reins on the recording and production of this album. We set up a studio at Sasha’s parents’ beach house in New Jersey, and finished up recording and producing in our Brooklyn homes. This is the first project we’ve approached this way, and we found the process to be really great for our freedom of creativity. Not being “on the clock” in the studio allowed us the clarity of mind to take our time and really put everything we hoped for into this release.

Another thing that makes this album special is that it features the songwriting debut of Sasha’s original, “Quietly Heartbreaking,” and the first full band co-write, “Podcast.” Lastly, it was an honor and a joy to work with our special guests, and our favorite mix engineer, Dan Cardinal all remotely. It was experimental in nature and we found it to bring a lot of life to the creation of these songs.

How might this album compare and contrast to your previous release, Don’t Look Down?

It’s always tough to compare works since they always feel so different. In this case, this is our first release without our buddy and fellow founding member Jordan Alleman behind the banjo. Max and I (Avery) took what he taught us and brought our best foot forward with some claw-hammer banjo on this record. Since it’s the first time we’ve self-produced and recorded a full album, the experimental process resulted in something that both surprises us and affirms us which we’ve come to believe is where the magic lives.

Working as a band, how do you determine what songs make the album? Is it a hard decision, or do you all have similar opinions on what should make the album and what shouldn’t?

Above all, we’re all very honest with each other, and have learned how not to take anything personally in the practice of creation. We will all bring songs to the table, and in this case, we were able to record versions of them as they developed. Working in this way gave us the license to record and produce all of our recent songs and then through listening back to said recordings, let the songs that fit best on an album reveal themselves. It may come as an encouragement to fellow artists that there’s always at least one “fully” produced track that doesn’t make the cut every release!

What does a dream gig look like for the band?

Red Rocks, Radio City, Hardly Strictly, Newport Folk to name a few. We’re really pleased with how intimate our shows feel these days. From 12 people to 12,000, our show always feels like we’re all “in the room” together. The dream gig is getting to share that connection with bigger and bigger audiences across the entire globe.

What might the rest of 2022 and into 2023 look like for Damn Tall Buildings?

We’ve got one more weekend of shows this year (IN, WI, IL)! Then we’ll have some time off mid-November through the end of the year. Come January, we’ll be getting right back to work building the 2023 show, writing and learning new songs, and getting to work on our NEXT release! We’ve got a lot in the pipeline for the coming year, so stay tuned. (follow us on IG, YouTube, and anywhere you stream music)

As always, thank you for listening and hope to see you on the road!

Photos by Joe Angelini

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