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Sleepy Man Banjo Boys introduce bluegrass to new generation

Sleepy Man Banjo Boys are a bluegrass band of brothers from New Jersey. The group, comprised of 17-year-old Tommy, 14-year-old Robbie, and 12-year-old Jonny Mizzone, first got into bluegrass thanks to YouTube. After posting videos of themselves playing music at home on Youtube, the trio found success. Now, the brothers have played at the Grand Ole Opry, released two albums and just sent out their new EP “By My Side” on which they lend their vocals to their music for the first time. FOX411 talked with the young musicians about how they're hoping to help introduce this genre to a new generation.

FOX411: On your new EP, you put your vocals on your music for the first time, what are you singing about?
Tommy: We wrote all the songs for our EP. Five of them have lyrics and one of them is an instrumental, just to...keep a little bit of our roots. We’re singing about a lot of different things. We like to keep our lyrics pretty pure, just tell a little bit of our story and what we want to communicate to our audience. We have a song "By My Side" which is about how musicians, it's easy to slip and get off the path that you were on, so we like to encourage other musicians as well as ourselves just to stick to their roots.

FOX411: You posted a video on YouTube and the rest is history?
Robbie: I started on the violin and then he (Tommy) picked up guitar and Jonny was like, "You guys need a banjo player." He started playing the banjo and we started off with instrumental bluegrass music and then...we just put some music on YouTube and everyone loved it I guess.

FOX411: Were you amazed watching the clicks go up?
Tommy: It was insane. We were getting emails, shows were calling. It's like crazy. We were kids in the bedroom who played instruments to being on David Letterman two weeks later.

FOX411: How old were you when you first played your first instrument?
Jonny: I was 6.
Robbie: I was about 7.
Tommy: I think I was 8.

FOX411: How did you get into bluegrass music?
Tommy: We were on, again, YouTube. YouTube played a big part. We were on YouTube and we heard Earl Scruggs who is a banjo player. He started a lot of the whole bluegrass banjo world and we heard a video of him playing and we were like, "Wow we've never heard anything like this." This is music that originates in America. It's not from Britain or from anywhere but it's American music. We’re like, "This is pretty cool." So we investigated a little further [and] Robbie started learning some bluegrass stuff and I started backing him up, and we were like this is what we want to do.

FOX411: Do you feel you are introducing this music to another generation?
Tommy: I completely agree with that. We’ve had so many people, it's been really cool because maybe ten years ago people were like, "Bluegrass, you're not listening to that right?" Now people are like. "I just bought a banjo for my son" or "I just went out and bought a banjo." People haven't heard bluegrass music in this way. We're coming up with our own sound which is really cool.

FOX411: How are you putting your own modern spin on it?
Tommy: We've incorporated drums which is not quite traditional bluegrass but it's getting so a younger audience will get hooked on it a little more and then we're doing more modern lyrics. I think that's the most important part about that. We're not singing about you know, the old country road and the barn… I'm not saying that's bad, but we're singing about more modern things and things youths can relate with.

FOX411: How does it feel to be able to work together as a family in this business?
Robbie: It makes it a lot easier because when we practice we don't have to coordinate so much we can just meet in my bedroom in five minutes, it really helps.

FOX411: What do you like to do in your downtime? You still get to be kids…
Robbie: We like a lot of stuff. I snowboarded for the first time last winter. We like basketball, baseball.
Tommy: Skiing, running, whatever.

FOX411: How do you balance work and school?
Tommy: We're homeschooled which helps a lot so that gives us a ton of flexibility. If we went to public school we never would be able to do what we do now just because of the rigid schedule.
Robbie: Say we are on a plane on a band trip I can just read for four hours instead of having to divide and do like forty-five minutes of math… it’s really flexible.
Tommy: We bring books and stuff on our trip.

FOX411: The name of the band, where did that come from?
Jonny: When I was young, I used to lay down on my back with my eyes closed and play the banjo.
Tommy: Because it's such a heavy instrument it was difficult for him to sit up or stand in a chair. A lot of banjo players have bent backs actually from holding the banjo. It's a heavy instrument so he used to just chill on a couch, lay back, and even now he’s just got a very relaxed posture when he plays. 
Robbie: So yeah, he's the sleepy man.

Fox News Entertainment Producer Ashley Dvorkin covers celebrity news, red carpets, TV, music, and movies. Dvorkin, winner of the 2011 CMA Media Achievement Award, is also host of "Fox 411 Country," "Star Traveler," “Fox 411 Big Screen," and "Fox on Reddit."

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