By Brian Heisler

Yonder Mountain String Band
When Boulder-based quartet Yonder Mountain String Band debuted #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Charts with their forth album (self titled), it confirmed the notion that they are truly the reigning kings of bluegrass in the jam community. Some more traditional folks have trouble with YMSB being labeled "bluegrass." Perhaps they'd rather see them carry the tag: jamgrass, or freakgrass, or newgrass; regardless of what you call it, folks are buying it, by the bundle.

Clearly the Yonder boys are not traditional bluegrass pickers. They use amplification when playing live and there are even drums involved, but it's this willingness to push boundaries and experiment that has made them the sensation they are. Case and point: #1 on Billboard with a "bluegrass" record produced by indie-stud Tom Rothrock (Beck, James Blunt, Foo Fighters, Elliott Smith) with Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello) on drums for a couple tracks.

JamBase caught up with banjo player Dave Johnston while the band was on the road for some insight into the new album and the band's new horizons.

JamBase: This is your first release on Vanguard Records. Why the new label?

Johnston: We just thought that we wanted to get to a little bit broader of an audience and that we didn't wanna be running our own label anymore, due to the fact that it was just something we barely had a chance to even oversee. We love Frog Pad Records, and we still plan to release live records on it and stuff like that. It's just one of those things where it got to be almost a little too much for us to handle entirely and tour all the time and write music. We kinda wanted a more typical relationship with a label than the one we had with Frog Pad where we were kind of owners and making a lot of important decisions that maybe we weren't the best with. (laughs)

JamBase: This is your first recording with Tom Rothrock. Why did you decide to work with him?

Johnston: Well, we met Tom during the Acoustic Planet tour that we did with Béla [Fleck] and Keller [Williams], and we knew we kind of wanted to go color outside the lines, so to speak, and to try to do something a little different. At this point we also had no idea we were gonna be on Vanguard or anything like that; that's an influence in any decision. It's just one of those things where we met him, and he really liked the band. He had said that after seeing a couple shows that he could hear the record that he could make out of this whole thing, and he was very on chord right from the get go. He's just a really great guy and easy to work with. He just kind of heard about us and decided to check us out.

JamBase: The folk/rock & roll sound you have been promoting with the new album and Tom Rothrock, is that a sound that you had projected? When you started YMSB, was there any idea of an outline for a specific sound?

Dave Johnston :: YMSB
Johnston: No, we never have really had an outline for specifics about our sound. I always think of us as a subliminal band or a subconscious band, where we just kind of let the feeling of the moment and the vibe that's going on just kind of dictate what's going to happen to the kind of music we're going to make. We try to really capture that, and it ends up having a lot of banjo and bluegrass-type stuff happening with it, but also folk and of course rock & roll.

Is the whole rock & roll theme something you are continuing to explore?

We actually feel like the rock & roll scene is exploring us more than we're exploring it. We're just kind of doing our thing and making the music we want to make. It's kind of cool because the more we get into the rock & roll sort of things, it's almost like the more you can kinda hear the basic building blocks of bluegrass and stuff kinda being in there as well. I happen to think they're not mutually exclusive types of music.

This is the first time you guys have added drums to the mix. How did you decide that you wanted drums as part of the Yonder sound for this album?

We were just kind of toolin' around with one tune in particular, and we were trying to think, "Well, it sounds good, but maybe drums would be cool to fill up the space." It was more of an experiment that ended up going really well.

Pete Thomas has a fabulous history with Elvis Costello, but there are many drummers out there that surely would have been onboard with you guys. How did you decide to go with Pete Thomas?

Yonder Mountain String Band by Joel Johnston
He was a friend of Tom's, and of course he's just very tasteful. It was just like a decision where we were like, "We could call this guy or we could call this guy," but we decided with Pete.

So it was just one phone call? You didn't call any other guys and say, "Hey, come in and play a track?"

I mean we put out all these calls simultaneously to different people. One was Hal Blaine. We called him, we called Pete. I think Hal was retired and Pete was really into doing it, so I'm like, "Man, Pete Thomas is as good as anyone. So if he wants to do it, then yeah man, bring him in and we'll see what happens."

Is there more room for exploration with drums and percussion and do you ever plan to tour with a drummer at this point?

Jeff Austin :: YMSB
There's always gonna be a different kind of space musically with drums, so you can explore different musical textures and stuff like that for sure. We're not planning on touring with a drummer though. That's kinda one of our deals is that we don't have a drummer, so we're not really looking to radically alter anything that's going on like that.

So it's definitely just a studio thing for the moment?


With the touring, what are you specifically looking forward to for the rest of the summer?

We're looking forward to the rest of the summer! (laughs) Summer's really fun; we're looking forward to Telluride; and pretty much everything that we're doing this summer seems pretty kick-ass to me, so I'm excited about all of it.

Lastly, I was at Summer Camp last weekend, and you guys mentioned some sort of incident with the law and it's been popping up all over the message boards. Can you dispel any rumors or start some new ones?

YMSB at Summer Camp 2006 by Brett Saul
What were the rumors?

I heard something about your bus getting stopped in Ohio.

Yeah, we got, uh, searched in Ohio. Ya know, if you wanna start a rumor, tell 'em that we were smuggling rare parakeets in Ohio and that we got caught with a bunch of exotic birds. (laughs) Better yet, say that we were smuggling tropical fish.

And you got stopped by The Man on the highway?

We got stopped with organic contraband - tropical fish, rare Burmese angelfish or something like that.

The comedy never ceases with YMSB, and that is a part of who they are. Their music is very easy-going and so is the way they approach the stage. Some nights, a Yonder show can seem like a comedy bar with a string band playing between sets. While their new album brings new ideas to the table, they still have the same old feel that makes us dance and smile. Nothing says summer quite like the raw sounds of pure acoustic strings and harmonies, so look for the new and old sounds alike of Yonder Mountain String Band at a show near you this summer; and be sure to pick up a copy of their new album for those long drives between gigs.

JamBase | Worldwide
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[Published on: 6/13/06]

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mateotee starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/13/2006 06:21PM
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Just caught the reunion show at Wakarusa. Thanks for coming back Dave! You did great against Bela!

Greatwaves Tue 6/13/2006 06:38PM
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these guys are the SHIZIT, bluegrass, newgrass, jamgrass, whatever you wanna label them they play pimp ass music and rock the roof off the house. their tune are awesome, voices great, and jams awesome. i bet if you ask the best bluegrass artists (bela) wether or not these guys play 'bluegrass" music theyd laugh and say of course, thats right you die hard bluegass fans this is the future of bluegrass and you d better get used to it cause there are more up and coming bands that rock bluegrass out as well Hot buttered rum, shanti, i bet Hot rize wasnt liked by all nor leftover, or old and in the way for that matter, but theyve paved the way for the evolution of bluegrass the oldest form of american roots music.i love it

Foominaut Tue 6/13/2006 10:01PM
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cool article...what exatly happened with the Tour BUS incident? This is the first i ahve heard of this...

willybilly44 starstarstarstar Wed 6/14/2006 06:23AM
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Good Interview. Hey Dave, can I buy a parakeet off you?

shacklefordwantsapizza starstarstarstar Wed 6/14/2006 06:40AM
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Cheers to a great interview- im glad you asked alot of those questions that at least I feel have been burning our brains. I hope not too many people take a reactionary stance on the whole drum thing- Dave gave a great explanation and in all honestly I rarely know what to expect from these guys, thats the best part of what they do! If you have heard bad things about the album and the only thing to back it up is the fact that its no longer "drums free music", check out the album for yourself! I dig it, you might too.

phhil starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/14/2006 10:32AM
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just saw these guys in my home town, richmond va, for free!!
what a class act. i've never seen so many diffrent kinds of people gettin down to bluegrass before. there was definately a circular energy flow present, ymsb was feelin it to, they said they wont forget the support they got from richmond, and next time they will be back for a two night fling, mabee when we get the new venue this fall. cheers to ymsb and richmond.

jjeep91 Wed 6/14/2006 01:19PM
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tuffgong41... here is a tread from pt yonder board there is some rumor content put the quote below explains it...

"rosey posted this over on the yahoo list. seems like it's not as bad as we all thought.

"I am happy to report that the arrest rumor is just that, no one was arrested. The boys were very inconvenienced and had to sit on the road while the bus was totally ransacked end to end for 2 1/2 hours, possibly two tickets (I say possibly because the coppers said they would "mail them") so in the end is was a bunch a BS, and rude dudes with attitudes and badges. But no one is in trouble, YAY! Keep on Going boys!


economi starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/14/2006 03:35PM
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This album really shows the amount of room that YMSB is capable to using to grow. The sound is definitely outside the box, but in a controlled way. It is melodic to hear the fusion of rock and roll's edge with the rhythmic vibrations that come with bluegrass. It's obvious how this album is able to reach to a broader audience; a few of the songs sound like great "radio" songs. It is rare that when a band is able to stretch-out their creative energies to explore new sounds while expanding their audience. I spend more money on airfare catching Yonder shows than I do on visiting my family. Maybe this says something about me, but I would like to feel this says more about them.

mrbrownstone419 starstarstar Thu 6/15/2006 09:42AM
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on the bus incident-at scamp jeff said that he was now a criminal or something along those lines.

i like the idea that they are exploring and trying new things. if you stay the same things get stale. however, i haven't really gotten into the new record. i've only listened to it twice but so far it's not doin it for me. also they need to make sure to either leave the drums out of the new songs or get a live drummer, no prerecorded beats. that being said, they're still the greatest band in the history of man

i thought the questions could have been a little tougher (perhaps a question about alienating some of their early, die hard fans with a new sound. i know there will be a lot of people who will completely dismiss the band because the stylistic changes).

matt87 Thu 6/15/2006 09:52AM
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the word on the street is that yonders bus got pulled over the other day and the driver took the rap on a possession charge

QuantumTuba starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/15/2006 10:55AM
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The band was amazing at Wakarusa, especially the songs with Bela Fleck and the ones with Jeff Coffin. And the reunion bit was hilarious. Thanks for coming back Dave!

claypool4life starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/15/2006 01:42PM
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Great interview I have seen these guys several times in the past year and i think they are the most consistent band to see live they always kick ass thanks jambase for continued great coverage

crescentvale starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/15/2006 02:17PM
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Thanks for good years before this album, the drum beat has really messed everything up. The new people this drum beat brings in is nothing but horrible. This brings more people to shows n festivals, and if you have been going to them for years like me, you would know that more people mean more cops. More cops means I have to "look over my shoulder" more. Summercamp and wakrusa were the worst ever this year due to cops and new fans. The dead heads and myself made it possible for you new fans to have something to do. Now this is what we get in return.

Hipcat starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/15/2006 06:04PM
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hahaha at panicathome. thanks for forming yonder for me. i really appreciate it. its really not that big of a deal... its just a drum beat on a few songs on the album. get over yourself or stay at home.

thanks for the article, and i will always continue to see yonder.

p.s.-panicathome, if its not too big of a hassle for you, can you and the deadheads get LOS and Phish back together? i'd really appreciate it. thanks!

ROMP starstarstarstar Fri 6/16/2006 11:31AM
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For YMSB fans looking for some awesome bluegrass and free camping; the campground opens June 18 for ROMP in Owensboro, KY just 2 1/2 hours NW of nashville. There will be showers, Doc Watson, free shuttle, The Dillards, Film festival, Uncle Earl, Mike Snider, Stringdusters, Square Dancing, food, Cherryholmes, The Lovell Sisters and lots of jams! Check out www.riverofmusic.org or see the ROMP ad in the Bonnaroo booklet.

adeadhead4u starstarstarstarstar Fri 6/16/2006 12:13PM
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Folks, ive got to say. I admire yonder for taking another musical step. I'm sure they knew people would freak about having drum tracks on this album and the people did freak but i dont think yonder cares. Yonder was playing their stuff and playing it well, like they always have but they have always been pushing the boundaries which is what they are continueing to do with this new album. It may bring fans who are new into the scene but why is that a problem?? There was a time when we were alll new to the scene as well. So, i say to yonder, KEEP ON GOING!

snowfleury starstarstarstarstar Fri 6/16/2006 03:16PM
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yeah. Wakarusa was amazing with the Yonder boys there. Dave was almost gone forever, but Bela backed off and it was all good. I'm so glad I live in Lawerace. Come back soon YMSB

PLATAPUS starstarstarstar Fri 6/16/2006 04:26PM
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the band was pulled over at the entrance to hookaville i saw it with my own eyes,at least 6 state troopers shaking em down,they open the set with get my out of this city,and encored with oklahoma and jammmmmmmmmed out in between .thanks boys for going on and not just phoning it in. For all those who dont like the new album with the drums dont listen to it if you dont like it yonder mnt has the right to explore any way they want to, besides they arent use the drums on tour ,and there is all kinds of live yonder to grab up .let me ask you something do you have the same hairstlye now as you did in 1980 if you do great if you dont great ,but remember its your choice to go in the direction you want to go, and there choice to go in
their direction,just remind the bus driver to use the turn signal next time

claypool4life Sat 6/17/2006 11:34AM
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This is to Panicathome how is it that YMSB putting drums on a few songs going to bring new fans and cops to festivals. Also they said they are not touring with drums so those people will just be disapointed and never come back. If you ask me and im not anti drugs in anyway either. It is getting a little out of control I saw somebody die at a flaming lips show last year and All Good was infected with crystal meth. Like it or not festivals have become the place for every drug dealer in the area to come pick up anything they need and maybe some of those new fans are there for the music thats what festivals are all about music not wether you can do drugs legally for a weekend.

Freaker052 Sat 6/17/2006 04:46PM
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This guy below me is trippin, Yonder is doin what they have to do so they arent broke when they retire, their new sound is cool in studio, but their old sound still comes out when they rock it live. You your self made nothing possible so dont expect anything in return guy. Yonder is awesome Colorado Music enough said.

Greenjah starstarstarstar Sun 6/18/2006 05:25AM
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Nice interview...every time I see them they get better and better....got dragged away mid-set Wakarusa (long story) and caught the rest of the Booty Band show, which happened to be decent but oh well....

DAY 2 Waka review coming up later at the101report.com

Scotty Greene

kvoelkel starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/19/2006 02:27PM
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dear panicathome, next time yonder comes to your festy or hometown just stay away. i just seen these guys in st. louis for the 5th time this year. they get better and better and tighter with every jam i hear them do. i personally think the new album is awesome, sweet,and simple. as a kinfolk for about five years now i was very afraid that this album would suck ass, and ruin their reputation. this is not the case. i love the bluegrass music, but, i cant wait until they keep exploring into the depths of music and eventually pick up some electric stuff and tour as an eectric rock outfit for a while, maybeull some stuff like hot rize/red knuckles and the trailblazers did back in the day. see yall at the cincy show!

Wolf1973 starstarstarstar Tue 6/20/2006 10:07AM
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YMSB is hands down my favorite live show. It trips me out when people like panicathome want to hoard the music that they love. It sounds like this dude is more concerend with the drugs then the music, and that is a sad reality with a too many people on the Jam Band scene.
Anyways I am stoked to be seeing these guys this weekend in San Diego with Bela and Keller at The Acoustic Planet Tour, and I am going to bring as many of my friends to the show as I can. I love this music too much not to share it with everyone.

crescentvale starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/20/2006 10:28AM
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Yonder fans most be from chicago, they sound like dumb cub fans tring to catch a foul ball. I hope your happy with the fake music. If the dumb beat was not important jambase wouldn't write an story about it. I get a kick out of weak fans tring to stick up for a band who doesn't care about you. Keep up the good work gum shoes. I will see you at the cub/white sox game in the south part of town. Have a nice day.

shpilkie Wed 6/21/2006 01:08PM
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Panic, before you start calling people dumb check your spelling. There is no need for insults here, we are talking music.
yonder fucking rocks.
Charlie (from chicago...and yes a cubs fan)

Lord-K. starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/21/2006 01:58PM
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panicathome with your 2 posts you sound like the real problem with the scene. Get a clue there are more bad vibes coming from your posts than I have seen in a while on here. Sounds like you are being quite selfish music is meant to bring groups of different people together not furhter segregate us. Get a clue.

TRBLand starstarstarstar Wed 6/21/2006 03:59PM
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"The times they are a changin'" sang Bob Dylan in 1964, just one year before he felt the same animosity that YMSB is catching now. Because Bob plugged in, did that make him no longer a folk hero? Because YMSB plugs in a and chooses to play their blugrass instrumentation a bit faster, louder and more electronic than the traditional bluegrass legends, does that make the not fantastic bluegrass players?

What else would you have them do? Make up ANOTHER new word to tag on the jam band scene's lengthy list of "genres?" My point being, people can always find something to be upset about with a band...something to criticize. That's the American way and our first amendment right, but as we wind on down the road, things must change and grow. Music makes us feel good. If a certain blend of music doesn't make you feel that tick inside, to each his own. Leave that particular breed of tunes to those whose special soul spot it does touch.

I don't feel that Yonder has hurt bluegrass music by blending their progressive and high speed forces within it...if nothing else, they've made it their own for a new generation of people with that ever pleasant bumper sticker on their cars..."My grass is blue."

mateotee starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/21/2006 08:04PM
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I frequently see posts in which the author shares with other readers what music is "meant" to do, and while I'm sure they mean well, it kind of comes off a little preachy. I don't know what music is "meant" to do, or even if it is "meant" to do anything. My guess would be that if music is in fact "meant" to do anything then what it is "meant" to do depends on the intention of the musician(s) making it.
I for one have never been disappointed with YMSB, and perhaps I'm not "meant" to be.

trey311 Thu 6/22/2006 04:45PM
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hey panicathome - music is about experimentation, you may not dig the drums ymsb has put forth on their new stuff, but who cares? i dont, and nearly every post ive read doesn't seem to care that you hate it. you should learn to appreciate every development each band makes, because deep down the music is theirs and im sure they have a grand master plan for incorporating new instrumentation

crescentvale starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/28/2006 10:37AM
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Thanks to all the new fans. Summercamp is gone. Thanks.

EVILFUNK starstarstarstarstar Thu 7/6/2006 06:37PM
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i love these guys. one of the first jambands i really liked to hear doing dead covers.

PCPrabbit Tue 7/11/2006 11:33AM
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what a whiny bitch. people who complain about the scene changing are lame. if you don't like it don't go. it's not like bitching about drums here makes a difference. there are literally hundreds of extremely talented bluegrass bands all over the world who don't use drums at all. so go support them instead of crying because some band you raised onto a pedastel let you down. maybe if you don't like it you should throw beer bottles at them while they're playing (not really).

phunfified starstarstarstar Fri 8/4/2006 02:00PM
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Every time I see these guys my eyes well up for sure; which is a wonder considering how much I'm sweating just dancing my heart out. Last time I caught Yonder was in Santa Cruz --- probation's got me by the short and curlys' PLEASE COME BACK! lOT'S OF LOVE TO YA'LL