Yonder Mountain String Band will be stopping through Florida for a short four show stint in support of their latest EP “YMSB EP ’13”. Over the years Yonder has established themselves as one of the foremost acts in modern bluegrass music today.
Their witty style of old-school story telling mixed with the reality of a life lived on the road, make them the real deal when it comes to excellent bluegrass. I recently got the chance to talk with Yonder Mountain’s banjo player Dave Johnston about a slight change to Yonder’s roster this tour, EP ’13 and Johnny Sampson.
P. Sunkel: Hey Dave, so how are you doing today?
D. Johnston: I’m doing good, I’m sitting here right now playing with my daughter.
P. Sunkel: Awesome man, I talk it you guys got a little time off after the NYE run but we’ll talk about that a little later on. Right now, I’m down here in warm and sunny Florida and I know we’re all really excited to catch your guys show. Could you tell me a bit more about Yonder Mountain’s upcoming tour with The Travelin’ McCourys?
D. Johnston: Well, Jeff is just starting a family, him and his wife just had a baby girl. So he needs to be home to help his family grow, he needs to be there. He can’t really tour and try to be at home. So The McCourys are really good friends of ours and we had to kind of brainstorm who could cover Jeff’s spot. Since we’re not a very lucrative album selling band, we make most of our money touring and traveling, we really couldn’t bag the whole tour either. We put our feelers out to those guys, Jason Carter and Ronnie McCoury decided that they would step up and help us. We’re all really excited because it’s a unique once-in-a-lifetime event for the fans of Yonder Mountain. It’s all under the thought process though wanting to wish Jeff well in this new part in his life and we’re all just going to get together to make a really effective show and make it a good time for everybody.
P. Sunkel: I mean I couldn’t even imagine a better sit-ins than Jason carter and Ronnie McCoury, well other than Sam Bush of course hahaha.
D. Johnston: Hahaha Right? Well, we agree. You know we’re really excited to have those guys with us. We’re fans of theirs and their fans of ours. It’s going to be a very unique thing for our fans and we’re interested to see how everyone feels about it. We just want to let everyone know that this is all done in good faith and we just want to have a good time.
P. Sunkel: I think its gonna be a really good time. Plus I think that everyone will understand Jeff needing a little time off the road to take care of his new baby girl. So you guys also got a little time off after your New Year’s run, right?
D. Johnston: Yeah, we’ve got about two and a half weeks off or so before we hit the road again.
P. Sunkel: Man, you guys are always on the road. I actually wanted to talk a little about your NYE run and could you tell me about the Planet Bluegrass benefit show that went down on Dec. 30th?
D. Johnston: I think this is our third year doing our run in Boulder, those shows are always like our hometown shows anyway. With Planet Bluegrass we really wanted to help them out and do a 100% charitable show. Planet Bluegrass is just a great venue and the people there are really good friends of ours, so we decided to put on this show for them. So we actually added a night and ended up doing four shows on the run. That night ended up going really well and it sold out pretty fast. Everyone was really behind the benefit and helping those guys out and the town of Lyons.
P. Sunkel: Just so our readers know real quick, the town of Lyons, CO suffered devastating flooding back in September, which lead to terrible damage on the Planet Bluegrass Ranch. Now, I kind of want to move the interview back to a sunnier topic, could you tell me about your guys festival Strings and Sol which went down last month in December?
D. Johnston: Well Strings and Sol was awesome. Even though it happens in Mexico, I think that the idea of that event really comes from Boulder, Cloud 9 Adventures and really, our friend Annabelle. The idea was kind of brought to us that it might be a good plan to have a a fall/ early winter get away to come see Yonder in an all-inclusive environment. You know you spend X amount of money and you get to hang out with the band, enjoy the sunshine, we did have a little rain but it wasn’t anything that was really all that bothersome. It’s awesome man, it’s a great party. We actually get to take a big part in the musical decisions of who plays, so really we get to have all of our friends there. It’s a very exciting thing for us to be a part of.
P. Sunkel: Definitely, and it’s certainly a departure from your guys other festivals like Northwest String Summit and Harvest Fest. Let’s talk a little about your guys latest EP. Could you tell me a little about YMSB EP ’13?
D. Johnston: We kind of came to this idea that since our lives have a changed a bit and everyone has families now, that our down-time to sit and write records pretty much disappeared. So we figured the only way to do it now, would be to write smaller chunks of music without going overboard as perfectionists in the studio. So we decided that everyone would just pick one of their own songs and we would all try to figure out how to put it together. We were really just trying to capture a snapshot of what we’re sounding like, writing like and how we’re putting our music together now, but at the same time trying to keep it from sounding too overly produced. We basically just blocked off some chunks of time on some of our trips and we were able to get those four songs on the EP recorded. We didn’t put alot of stress on the idea that it needed to be perfect, we just wanted it to sound like ourselves. Making this EP was a really great experience and it showed us that once you break down what you want to do into manageable tasks, you can be just as effective as if you have large amounts of time to think about the big picture.
P. Sunkel: Do you think that this EP is the next step towards another full-length release?
D. Johnston: Honestly, I don’t really know the answer to that. It’s either a step toward more EP’s or a step toward the direction of a full record. Speaking just for myself, I think a full record is totally in order. One of the big things with the EP was the realization that we could record quality, really good sounding stuff in the midst of being on the road as opposed to making it a separate occasion.
P. Sunkel: Each song on the EP seems to deal a lot with different points of perspectives. Could you tell me a little bit about the perspective of the song you wrote, “Don’t Worry Happy Birthday”?
D. Johnston: I was actually just talking about this song with a buddy of mine and he actually asked the same question. It was weird, I had never really thought about it until he said something. I try to be as intuitive as I can about my lyrics or writing songs but as he and I talked more about it, I realized that the perspective is told from the point of view of being away or being gone, not just from the present day, but being gone from things that have happened in the past. The idea or the perspective that I guess I was trying to get out of it was, does the speaker in the song really suffer any consequences for being gone or feeling any guilt for not being there.
P. Sunkel: Wow, that’s pretty deep man. I think thats a great concept that anyone whose ever been on the road or away from loved ones can relate to. I wanted to also ask you about the artwork for the EP and your personal connection with the incredibly talented, Johnny Sampson. Could tell me a little about that?
D. Johnston: Well Sampson’s a really good friend of the band. His dad actually loaned him a banjo and he brought it down to Champagne, when I was living down there, and so it was because of him that I started playing the banjo. There’s definitely a really powerful and fortuitous, at least for me, aspect to our relationship that I think is really awesome and one-in-a-million. He’s done alot of artwork for the band and just been very impressive how he does work for us. We really enjoy what he throws down.
P. Sunkel: He really does put out some incredible work…
D. Johnston: You know I lived with him for a long time, he’s a great fine artist, an excellent illustrator, the way he incorporates pop culture into his work, he’s the total real down. I feel that being around him, getting to know him and him just bringing a banjo down which ended up being something that can never being overstated.
P. Sunkel: Yeah man, if he had never brought that banjo down, who knows? Now I want to talk a little bit about some of the music you listen to. I was reading a past interview you where you were asked who your listening and you responded “Good Old War”, I was actually pretty surprised by that…
D. Johnston: Man, well that band is awesome. I don’t even know what they’re doing anymore but I really do think they’re a great band. No one I know talks about them haha. I think that what they’ve got going on is really cool. Theres a handful of bands that I think no one would really expect me to like. For example Vampire Weekend is phenomenally good. They’re a great band. I mean of course I also love Milk Carton Kids and stuff like that. It’s all just good to me.
For more information on Yonder Mountain String Band, please visit www.yondermountain.com.
YMSB WINTER TOUR DATES
12/27 – 12/31 – Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater
12/30 – Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater – Colorado Floods Benefit Concert
1/22 – Lexington, KY – Buster’s*
1/23 – Covington, KY – Madison Theater*
1/24 – Nashville, TN – Marathon Music Works*
1/25 – Atlanta, GA – The Tabernacle*
1/29 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall*
1/30 – Jacksonville, FL – Freebird Live*
1/31 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Revolution*
2/1 – St. Petersburg, FL – Jannus Live*
2/5 – Charleston, SC – Music Farm*
2/6 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel*
2/7 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel*
2/8 – Knoxville, TN – Tennessee Theatre
2/11 – Charlottesville, VA – Jefferson Theater*
2/13 – Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue
2/14 – Columbus, OH – LC Pavilion
2/15 – Madison, WI – Orpheum Theater
2/16 – Urbana, IL – Canopy Club*
* w/ The Travelin’ McCourys