They travel America in a large diesel van filled with drums, amps, an upright bass, fiddle, guitars and banjos. They have crafted a show that connects rock and traditional Appalachian music in a very organic way. Fine song writing pulls these players to the front of the pack, and their bold arrangements risk the outer boundaries of frenzy and calm. In a word, dynamic, they are known as The Mammals.
Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar first played together at an impromptu rum-drinking bash at Tao's house in October of 2000. By the spring of 2001, after trying out some bad band names, (The Co-Ed Naked Stringband, The G-String Pickers) they settled on the name, The Mammals, inspired by a passage from "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner. The band has evolved since its birth in the spring of 2001, picking up new sounds, styles, and band members along the way.
Their first CD “Born Live” (Humble Abode Music) is a rough-hewn collection of their early live concert recordings and gives the impression of a self-made boot-leg. They were a quartet at this time, with Alicia Jo Rabins on fiddle. Teaming up months later with producer/engineer, Max Feldman, The Mammals, now a trio, entered the home-recording studio to create a more polished but equally energetic gem, “Evolver” (Humble Abode Music.) This ear-catching CD has sparse but fiery string-band tunes, catchy original folksongs, and a few classic covers. While touring behind "Evolver" in 2002 and 2003, The Mammals began performing with Ken Maiuri on drums, and Pierce Woodward on bass, developing new 5-piece arrangements on the road. In January 2004, the Mammals’ put together another live concert EP called “Migration” (Humble Abode Music) and in April released the quintet studio recording, “Rock That Babe” (Signature Sounds). This CD features the much requested Cuban song "Chan Chan," and the scathing political sing-along "The Bush Boys," as well as traditional banjo-centric favorites and more contemporary-sounding original songs. On New Year's Eve 2004, Chris Merenda joined The Mammals, replacing Ken on drums, and about a year later, when bassist Pierce Woodward left, he was replaced first by Dan Rose, and then Jacob Silver.
"Departure," their second recording for the Signature Sounds label is their most recent release, hitting the street in February 2006. While the instrumentation is similar to that of their last CD, there is no traditional music on this album. There aren’t really any foot-stompers. And the politics, while still present in many of the songs, are more subtle, lurking powerfully below the surface. While you can still catch the band’s folky roots showing through in parts, the new album features noticeably more rock moments.
“Music is music. People think that The Mammals have pushed and broadened the boundaries of folk music. I think we've barely even started. There are no boundaries. There are only conventions.”
It’s that wild-eyed attitude that has characterized the band from the beginning, and continues to attract new audiences today. Wielding the combined power of Appalachain fiddle-banjo alchemy, their own contemporary lyric poetry, and a dynamic rock-n-roll rhythm section, The Mammals look to the future with warm-blooded enthusiasm.