A Chat with Yonder Mountain String Band

Interview by: Matthew McGuire | Images by: Dave Weiland (taken at The Fillmore in San Francisco in April 2012)

YMSB by Dave Weiland
Fourteen years, ten albums, international tours, countless sold-out events, and the Yonder Mountain String Band is just getting warmed up. They started as four friends playing music together in Nederland, Colorado. This summer the four-piece is hitting the road and performing at over a dozen different music festivals coast to coast.

The entire band talked with us about their upcoming plans for a new album, their massive summer tour, various inspirations, and future projects with the group. We go in detail with Jeff Austin, vocalist and mandolin player for the group, on one of his favorites places to eat in St. Louis, and plans for the next record. Dave Johnston, banjoist and vocalist, discussed how they travel across the nation for their shows. Guitarist Adam Aijala and bassist Ben Kaufmann collectively describe life on the road, television and technology in music.

During this past spring tour the band performed with Brown Bird for a string of shows, and we asked Yonder Mountain about this up-and-coming act.

JamBase: Brown Bird opened a few shows up for you this past tour. Do you see yourself playing with them again soon?

Adam Aijala by Dave Weiland
Dave: Yeah, I would like to work with Brown Bird again. They have a lot of good things going on. It was great to hang out with them, too. I found some new bands that they are into, some gypsy bands they enjoy. I ended up Spotifying one of the bands, and found some new music to enjoy myself. I like it when I get to hang with someone who has tastes that are concurrent with my own.

Adam: We know we are going to see them at the Harvest Music Festival. They are playing there with us this year. I would like to play more with them. They make a good fit. They sing really well together.

Ben: I like the acoustic instruments they use, too. I find it interesting how there has been times when acoustic and bluegrass music has had an insurgence or an injection into society as a whole. I think we are seeing that now, although quietly. I’m thinking Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, and now Brown Bird is an extension of what I am talking about.

Jeff: You probably just named them, Delfest is a big one. The Harvest Music Fest is growing, and the Northwest String Summit sold out last year. You never know what’s going to pop up in our world.

Dave: I’m really looking forward to all the events this summer, and the warmer weather.

How would you describe working with different drummers?

Ben Kaufmann by Dave Weiland
Jeff: We’ve worked a long time with a lot of drummers from Futureman – Roy Wooten with the Flecktones – to Jon Fishman with Phish. Studio time with Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello) is amazing though. Pete was able to teach me how to add to a song. He also helped me learn touch, tone and timing.

Ben: There are so many different styles of drumming, and with the specific bluegrass beat we play it can be tricky to bring a drummer into our music. I always enjoy working with the beats that have nothing to do with the bluegrass beat – rock ‘n’roll beats.

Adam: I remember when Ben walked off stage at New Year’s one time when we played with Futureman. He mentioned how nice it is having someone else holding down the rhythm.

When you create new material Adam, do you think about how the rhythm will play into the song overall?

Adam: I don’t think about the instrumentation as much when I first come up with an idea. It’s more when the song is near completion or completed when I start to think about that kind of stuff. There is also no template for every song. It might be two things that were created some time apart that work together. Ben and I have a song that we have been writing for 30 years, and that will get done one of these days.

Ben: No, it won’t [laughs].

Adam: There are some songs [where] the same day you start it you finish it. Then there are some songs, like the one I am talking about with Ben, that take a little more time. I bet it was 9-10 years ago when we started work on that song. Hopefully it will be done by the end of this year.

”Belle Parker” is one of the songs from the latest record The Show. Is this character a merger between fact and fiction?

Jeff: It is a compilation between fact and fiction. There is imagery from a setting in New Orleans that Benny Galloway helped me create during the recording process.

Is there anything in particular that you like to eat or drink in St. Louis?

Jeff Austin by Dave Weiland
Jeff: My favorite thing in St. Louis is the Thai food around The Pageant. I am completely addicted to the roast duck noodle soup from the Thai Country Cafe.

How does the band travel during a nationwide tour? Is it by bus, plane or both?

Dave: We travel mostly in a tour bus. We fly here and there though [occasionally].

At one point in time Lost was one of your favorite TV shows. Are you still a fan?

Ben: I have a new favorite show and it’s called Game of Thrones. Adam and I read the books about 10 years ago, and have been waiting for this show to come out for awhile. If I’m reading anything in my off-time, my preference is books similar to the Game of Thrones or something by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Is the television show for Game of Thrones close to the original books?

Adam: I couldn’t ask for something better, pretty much. I mean even the characters look exactly like I pictured them. They did a really good job with the casting. I think it’s an awesome show and they are doing an awesome job.

After touring in Europe and other locations abroad is there any spot on the globe that the Yonder Mountain String Band has not performed at yet that you would like to tour?

Jeff: Australia and New Zealand would be great. Just go down there for a few weeks and play one or two big festivals. It would also be fun to play a little bar in the bush and get to know people. It would be nice for to play down in Mexico on a beach somewhere to give our fans a different experience [which became a reality yesterday with this announcement].

Ben: If we are going to travel and do some really cool festivals, I would love to get back to Japan. I think Fuji Rock is a special festival.

Adam: I want to go to Australia. If the right opportunities come up we will have to think about those events as they come.

The North West String Summit is coming up this August. Can you describe the vibe at the event? Is it a younger audience or a mixed crowd?

Dave Johnston by Dave Weiland
Dave: It’s a good time of year to be up there. I think it strikes a good balance between it being a youth oriented festival and a place for families too.

Do you have any musicians that you would like to play music with right now?

Jeff: David Byrne is one of the big ones. Jack White. I’d love to play music with him. He is such a skillful guitar player, but god, he plays with no holds barred and with the amp up as loud as it goes. Those two guys, as well as John Prine and Emmylou Harris on another side of music.

What brand of in-ear monitors do you currently use?

Adam: Sensaphonics, and they are awesome. I’m psyched to have something new to work with this summer.

Ben: There has recently been a technology advance with in-ear monitor technology. Companies are now releasing three-dimensional in-ear monitors. The problem has been that in-ear monitors messes with your ability to perceive sound around your head, [and] there are now 3D Active Ambient microphones in this new in-ear monitor technology.

How do you think technology has helped the production during your live shows?

Adam: In addition to the speakers, the digital boards that we use have the ability to use effects that you would use in a studio. You can now have all these effects in a live setting.

Ben: With these new boards, [like the boards at The Pageant], these consoles can store and save your mix. You can start a show with the mix you had at the end of your last set.

Tom Rothrock produced the The Show. Will he be producing the upcoming album?

Jeff: We are in the process of talking with producers right now. I believe that we have setup where we are going to record the next album. We are a live band, and if we put out a quality studio record that is just kind of a bonus. I’m looking forward to getting into the studio later this year and early next year.

Hit the road this summer with the Yonder Mountain String Band as they travel across the country to over a dozen different music festivals. Check out their website for more details.

Yonder Mountain String Band Tour Dates :: Yonder Mountain String Band News

JamBase | Look Yonder!
Go See Live Music!