A few years ago, back in 1998 something special happened in the high mountain
area surrounding Boulder Colorado. Four young men felt the flat iron pull, and
as fate would have it, the Yonder
Mountain String Band was born. It didn't take long to realize that this was
more than a few friends who liked to pick. As word spread like wild fire in the
Colorado summer, so did the legend of these late night bluegrass infused freak-outs.
band is made up of Adam Aijala on acoustic guitar and vocals, Dave
Johnston pickin' banjo and adding vocals, Ben Kaufmann upright bass
and vocals, and Jeff Austin plays mandolin while he adds his highly original
vocal style. In less than five years the band has quickly become THE newgrass
force to reckon with. Playing close to 170 sold out shows a year and having
put out four albums on their own label with another on the way, it's safe to
say these Yonder boys keep busy.
Performing a plethora of originals and covering songs by everyone from Ozzy
Osbourne and Pink Floyd to Michael Jackson and Bill Monroe you really never know what you're
gonna get at a YMSB show, but heck, that's half the fun.
While the band was busy touring I had the opportunity to pick the mind of my friend Jeff Austin. What follows is a long walk into the world of Jeff, come along and get all the goods on one of the biggest thing to happen to bluegrass in our lifetime.
Kayceman: You were born in Arlington Heights Illinois and went to the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music is that correct?
Jeff Austin: I did, and when you mention that I went to college, I really appreciate it, but I did about ¾ of a year. And it just wasn’t for me. You know I'm sitting there paying 20,000 dollars a year to have somebody tell me, "Oh, you should do music." It's like, "Fuck man, I've known I wanted to do that since I was three!" So I went there and I learned a ton, but they were too interested in you becoming their product. It wasn't really "What is your passion?" It was, "You are ours and you represent us and therefore you will do what we tell you to do" kind of thing.
Kayceman: Well I think that can be a real draw back of music schools in general. I think they kind of tend to hinder real creative endeavors and sort of force you into a cookie cutter mode.
Jeff Austin: And this too, but that conservatory is one of the best in the
country for what I was there for, which was Musical Theatre. They have a placement
percentage for graduates in their theatre department, and that doesn't happen.
Usually it's like [laughing], "Oh you got a theater degree, good luck,
I'll take fries with mine."
Kayceman: When you said that you had music in mind when you started - prior
to Yonder Mountain and meeting Dave and what we're going to get into in a little
bit here - what were your goals and your dreams at that point, like when you
first went to the University of Cincinnati?
Jeff Austin: Wow. Well my goal was, and still to a certain degree is that I really wanted to do Broadway Theater. And I'm a musical freak. I have probably every musical soundtrack and score you could imagine; I just think it's a great art form. And I wanted to do either acting, or acting and singing in musicals, or dramas or operas, I love opera as well. And that was my goal. That was what I wanted to do. I wanted to have an excuse to leave college early because I got a role in some show, or I had to go audition. And that dream kinda started in 8th grade. I said, "Man, this musical thing might be for me." And that was basically my aspiration. To go and do that professionally.
By J. Schwartz
Did you come from a musical household?
I'm an only child from a single parent family and I had a mom who basically supported
every single thing I did and as a kid, always sang to me, and always made music
available to me. When I decided I wanted to do choir instead of soccer I wasn't
berated and belittled. "Well you gotta do this because you’re a guy and you can't
do that because that makes you this way." You know she was front row center every
night I did Macbeth. She saw that thing six nights in a row. That's encouragement.
And she sings a lot. And I was raised on a lot of old country - Willie
and Haggard and that kind
of music. Country country, George
Jones, not this crap that's being put out now a days. And The Beatles, and
that kind of music, that's what I was raised on. So I guess I did come from a
musical home. She wasn't a conductor or anything, but she fueled the fire. She
By Adam George
And that's paramount I think for success in anything in life, really, is
having that support group. At least for me, I come from a similar background,
single mom - I give her all the credit in the world for wherever the hell I
Shit, absolutely, you’re right. Nothing takes more precedence than that. Because
yes you may still go on and be successful at whatever you do, but at what cost
to did it come between you and your family, or what cost did it come between you
and your art. You may get ten years down the line and suddenly hate what you do
and not understand why.
By David Licht
Yeah, I agree entirely.
I knew so many kids... I was in show choir; I was a show choir kid. I knew so many guys who literally had to ditch out of their house to come to practice because their dad was like, "There's no way you're gonna be up there dancin' with all those girls."
Ahh man, that's so fucked.
That shits fucked! It's your child. It's your kid! You as a parent have your dreams too, but don’t push them on your kid. Don't make your kid make your dreams come true, they may have their own thing.
That can be a big problem especially in middle-class America I think.
[Big sigh from both]
Moving onto the band's history. The thing that's most interesting to me
is this meeting between you and Dave and asking you to play with The Bluegrassholes...
That was the pivotal moment pretty much.
Yeah, and although I've read an account of it, I'm wondering if you could
sort of re-tell me the story. Because there is a great deal of discussion amongst
your fans and people who are interested in the music. It's sort of a fable now
of how this came to be.
Man, how about this, I'll tell ya exactly how it all went down. OK, the time before
I met Dave I was in a real limbo state. I had left college about two years ago
by this point, and the first year I left school, I lived with my mom and worked
at the horrible computer shop job just because they paid good and it wasn't flipping
burgers. And I was in a rock band and lived in Decatur, Illinois because I was
thinking I might go back to college. So I was in this band and I moved from Decatur
to Champaign because the clubs we were playing were in Champaign/Urbana.
So of course as soon as I get to Champaign a month later the band breaks up.
So I was kind of in this real limbo state. I didn't know what to do. I wasn't
in this band anymore that was kinda doing well. I wasn't in college, I didn't
have a degree. Everybody from my home town was like, "Oh, isn't it a shame that
Jeff dropped out of school" and that whole thing. And I kinda hooked up
with a great group of friends and one of them was Greg Garrison who actually
is now the bass player for Leftover Salmon.
Well Greg and I went to junior high and high school together and Greg was at
the University of Illinois. So Greg and I would get together and play guitar
a lot. We'd play every [Grateful] Dead song in the world. And one night I was
actually sitting on the porch on High Street - very funny, "High Street."
Greg and I were sitting on the porch playing guitar, probably had a few. And
there was a party going on across the street and about half a block down. And
so Greg and I are sitting on the porch playing a bunch of tunes and this and
that. And then all of a sudden this guy walked up to the porch and said, "Hey,
that sounds good. I've been listening to you guys from across the street and
I wanted to come over." And we were all in the same frame of mind, just kind
of chatting. And he introduced himself, and it was Dave.
By Michael Faas
He said, "Hey I'm Dave. I play a little guitar, but I'm really working on playing
banjo." And I had never met anyone who played banjo. And he didn't have his
banjo with him but he grabbed Greg's guitar and finger picked "Cocaine Blues"
- an old time blues tune. And we just sat there and talked for a little while
longer. Played some more guitars. And Dave mentioned he liked how I sang. He's
like, "Man you sing real good, your voice is real loud. Would you guys ever
want to jam together? I have a band that I've started but I'm looking for more
people to just play with. Do you guys ever get together at this house to play?"
And we said that we were planning on getting together this Thursday. And he
said, "Would you mind if I came by and I'll bring my banjo?" And so he left
his number and took off and we kept pickin' and that Thursday I called him and
he came over.
By Scott Bruckman
So me and Greg and Dave just started to play. I was playing guitar still, and
I'm not a soloist, I can play chords and stuff like that. So we were playing a
lot of standards, stuff off, Reckoning - "All Around This World," and "Dark
Hollow." And this was the closest I had ever been to someone playing the banjo.
I'm standing two feet from him and watching his hands and I'm like, "Holy shit,
this is amazing, look at this guy." And at that time he'd tell you himself, "Oh
shit at that time I couldn't play anything."
So we're sitting there and playing and we play for a good hour or two and Dave
says, "Man I really like how you sing. I'd like to have you come to a rehearsal
of our band and maybe sing a couple numbers. Because we don't really have anybody
who sings, I sing some, but I don’t really sing much." And he was asking where
I learned to sing, and I told him I'd been doing it all my life, and I was in
choir and I did a year of school and the whole thing. So he was like, "Cool
man. Out of curiosity, do you play anything else?" And I told him, "I own a
banjo and I own a mandolin, and I know A, E, G, D, F, B, on the mandolin and
that's about it. I know the basic elemental chords and I don't solo on it or
anything. And the banjo I just bought because I was curious about it, and I
haven't even really picked it up."
He said, "Well we've got a guitar player who's pretty good," and it was our
buddy Ethan James, who was the first guitar player for The Bluegrassholes and
Dan Broder ended up joining them. He said, "Bring your mandolin by and maybe
just chop on it. Because we actually have another guy in the group named Ken
Wilson who plays mandolin and he solos, but maybe you could just play rhythm
mandolin. You know some bands have a rhythm guitarist, maybe you could play
rhythm mandolin." Basically they needed a voice and I was gonna sing for them.
So I called him and went over to the rehearsal and basically just hung out in
the top room of this old college house. And that was really where it started.
And same thing, we got together and I met the guys and it was Ken Wilson who was
playing mandolin and singing, and Ethan James who was playing guitar, and this
guy named Leo Burke who was the bass player, and Dave was playing banjo. And I
was playing rhythm mandolin and in the course of an hour we ran over a bunch of
stuff and they asked me if I wanted to sing with them on a regular basis. They
were like, "We're playing gigs and we're not getting paid. We're playing for free
at the art center" you know. But something just felt right. And just from the
first moment I met Dave something just really hit me. We have a lot of differences
but we're very similar people in the way we envision things, and the way we are
kind of able to imagine things. It's like you can put a thought in my head and
I can tell it to Dave and it grows the same way. There was just something about
it. You know when you meet certain people and there's something about them where
you go, "I'm gonna know this person for a while." So that was kinda the night.
I think we picked for like four more hours, had a few and got real high and went
out and just played music. And just kind of got our minds together. It was gonna
work. We we're all young guys and it just seemed like it was gonna happen. And
so that was really where it all started. Meeting Dave that night on that porch,
and you don't wanna be all hippie term and say "cosmic soul brother" but somebody
that you either met before or it has been fated. The gods made this occur.
By Perry B
Yeah, that's a notion... You know I have a bunch of notes in front of me
and that's something I have written down, this idea of destiny or fate - whatever
kind of word you want to put on it. Because there does seem to be some kind
of energy moving behind this band that is a little bit different. I mean your
quick rise to success is a pretty good indication.
The way that we all met and how it happened... I mean it got to a point in Illinois
where The Bluegrassholes, we were doing some good shows. We were having some good
crowds. You know if we played a bar they knew it was going to be packed. If we
played a coffee house they knew they should probably take some seats out. It was
cool. It was a bar scene and a college scene so it was a dancing crowd. These
weren't people who came in to drink their beer and sit on a barstool. They were
coming in to ho-down and dance because that's how they knew us. When we would
have a house party and there would be 300 people in this house they weren't sitting
down they were all dancing their asses off. So when it kinda came to the point
when the other guys in The Bluegrassholes began to fall off I started to noodle
with lead playing on the mandolin. I remember Ethan James was the one who told
me, you know we'd have these huge jams and I'd just be singing, and everyone else
would be soloing and every time it came around I'd have to pass it on because
I didn't know how to solo. And Ethan James was just like, "Man fuckin' play it
loud and hard it doesn't matter if you play three notes, play it loud and hard.
Play it! Nobody is gonna make fun of you, you're amongst friends. Take a chance,
that's what this band is all about."
By Adam George
And so that has stuck with me. So the first night we had Mike
Marshall on stage Ethan James' voice ran through my head, "Screw it man, just
play it." Believe in what you're gonna do and it doesn't matter if you hit all
the right notes it's the energy that makes it happen. And that was a big part
about The Bluegrassholes; it was solid energy, we weren't fooling anybody, none
of us grew up with this music. We were young and we were trying it, something
hit home. And when Dave and I hit the point of realizing that we were the ones
who wanted to do it full time, he left The Bluegrassholes and moved to Portland
(OR). He lived there for a very small amount of time and then came back to Illinois
and lived there for a few months. And at this point I had been hearing about Colorado,
helped a friend move out and just knew that that was the place. That this music,
how we were presenting it; not a sit down kind of audience, this (CO) is where
it was gonna happen.
By Gordon Wilson
Yeah it's gotta be there.
And it's that whole kind of fate or destiny thing because I just thought, "This isn't gonna fail, it's gonna be OK." And Dave is gonna move out to Colorado and we're gonna keep playing music, I just have a feeling." When I moved to Colorado he moved to Seattle and I called him shortly there after and was like, "You gotta get your ass out here man, this is good, this is fun times." But just from the very get go we had a feeling that this was going to be OK. Yeah we may starve for a little while, but something good is going to happen. And we just kept thinking, "it will happen" And it seems to be happenin'.
By Adam George
I would say so. And I don’t mean to harp on this fate or destiny issue but...
Oh not at all, I'm a big believer of it myself.
I am too. And the way I see it is that the signs are sort of present and some people decide to read them and some people don’t. And I think in looking at how far Yonder Mountain has come in the past, close to five years now we're coming up on...
Yeah in September.
Obviously a lot of hard work and dedication goes into this, and an intense touring schedule but you know there are a lot of bands that work really hard, and are really talented that I've never heard of and that I never will hear of. Do you think that the bottom line is that this was an issue of fate?
You know what, after all the things you just said, yes it is hard work, and yes it's a grueling schedule and you sort of have to know that you are willing to starve and deprive yourself of the basic needs like electricity. In one capacity or another you will be OK. Either your band will succeed or you'll be a stronger person. But you know I'm a big, BIG believer, and yes I really think that when it comes down to it we've had some sort of... I don't wanna say, "predestined" but it's too creepy not to be. It's too much just to be coincidence.
By Adam George
You know I live in Nederland (CO) for a week and half and I go to see a band and Ben's the one playing bass and I open the door and the first thing I hear is his voice and I'm like, "Fuck, I gotta play music with that guy." And then Dave moves out (to CO) and Dave's out there for a month and all of a sudden a phone call comes and it's Ben and he says, "You know we're looking for a mandolin player," and I was like, "You know I can't do that because my friend just moved out here who plays banjo and we're thinking about starting a band, but if you want to get together and jam..." And then we jam and we have a similar mind frame. And ya, I really think that somewhere the deck got shuffled just right and we managed to find each other. And then the thing that really drives it home more and more is then the people we find to work with us. Our sound engineer, un-fuckin' believable, how that all came about. Partners In Music and Casey Verbeck our manager, the people who book us and manage all our business, he basically took a huge chance with us. So ya, I think there is a great deal of cosmic alignment going on with this band.
By Adam George
I would have to agree.
It's frickin' crazy. My mom and my wife-to-be remind me of this so much: "Do
you realize how screwed up this is? You guys happened to be here and this guy
happened to see you, and then all of a sudden you get asked to play the Grand
Ole Opry. Or you move to Colorado and who out of the first ten people do you
meet, you meet Vince Herman from Leftover Salmon" who has been absolutely
nothing less that a fuckin' savior for us, and a god and a saint. "Oh you guys
are going to tour that city, call this guy, he'll feed you and put you up." We
call that guy and he feeds us and puts us up. "Oh where are you guys tonight?
Oh I'll call all my friends and they'll come down, and they've got gifts for ya,
and this and that." And it's really, you know like Sedona, (AZ) they say there
are these weird vortex places and I really believe that that whole Front Range
area; Nederland, Rollingsville, Ward, there's something up there.
By Art Howard
Especially for acoustic, bluegrass music it just seems to run through there.
You know it does. Where certain people talk about Lexington, Kentucky and that area in the early '70s. That was the real hotspot of newgrass and it seems like the vortex shifted over to Colorado sometime in the '80s. And Hot Rize got born and all that stuff.
And there's an immense amount of creative energy coming out of that area in general, I lived in Boulder for a while and just in general. Whether it be music, or artists...
Free thinkers, just a lot of great stuff happening around there. So I think it sort of perpetuates itself. I know when I'm around creative people who inspire me I become a better writer and it really pushes me.
hell ya. It's like doing shows with Scramble
Campbell. When Campbell is up there hanging out with us it’s a whole different
thing, because we're feeding each other. I'm getting a buzz off of watching
him; he's getting a buzz off of what we're doing. The crowd is supplying the
other cog in the wheel. It's just... whenever you have time to doubt what your
doing, like, "Oh, I'm missing home," ...you know I'm getting married in 17 days
and I'd like...
Really!? Wow, congratulations.
Thank you. And you know I'd love nothing more right now than to be hanging
out with my lady, and she's freakin' sick right now, she's got like pneumonia,
my freakin' wife-to-be, and it's like... But when you have moments like this
and you get to kind of reflect on it, it makes you realize why you do what you
do, and why you're here to do what you do.
Sort of pushing on, you guys also recently just finished up your third studio album correct?
Yeah, Old Hands.
And who worked on it with you guys, I know you've had some really monumental people working with you. I know you've had Tim O'Brien and Sally Van Meter.
Yeah, we were a band about six months and we wanted to do this record. It's been
about four years in the coming. And Sally Van Meter produced it and she's the
one who produced, Elevation our first one, and basically kicked our ass.
There could not have been a more perfect person to do not only this record, you
talk about destiny; she was destined to produce this record. But to do our first
record as well because she gave us such insight into who we were as a band and
who we had the power to be. It was huge. And on this record there was just nobody
else. Her ear is just so perfectly suited for this record and what it is.
By JC Juanis
So yeah, she produced it, and James Tuttle, who has engineered and mixed
all of our stuff, was involved in it. And he, again, he knows us so well he's
basically another member of the band. And then we had a fellow Gary Pachosa
who also did some of the mixing on it as well, these are the technical folks.
And Gary Pachosa has engineered all of Alison
Kraus, and all the Dixie Chicks records. And he's a big Nashville,
kick-ass motherfucker [laughing]. We always joke that James Tuttle has
some kind of magic dust; we call it "Tuttle-dust." And it's not anything electronic
or fake that he's doing, this is little tiny tonal things that's making it happen.
And that was our technical crew. And Sally Van Meter also played and sang on
I think five tracks. Jerry Douglas plays
on a couple of tracks. Tim O'Brien like you said is on the record. Darol
Anger is on the record, basically our official fifth member. Brother
Bill, he's on it. A great fiddler named, Casey
Driessen, he's a young prodigy. He's playing fiddle with Tim O'Brien's band
right now. And Casey is, he's phenomenal.
22, 21, maybe.
What are you, about 28, 27?
I'm 28, I'll be 29 in less than two weeks... even less 9 days I'll be 29.
Wow, big month.
Yeah, no shit, big month. So yeah, Casey Driessen's on there, another great musician
Powell, and he's been playing with Tim O'Brien for years. And Dirk is just
amazing, and he plays accordion and triangle on one track. Yonder Mountain has
officially been recorded with percussion.
By Adam George
[Laughing] First time ever!
Triangle, I'll tell ya. Out there a tape actually exists with Jeff Sipe playing
Oh really, I haven't heard that.
I think it was our third tour we opened for Leftover Salmon on five dates and he came out and jammed with us. So it's Dirk, and Jerry, and Tim, and Darol, and Casey and Sally.
And are you guys all really excited about this, from what little I've read
it sounds like you guys are beyond excited?
we've never done anything like this. And I believe by far it's the best thing
we've ever done. It scares me now to do another record. We had the dream record,
and it's Old Hands, it's this record. We're so proud of it. I've shed
tears over every album, but I've never lost it as many times as I have with
this one. In the studio, and at rehearsals, and just walking away and having
a moment. And realizing we've wanted to do this project for four and half years
and now here we are doing it. And it's none of our music; it's all music by
this guy Benny Galloway. Dave and I met him on the same day after Dave
was in town four weeks. And we met Benny and he's gone on to become one of my
best friends. Just to sit in the studio and watch his face watch this music
get made, it was just a very moving experience from beginning to end. From discussion
to rehearsal, to production and postproduction, it was a very emotional project.
Because the songs are very emotional. Every one of these tunes hits you in a
certain way; it just grabs your heart. It was kinda partially made almost selfishly,
because I don’t particularly care if anybody buys it. We needed to make this
record. As a band and as people we needed to make this record.
Oddly enough those often become the greatest pieces of art.
And see that's the thing, if you put it out there selflessly, and just say, "If people are gonna buy it great, and if nobody buys it and every magazine slams it, and every fan on our chat room says it sucks and this is not what Yonder sounds like," I don't particularly care, because this is something that my heart, and my mind and the hearts and minds of the band members needed to do. It's a very country, very folk record.
That peaks my interest even more, just hearing your insight into the record. Those are the most interesting things to me, the ones that the artists are most intimately tied to.
And this is music that somebody else wrote. And we kind of had an open ability
to interpret it in different ways. And some of the songs are verbatim just as
Benny Galloway would want them interpreted. And he sings five songs on the record
as well. That’s another thing that people will find very different about this
record. Each member of the band sings two songs, and then Benny Galloway sings
five songs. And the reason he sings the songs is because there are certain songs
of his that are so great that we wanted to record, but I don't know them yet.
I haven't experienced that yet. There's a tune called "Sleepy Cowboy" on the record,
and I don't know that. If I were to sing that song, or any member, it might tonally
be OK, but emotionally and gutterly there's something about it, it loses a realism
when we do it. Yes, Benny Galloway has sat in a field and fixed twenty miles of
barbwire fence. He's done that. He's wrangled horses, he knows how to do that.
I don't, I grew up in the suburbs. I know how to flip the shit out of a TV channel.
I know how to drive past the strip mall. So yeah, that's something that might
come as a surprise, all of a sudden on the third track, "Oh who is this?" And
he's got a great voice, and he's an amazing guitar player. And it's just very
different. It's us truly getting to play somebody else's music. And therefore
that's why we have so many guests on it. And to actually have all these musicians
interested in doing this project.
By Gordon Wilson
Fate and destiny, my friend.
See, and that's another thing. I've sat and talked to Tim about that. And he's a pretty spiritual guy, and he believes greatly in fate and destiny. And we've had some cool conversations, and Darol too, and just talking to these people going, "What do you make of all this?" But ya man, I'm just so psyched with the record when it comes down to it.
Well I can't wait to check it out. I wanted to ask you, as far as lyrically, is there something in particular that you tend to draw inspiration from, or is it a case-by-case scenario?
It's a case-by-case scenario. I think if anything I draw a lot of inspiration
from the people around me and situations that I'll find myself in. My wife-to-be
inspires the hell out of me and has inspired me to write some of my favorite tunes
that I've written. You know, "Piece Of Mind," "Darling One," and a ton of other
tunes. And situations the band will be in, people that we'll meet. We'll do a
tour with Darol Anger and something happened one night and I remember it that
night in the hotel room, or in the bus, then I'm able to kind of go back and use
it. So I guess people and places, the road in particular. But that can be tough
you don't want to get yourself in too narrow of another, "Oh shit hears another
road song." It's kind of like the challenge of writing another road song with
out it just being, "Oh I miss my home, and I'm far away, and lalala."
By Adam George
Right, just re-stating. You guys play some more traditional stuff, and
you play some newgrass and psychograss, whatever you want to call it. Do you
find yourself having an affection for playing one or the other?
You know I'll tell ya, I kind of have more of an affection when we stretch things out.
It kind of seems that way from the way you play.
Yeah, when we let things go a little more it's like we're not so tied into any
kind of tradition, you're sort of painting your own tradition, making your own
path. Yeah, I really have that affection for the more stretched out stuff because
it really just defines who we are. It's like if we play too many just straight
up bluegrass tunes are we just another bluegrass band? But there are times when
I'd love to do a side project that is solid straight-up bluegrass. High harmonies,
well we sing high harmonies, but you know what I mean, super traditional, as tight
as it can be.
By Justin Halgren
Now switching from the band to you more personally. One of the reasons
I've been intrigued in speaking with you, I think as an individual you have
a very captivating stage presence and a rapport with the audience. Maybe you
wouldn't be willing to call yourself the leader of Yonder Mountain, and in some
respects I wouldn't either, but as a front man you do a really exceptional job.
And you seem very comfortable up there. Now is this something you ever had to
work on, or is it something that just came natural through your schooling, or
just something you were born with?
As soon as you start considering yourself a leader of anything you gotta start
answering. And I've had a lot of people come up to me and say; "You're the leader
of the band, so why did you guys drink so much beer?" No, no, no, no, I don't
get paid anymore than anybody else. And we work in a fully democratic way. But
I guess I talk more on stage.
By Adam George
And that's the only reason I say that.
Oh yeah, and I definitely do, and I appreciate it, and if people view it that
way I just hope they view it in a positive way. But you know I've always liked
crowds of people. And I think part of it comes from being an only child and
always being like, "Mom check this out. Mom look at this now. Look what I'm
doing now, I'm putting a triangle up my nose. Look at this, I'm eating carpet
lint!" Those sorts of things always came naturally.
So you've always been comfortable on stage?
Well man, I'll tell ya, I really think it comes back to what we were talking about. You come from an environment where you are not fearing what you feel should be doing. Where you are not having to hide, "I just made the play." You don't have to hide, "They just asked me to MC the Orchestra Concert." "I just made State Theater."
By Adam George
And being able to be proud of it.
Yeah, you can be proud of it. And it's not just what you are supposed to be, it's who you are supposed to be.
Exactly, and that's a great way of putting it.
And when you are able to truly be who you are, things happen.
And that's one of the biggest things in life, to be able to embrace that. I feel like I am lucky enough to be doing what I love. And I'm able to survive on no compromises; this is who I am all day long.
making excuses for "who I am." And you're able to have absolute pride in what
you do. And it's not like somewhere along the line you had to hide something
that you really are. And I know I never had to fear who I was. I never had to
hide what I was good at, what I wanted to do, or who I knew was me. If I'm in
a play wearing a white body suite and white paint on my face and people in the
crowd are yelling, "fag" and "gay-wad" - Screw you, I know who I am and I'm
pretty damn happy. I'm doing what I want to do; I'm not lying to myself and
doing something else. This is who I am. And I think that when you get a performer
that stands up there and that's their frame of mind it comes across. And when
you get a group of people together who have that, that's where... Like the Grateful
Dead. In a lot of people's minds they played nothing but shit for the last
ten years of their existence, but there was nothing else they wanted to be doing.
And that's why people kept going to see them. "Why do you go and see and them
if they're playing terrible shows?" Because I'm standing there looking at something
real, which I can not see in any other kind of music. Watch the Del
McCoury Band play, that's why they're so good. Well they are genius and
talented motherfuckers from like three generations, but goddamn you can see
it, that's what they are supposed to do. It's like a great accountant. My accountant
is fuckin' amazing.
Right and that's what he's supposed to be doing.
Yeah, that's what he's supposed to do; if more people did that, we'd have
a way happier society. If we didn't have parents who shoved down their kids
throat, "You're gonna be on the basketball team." Have you heard your child
sing? Your child should be singing. "No, because I played basketball and so
did your grandfather, and you're gonna do it."
Bringing it back around a bit in the context of you being a really good front
man, and leader, particularly in the vocal sense. I think that there are very
few improvisational vocalists, and John Bell from Widespread
Panic sort of comes to mind, and I think he's just amazing at that. That's
something that originally drew me to Yonder Mountain, was your handling of vocals
and being able to improvise and do what you do. I find that to be equally as amazing
as your mandolin playing or the rest of the bands musical performance, and I'm
wondering if this is something you have to work on, or if it's something that
again is sort of just a natural flow for you?
By Pamela Rody
I'll tell ya man, it really is just kind of a natural thing.
And that's the way it comes across.
Well that's all I can really hope for. That people are seeing where it's really
coming from. And I'm glad to hear you say that because it's not like I sit there
and go OK, "bliggidgy-boogidy" or "What can I say at this moment." I play with
a group of guys who have full faith I'm not gonna bury us in a ditch. And that
has a huge part to do with it. There are nights where it's harder than others.
There are nights where maybe I'm not rooted into the cosmic improv where my mind
might be cluttered. And you know the best is when you just don't even think about
it. The best is when you can fully surrender yourself to the music as it's going
on. You don't wanna say "surrender to the flow" but it's really the best thing.
You surrender to the flow, you let yourself go and you have faith in it. Whereas
the guys have faith that I'm not going to steer us into the ditch, I know that
they are going to be there for me when I'm doing what I'm doing. And vice-versa
for everybody in the band. Yeah the nights where it's the best is when I'm able
to just close my eyes and open my mouth and it just happens.
By Adam George
I can certainly relate in the sense of writing, and that is when my writing is the best, it just happens I'm writing, writing, writing and I look up and three hours have gone by and I have all these pages and it's not bad. And when I do try to fight it, when I do have an idea that I am really trying to hash out, sometimes it's much more difficult for me to do it.
It's like you said, the main reason I love Jerry Garcia as one of my favorite vocalists of all time, he opened his mouth, and what came out was what you got. He wasn't fooling himself that he was Pavarotti. He opened his mouth and he sang it, and it could be so out of tune, and so crackly and so forgotten, but it was the most beautiful sound you've ever heard in your life. And it's that way watching Darol Anger fiddle. And the best nights for me are when I don't remember the show happening. When all of a sudden it's three and a half hours later and I'm sweating like a motherfucker and there I am. And the experience has happened and I was so freed from it, I was so able to do nothing but let it flow. That I had nothing to worry about, it wasn't "Oh my mix is for shit," or "I wish that guy would stop screaming," or "Who threw that on stage?"
And as a fan of your music, and music in general, those are my best musical experiences, when it just happens, and I'm not thinking about where my friend is, or where the fuckin' bowl is...
Or there's a security guy around...
By Adam George
Exactly, or this kid is yelling in my ear, or my shoes are too tight or whatever.
Or it wasn't so crowded, and it’s the same thing for me as a viewer of music as well. When that band starts moving, woooo.
Yeah, it just hits you.
Yeah it's just effortless. Like effortless writing.
Yeah or painting. And before a show I say this little wish, it's not a prayer, but more of a wish. And it's like, "Just let this be what it's gonna be, and let it go to somewhere and not forcibly, and just let it happen."
Now there is this notion, and it may sound kinda funny but there is some essence behind it that I wanted to touch on with you. And I mentioned John Bell from Widespread Panic before and he's got this aura about him that is sort of the stuff legends are made of.
Well yeah, you feel it at the concert when you are there.
Definitely, and there's a joke, or sort of a fable in the Widespread Panic
world that maybe 20 years ago John Bell wandered down to the cross roads and
met with a certain man, and made a deal. Made a deal with the devil, and he's
got that look in his eye. And while he is humble and sincere, there is also
this notion that there is something more behind this man. I've been reading
over your stuff, and thinking about you, [Jeff starts to laugh somewhat
maniacally] and what you've done with the mandolin in four years. I mean
I know kids that have been playing for 20 years that don't do what you do. And
it's hard to say you're a master of it, no not yet, but what you've done musically
in such a short period of time as part of this band and as an individual, and
your persona on stage... did you go down to the crossroads?
[Still laughing] I'll tell ya man. Before I moved to Colorado I basically
helped an ex-girlfriend move out there. And in the same weekend that I helped
her move, the RockyGrass Festival was going on, and that was in '97. At that point
I was done. I had met the place I needed to go. And then I went back and visited
her a couple of times, and in November of 1997, I went out there and put down
money on a place in Nederland. Well I didn’t move out till the end of January,
so I basically walked into this guy's house and said, "Here's the deal. I want
to live here. But I can't move out here till the end of January but here's four
months rent right now. Will you hold the place for me?" And he said "sure" of
course. But when I got back to Illinois after that trip around mid-November and
I had two and half months before I moved out there... Now I don't know if it was
a deal with the devil, but I definitely will admit I spent a lot of time sitting
by myself kind of going, "OK, fate, and god, whatever is out there, I'm not going
to fail you on this. I am going to see this through to the bitter end. I'm not
going to fail you on this. And as long as you keep showing me that path, I will
not stray from it. If I've eaten twice in a week and I'm 138 pounds and I'm absolutely
frustrated to no bitter end, as long as I can see that crossroad laying ahead
of me, I will not quite at this, I will not take failure as an option. I will
see this out to the absolute bitter end. I will do what it takes." So I don’t
know what guy it was, but yeah I think I made a deal that I'm still keeping.
By Adam George
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