Something Higher: An Interview With Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman
Words by: Sam Berenson
Home is where the heart is, and after a long tenure all over Boulder County, Colorado and all points in between over the last 30 years, Vince Herman now calls Oregon home and seems to be as lighthearted and pleased as ever. Leftover Salmon will mark their 30th anniversary next year, and will release their latest studio album, Something Higher, in just a few short weeks (May 4). To say that Vince is excited about LoS’s recent studio success and newly solidified band would be an extreme understatement.
Leftover Salmon had a busy start to 2018, recently trekking to Alaska for three shows, playing a run with Keller Williams in the Pacific Northwest, and now they prepare for a massive Summer Tour in support of their recent studio effort. Beginning with an intimate album release party at eTown Hall in Boulder on May 4 ahead of a pairing with Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band at Red Rocks in Morrison on May 5, LoS will hit both coasts in the upcoming summer months.
Catching Herman is no easy task, being the modern age renaissance man that he is. I was lucky enough to catch Vince last week and talked to him about all things Leftover Salmon, getting to play with Phil Lesh, making music with your children and plenty more.
JAMBASE: Where are you currently as we’re speaking, Vince?
VINCE HERMAN: I’m walking through the airport in Medford, Oregon, looking for my car. [laughs] My wife left it here, I met her in Seattle, and we drove a rental car back down. And … now I’m trying to find ours.
JAMBASE: You just played a four-night run of shows with Keller Williams in the Pacific Northwest. How’d they go?
VH: Way fun man, way fun. That guy is so creative – willing at every turn to be creative, funny and innovative. He’s an inspiration to run with, I gotta say. Keller’s a kickass time. On top of that, it was a really solid West Coast run for us. A lot of people came out every night with really good energy, so it shaped out to be a really nice run.
JAMBASE: How are you enjoying the Pacific Northwest? Colorado was home for many years.
VH: Yeah [long pause] – it’s definitely different out here. I miss that big crew of people that I developed great friendships with over the years. That’s for sure. You know, there’s a good crew out here though too, with lots of good players, and good things we’re getting into out here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a cool place.
JAMBASE: Leftover Salmon’s latest album, Something Higher, will be released May 4th. What sets this album aside from previous Leftover Salmon studio projects?
VH: It’s definitely more collaboratively written. I think we’re really getting into some new territory stylistic-wise, and texture and feel-wise. Eric Deutsch brings a lot of new things to the palette of Leftover Salmon, in terms of tones and feeling. Eric really brings a lot to the table.
I think we’re really gellin’ as a band. We’ve been with this particular six-piece version of the band for two years now, and it’s really feeling like a band more and more these days.
JAMBASE: Steve Berlin [Los Lobos] has become a fixture in Leftover Salmon’s recording process. Tell me about the magic Steve brings to the studio?
VH: Steve has really great ears and is extremely organized. He can set us on the right path of getting done what we need to get done in the time allotted. He’s really good at keeping you comfortable in the studio, making you stay focused on completing goals, and he’s also really good at giving arrangement ideas.
He’ll say things like, “Change this part. You need a different chord here or a different chord there.” I think as a band we really respect his input because he always has really brilliant ideas. It’s just a pleasure and honor to work with him.
JAMBASE: Life on the tour bus gets tiring. Quickly approaching Leftover Salmon’s 30th anniversary, I’m curious as to how you guys keep things so fresh?
VH: As I said, this six-piece has been together for two years and we’re just really getting to know each other musically. Alwyn Robinson on drums brings great new energy and jive to it, as well as Greg Garrison. That rhythm section keeps churning and is really heads-up playing. They’re an awesome jazz band, the three of them (Deutsch, Garrison, and Robinson) as Sockeye. Man, those guys’ vocabularies are so intense and big. It definitely brings a lot of new energy to Drew [Emmitt] and I.
And then Andy (Thorn), of course, is the most positive expression of music you can ever run into on the planet. His playing is great, he’s a fun guy to hang with – we’re just really happy where the band is right now and when you all get along and feel good with each other, the music is going to reflect that. I feel really lucky to be where we are right now.
JAMBASE: After a long tour ends, what is the first thing you do after you arrive home and pull into your driveway?
VH: My first sign of home is getting my car at the airport [laughs]. As soon as I get in the driveway, I tell my bigass labrador, to “get down Biggs, get down.” You know he’s still getting down when I get home.
JAMBASE: Your son Silas [Herman] has been popping up on stage with Salmon more and more these days. What role has music played in the relationship between you and your children?
VH: Oh man. One of the most beautiful things in the world is getting to make music with your kids. To be able to be creative and be in that space – it’s a standalone space. All of the problems and things you’re dealing with in the world, all that stuff just melts away and you get to be in that space together. It’s one of my favorite ways of having family time, that’s for sure. It’s just great to all focus on the same thing and be right there with each other.
It’s really cool to get to do that, but there’s also a major price that’s been paid over the years because I am a musician and on the road so much, that I’ve missed a lot of time with them as kids. That’s a drag, but the bonus is that you get to make music together.
JAMBASE: In 2016 Leftover Salmon played a Ramble at Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads, joined by the legendary Grateful Dead bassist. In May you guys once again will team up with Phil, this time with his son Grahame [Lesh] and compadres in the Terrapin Family Band at Red Rocks. Where did this vibrant friendship begin?
VH: I guess at Terrapin Crossroads. My first time playing with him now that I think about it though was with Railroad Earth in 2005. I got to sit-in with them and Phil and it was a really spectacular time. My relationship with Phil began many years before Phil’s relationship began with me.
JAMBASE: You must have some good Grateful Dead stories for us then?
VH: Absolutely man. I had some wonderful times at Grateful Dead shows. Hitchhiking up to Cornell and up to Buffalo with my college roommates. My first show was in 1979 in Pittsburgh at the Stanley Theater. So many great experiences both before, during, and after the shows. [laughs]
JAMBASE: What music are you listening to in your free time these days?
VH: Right now I’m really digging this Laurie Lewis album The Hazel and Alice Sessions where she does a bunch of tunes of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Hazel Dickens was a West Virginia icon in the music world – old-timey bluegrass music and a very powerful woman. She was a great pioneer woman in the music field. Laurie Lewis’s album as a tribute to them is so good.
I’ve been digging Sturgill Simpson, Mandolin Orange – there’s just a lot of really great music out there now.
JAMBASE: The Infamous Stringdusters recently took home a Grammy, Greensky Bluegrass is selling out venues nationwide, and newcomers like Billy Strings are quickly settling into the bluegrass scene. Is bluegrass music in good hands?
VH: Absolutely. That doesn’t mean that bluegrass music is going to stay just like it is today though. That’s not what staying in good hands means. I think more broadly, acoustic music is in very good hands and the Americana genre will continue to have a very deep well to draw from. Bluegrass is, of course, a part of that.
Who knows if there will be many new traditional bluegrass bands that come along and gain popularity? The Stringdusters are about as traditional of a band that’s had that kind of success with both the younger crowd and the jam band crowd. I’m really, really proud of them and excited. I truly wish them the best as they step into this role of Grammy winners. It really lifts our whole seat, I gotta say. I’m very happy for them.
JAMBASE: In August Leftover Salmon released a single, “House of Cards,” the week after a horrific terrorist attack during the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia How has music helped you through these politically clamorous times?
VH: I think music needs to do more to help us through these clamorous times and help to reestablish love – that is a powerful weapon of change. There is no music industry anymore though to respond to it. Without the major labels, and where the whole distribution thing’s at with streaming and the internet, it’s harder for music to play a role in the politics of our time. And I think that’s probably designed by the powers that be – to let these issues have less of a voice in our culture.
I hate to be on the edge of conspiracy sounding shit, but the last thing the powers that be want are an educated people, and people that are inspired and active and setting out to change the injustices of the world. The people in power don’t really wanna promote that sort of thing. That’s certainly what’s happening in our country with Betsy Devos as the Secretary of Education bent on destroying the Education Department. She said it herself. Then there’s the head of the EPA bent on destroying the role of the EPA.
Our institutions are devouring themselves before our very eyes, and we as a culture don’t seem to be able to get offended enough to change it. I hope that music can maybe wake us from our slumber sometime soon because we sure as hell need it.
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