Two members of the Seattle-based Rain City Ramblers — bassist Forrest Marowitz and mandolin player Daniel Ullom — have rambled through this area before, performing acoustic roots music with the Blackberry Bushes. But this weekend will offer the area debut of the Ramblers, a bluegrass/old-time trio that also includes guitarist Jim Horbett.
The band grew out of the Seattle bluegrass scene a couple years ago after Marowitz and Ullom connected with Horbett, a native of Buffalo, N.Y. Marowitz and Ullom were starting to feel like sidemen in Blackberry Bushes and wanted a new group where they both could find room for the songs they were writing.
“Blackberry Bushes was a really cool band to learn about how to be on the road and how to make things happen in that way,” Marowitz said by phone as the band piloted its jam-packed Toyota Prius from Colorado to West Virginia. “But Daniel and I were interested in pushing into new creative territory. When we met Jim, that all seemed to fall into place.”
The three come to the band with disparate musical backgrounds. Marowitz, a Seattle native, comes from a funk/jam band background, but he also studied classical bass in college and has played in jazz, hip-hop and country bands. Ullom has been playing mandolin since he was a pre-teen, but he also was immersed in the punk rock scene growing up in Yakima, Wash. Horbett, meanwhile, brings a load of jazz chops to the band, his guitar work drawing as much from bluegrass/country rock ace Clarence White as it does from Django Reinhardt.
They could be playing almost any kind of music, but felt an irresistible pull toward acoustic roots music, especially bluegrass and old-time swing, folk and pop.
“Part of what we love about bluegrass is that raw feeling, that honesty — people just playing into a microphone. It’s got that cool, crunchy feel,” Marowitz said, noting that the band’s preferred stage set up is the three of them gathered around just one microphone. “We’re still kind of melding all the sounds together. We come to the music and we meet in the middle. We all have a lot of creative control with what we’re doing.”
The musicians had a few more microphones in play when they recorded their debut album, “Hateful Ways,” but the process stayed true to their back-to-the-basics approach to stage shows.
Noting that bluegrass legends the Stanley Brothers could record multiple albums worth of material in a day, Marowitz said, the Ramblers recorded the songs for their album live — no individual tracking of instruments or vocals — and on tape, completing their recording work in two days.
Despite the tight timeline for recording, “Hateful Ways” sounds crisp and polished, a testament to the band’s instrumental prowess and economically written and presented tunes. “We don’t jam too much,” Marowitz explained. “We like to play songs and keep things more or less organized.”
All three members contribute original songs, taking turns on lead vocals and often chiming in on tight harmonies.
One of the songs that gets audiences revved up is Ullom’s “Live in a Van,” a quirky, lyrically witty song about having a vehicle as a domicile, thanks to choosing the life of playing music, a song Ullom wrote when he and Marowitz were touring with Blackberry Bushes.
The Rain City Ramblers started its current tour in early July and won’t get back to Seattle for a homecoming show until Aug. 25. Marowitz and his bandmates were pumped to be jumping from the Rockygrass festival in Colorado, a bluegrass mecca, to the Appalachian String Band music Festival in Clifftop, W. Va., which has an emphasis on old-time string music.
The Rain City Ramblers feel comfortable in both those worlds and beyond and couldn’t be happier with the musical gumbo they’ve come up with. “If you feel it and it feels good, you should play it,” Marowitz said. “We all do appreciate the grassroots acoustic nature of the music. We all have experience playing the louder stuff and I have to say I got a little fried. It’s nice to play music that doesn’t hurt the ears.”