"You know, it's funny because now that the kids are older, and we're introducing more of the music that Jere and I have been interested in and different things that have come up with our Universal (Music Group) connections, we find what's influencing the music more would be going back - like Stephane Grappelli has been an open door to our fiddlers. They love it, and Django Reinhardt, some of the old jazz."
"I think we're most influenced by other bluegrass and acoustic musicians and more influencing out of bluegrass with a lot of different things now that still keeps it bluegrass. Kind of like Alison Krauss did. We admire her, not to imitate her music, but for what she did. She took bluegrass music and took it to another very exciting level and still can play traditional bluegrass."
The title track of the new album, written by Sonya Isaacs, is an allusion to prison stripes, but the album graphics are among the most visually striking to hit bluegrass in quite a while. The front cover photo shows the black-clad band posing, Addams Family-style in a darkly-lit wire cage illuminated by lightning bolts.
Turn the jewel case over and there they are, dressed in softly-lit, sparkling white framed by benign clouds, a vision straight from heaven. It all has to do, Sandy confesses, with the yin and yang of being committed professional musicians and not just another "family band."
"We had seen a sci-fi video called 'Van Helsing'...and that was the mood. It was this really interesting electric (image) - they were bringing a Frankenstein-type being back to life, and they had all this electricity, and the kids now were at an age where they thought 'that's really cool.'
"Jere had this conception of there being a contrast because people think 'family band' and they think 'cute little kids,' and a lot of the time that's been kind of a negative against us as we've tried to earn respect moving through the business...but yet, the music and the things we were doing, it wasn't a 'little family band' show."
"So, his conception of the album...was that we look one way, we sound another. And then there was the contrast of the 'cool' graphics that would appeal to a lot of different people besides just the old school idea of bluegrass."
"But then on the other side is the 'White,' which is a different, totally contrasting image, and it was kind of the perception Jere had of our music - we appear to be something. We are something different and exciting. We thought with the market, it's bluegrass. It's got bluegrass instruments."
She pauses a moment before laughing again and finishing the thought. "But I know when Molly, our 15-year old first saw the proofs of it she said, 'Do you know how many people my age will buy this just to get the pictures?' And we said that's good because we want to open those younger markets, but we're not going into rock or anything else. We're just doing it our way."
Cia's journey into adulthood (she's now 23) has been marked by a keenly developed talent as a songwriter and vocalist. As on the first Skaggs disc, "Black and White" is loaded with her writing credits, and she's popping up more and more often as a guest on other projects.
While some of her writing highlights her own vocal talent, she's got the knack of writing for other voices as well. Case in point is "Don't Give Your Heart to a Knoxville Girl", with lead vocal by 19-year old brother B.J. It turns the classic "Knoxville Girl" (young cad gets nice girl in trouble and does her in) upside down as a story about a fine lad fallen prey to an "evil woman with an angel's face" - although that really wasn't the plan, says Sandy.
Running through a map of Tennessee, she continues, "We struggled with the title. We said 'Knoxville Girl,' there's already a 'Knoxville Girl.' We tried 'Roxborough Girl' and 'Nashville Girl' and 'Murfreesboro Girl,' and none of them seemed to fit like 'Knoxville Girl', so we kept the title."
At the suggestion that, as the oldest child in the band Cia has simply matured first as an artist, Sandy is quick to agree and notes she sees each of the younger three growing musically as much as physically.
"I think that's the exciting thing about our family band. Every year they have talents and skills they didn't have the year before, and it just grows. Now, 'Tell Me Why' was written by Molly when she was only 14 years old, and that's a really interesting song. Even the lyrics, for someone that's that age, are really mature."
" 'Greedy Hands' was B. J.'s first song that he wrote with words that we recorded, and that's a very interesting song with the rhythms. He has a way of putting together interesting rhythms. Skip sang his first solo this time, so his voice is coming in...we're trying to work the young ones in more as singers to add more variety and open more doors. And like I said, their ideas with their musical influences are just becoming really interesting and growing all the time."