Three Ring Circle’s Interlocking Sound

As individual musicians, Dobro whiz Rob Ickes, fiddle and mandolin wunderkind Andy Leftwich, and bassist extraordinaire Dave Pomeroy approach legendary status, boasting recording and performing credits that include Elton John, Ricky Skaggs, Earl Scruggs, Bruce Hornsby, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, the Chieftains, Duane Eddy, John Fogerty, and Steve Winwood. When the three teamed up to record the burning instrumental album, Three Ring Circle [Earwave Records], it resulted in much more than a trio of superpickers showcasing their abilities.

“We wanted every song to have a great melody,” details Ickes. “In some instrumental records, you get, ‘Here’s a tricky progression, now we’re going to jam over it.’ But Dave’s experience working with so many singers led us in a different direction. He said, ‘Let’s stay true to the sentiment of the song,’ so we approached each tune as if it had lyrics and a melodic structure. It wasn’t just a jam session.”

To track Three Ring Circle, the trio decided to discard today’s technology-driven “fix-it-in-the-editing-stage” mentality, and rely instead on real-time, live recording. “We live in an age of options,” says Pomeroy. “You can say, ‘Let’s record now, and later on we’ll figure out what’s good.’ This album is more like, ‘No, let’s make a decision we all agree on. If we think it’s good, we move on.’ This band is about being in the moment, and to emphasize that feeling, we relied on our own internal sense of time instead of using a click. It was a liberating experience.”

“Recording live was the hardest thing for me,” Leftwich admits. “I’m used to first tracking my rhythm part and then going back and doing a solo. This was much more integrated, with each of us supporting each other throughout the tune.”

“That’s the trio mentality,” Pomeroy elaborates. “At any given time, we’re interlocking in different ways. It’s not as simple as one of us taking a solo while the other two back him up. We had to take a few runs at a couple of tunes to find the magical combination of the three elements.”

Rather than use direct pickup feeds, the band chose to mic their instruments and allow any sonic bleed to reinforce the ensemble sound. “The only time I used a D.I. was when I played my electric upright bass,” Pomeroy recalls. “But for my upright and the other instruments, we used mics. An engineer friend, Dave Sinko [Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma, Andrea Zonn], loaned us some really great gear. We used Neumann M-582 tube condensers on Andy, and we used a Royer SF-12 stereo ribbon mic on Rob. About a third of the way through the record I fell in love with the Royer and bought one.”

Spontaneous interplay drives the band’s live performances. “On our first gig,” says Pomeroy, “I had charts, and I was standing while Rob and Andy were sitting down. At the end of the show, I turned around and said, ‘I’ll throw away my charts if you two will stand up.’ So we did, and it made the music really come alive. Our band name—and the concept of three interlocking circles—illustrates how we connect musically onstage.”