The band has released two albums in that time and last year, Zimmer released his first solo album, “Saints and Heretics.”
When not playing solo or in City Hotel, Zimmer (guitar/vocals) and Rudd (mandolin) occasionally perform as a duo.
“Some time last year we did a duo show at Tybee Post opening up for Lynn Avenue… and that was our first public performance as a duo,” said Rudd. “That went over really well. We got a great crowd reaction so we thought we should probably do this again.”
A few months ago, Zimmer booked this upcoming date at Tybee Post Theater and asked Rudd if he would like to try the duo again. Rudd suggested recording a new EP to promote the show, which is a reversal of the usual stages of booking a gig.
“It all happened really quick,” explained Rudd. “We went into the studio with Jason Bible (The Train Wrecks) and got it done in maybe four or six hours in the studio. And that was it.”
The five track EP, “Vol. 1,” features four original songs, two written by Rudd and two by Zimmer, plus one cover.
“One of them is actually a cover by Aaron’s father-in-law, Ernie Palmer,” said Rudd. “It’s a song that we actually have on one of the City Hotel albums, called ‘Gainesville Mill.’ We decided to re-record that for this project.”
Zimmer and Rudd each draw upon their own strengths as songwriters for this EP. “Aaron is very much in the singer-songwriter vein,” said Rudd. “I started writing music when I was in high school. I was in a garage rock band. We literally played in a garage. I would write rock songs.”
Of course, Rudd has been writing bluegrass songs ever since with City Hotel. “I think that our styles are very different because Aaron’s stuff is more lyrical and he’s an amazing storyteller when he writes songs,” said Rudd. “I’ve always written more on the instrumental side of things.”
Although the pair enjoy performing as a full band with City Hotel, they also like the opportunities to explore their instruments as a duo. “It feels really different when you just have a guitar and a mandolin because it just changes the groove a lot,” Rudd explained. “In a bluegrass band, it’s the bass and the mandolin and guitar together that create the overall groove. Without having a bass it changes the way Aaron has to play the guitar. Also, it’s just a lot more stripped down. There is a way I wouldn’t play mandolin in a full bluegrass group… It’s a more intimate sound and it really lends itself to showing more of the dynamic beauty of those instruments you don’t get in a full band. We can really showcase the more airy side of the instruments. There is a depth to the instruments that you don’t hear when you have five instruments going at once.”
There is a long tradition of guitar and mandolin duos in bluegrass music. The format actually began in the 1930s and ’40s, prior to bluegrass. “There were tons of these, what were called, Brother Duets,” said Rudd. “Bill Monroe and his brother, Charlie, had the Monroe Brothers and that was before he started the whole Bluegrass music.”
Rudd also cites Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice’s duo as an influence. Rudd still brings his other influences outside of bluegrass into his songwriting. “I didn’t get into Bluegrass until I was in my 20s,” said Rudd. “Before that I was into My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse, those kind of rock bands, so I get a lot of influence from that sort of stuff. The kind of music I gravitated towards before bluegrass is still a huge part of how I hear music.”
Zimmer and Rudd will play a varied 90-minute set and have CD copies of “Vol.1” for sale at the show. Special guests Russell Cook and the Sweet Teeth are opening up. Cook recorded with his wife as Little Country Giants, but now is exploring a two guitar and drums juke-joint trio with the Sweet Teeth along with guitarist Scotty Knight and drummer Jeremy Clark.