For almost twenty years, Yonder Mountain String Band has been forming one of the most dedicated fan bases around the old fashioned way: tourin’ lots, takin’ shots, pickin’ fast, and playin’ grass. From playing together in bars in the mountain towns of Colorado to headlining their own music festival, Yonder Mountain String Band has established themselves as one of the premiere progressive bluegrass ensembles around. The video for their single “Alison” opens with a stunning aerial view of Bridal Veil Falls, tucked away in the San Juan Mountains surrounding Telluride, and it pairs perfectly with the melodies of a bluegrass ballad. While “Alison” is more of a traditional bluegrass ballad, the band is also known for their inventive and improvisational style, incorporating elements of funk and rock to freshen up their sound. Ben Kaufmann, bassist for Yonder Mountain String Band, took a few moments out of his day to answer some questions on topics ranging from musical influences to the app 8Stem.
JB – Thanks for finding time in your busy schedule to answer a few questions! Let’s jump right into it, how did you five come to find each other and start makin’ music?
BK – Adam, Dave and I met in Nederland Colorado at a bar called The Verve that had a bluegrass jam every week. We knew of Allie from the jam-band scene but only got to know her personally about 4 years ago. We have a much better idea why she’s everyone’s favorite female rock and roll violinist now. A former manager of ours strongly advised us to get to know Jacob. We flew him to Denver to work on our album Black Sheep and his talent was powerfully evident. That’s the short version, anyway.
JB – Y’alls debut album ‘Elevation’ came out almost two decades ago and y’all are still some of the hardest working musicians around. How do y’all help keep the creativity flowing?
BK – Everyone has their own process for writing and staying creative. Personally, my ideas come when I’m quiet, open and not distracted by everyday noise. A lot of times, I’ll have inspiration in that space between wakefulness and sleep. The trick is forcing myself to get up and write those ideas down.
JB – Y’alls latest album, ‘Love. Ain’t Love.’ was critically acclaimed and loved by both casual and hardcore fans. Tell me a little about the influences that inspired and the process of making ‘Love. Ain’t Love.’.
BK – It has a lot of different influences in it. The current political landscape, parenthood, angels, demons, Bluegrass, funky stuff, punk stuff. As always we benefit from having multiple songwriters in the band and from working with an extraordinary producer/engineer.
JB – ‘Alison’, one of the singles from ‘Love. Ain’t Love’, was recently released on the interactive music platform 8Stem. How can fans have fun listening to ‘Alison’ with 8Stem?
BK – Firstly, download the 8stem app on your device of choice. Then spend a little while experimenting with the features. It’s a very powerful creative tool. You can go as deep as you want with it but it’s a fantastic way to interact with your favorite music and artists. It puts you in control of the instruments and sounds. Before you know it, you’ve got a bluegrass song that’s been remixed as dub-step or trance. Even just dropping a drum beat over a banjo roll can be really fun.
JB – From the early days at Nedfest to making your debut at WinterWonderGrass Steamboat later on this year, Yonder Mountain is known for their strong festival sets. What are a few of y’alls fond festival memories?
BK – My personal highlights have been Telluride Bluegrass, the Northwest String Summit, Strings & Sol, FujiRock. The old Harvest Music Fest in Arkansas was a great time for a lot of people too.
JB – ‘Progressive Bluegrass’, as y’all are sometimes classified, can be a tricky thing to try to explain to folks. Care to give it a shot?
BK – Essentially, it means writing and performing music with modern, perhaps non-rural influences, on traditionally bluegrass instruments (banjo, mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar, upright bass, dobro). But there’s a lot of wiggle room. Sometimes I think the only requirement is that you’re able to hear a banjo in the mix somewhere at some point.
JB – What can we expect from Yonder Mountain String Band in the near future?
BK – We keep touring as heavily as we always have. And we’re working on music for our next record. Other than that, Allie’s fixing to have a baby and the rest of us aren’t.
Yonder Mountain String Band usually heads south for their winter tours, and this year is no different. With two dates in South Carolina, fans can catch Yonder Mountain String band at Music Farm Columbia January 18th and Music Farm Charleston January 20th. For more information on those shows you can visit yondermountain.com or check out the Facebook page for Music Farm.