Dayton City Paper: Yonder Mountain String Band

Yonder Mountain String Band
“It’s like showing zippers to the Amish”

Bringing bluegrass music to a whole different playing field, the Yonder Mountain String Band is known for their lively performances where fans rock out to their spirited jams.   With roots planted firmly in the classics of the genre, the group has fearlessly moved forward, continuing to explore and experiment with their music.

“It has a fast aggressive edge to it,” says Jeff Austin, who plays mandolin for YMSB.  “It had had a few drinks that day; it has been up too late the night before.”

With four first-rate singers, who all play string instruments, this Colorado-based group is uniquely outfitted.  In addition to Austin’s mandolin, YMSB includes Ben Kaufmann on bass, Dave Johnson on banjo, and Adam Aijala on guitar

Austin noted, “We listen well; we’re very reactionary in our playing.  For example, Adam’s doing something, and Ben starts to do a rhythmic bit.  I’ll hear it once and then jump on it for a couple of phrases to accent that chord, and then jump off it so that it doesn’t become repetitive.” Jeff remarks, “You have to be conscious of what’s happening around you.”  This awareness is showcased on their new album which is the fourth in a series of live recordings.  Just released earlier this month, Mountain Tracks: Volume 4 also includes a bonus DVD from their European Tour.

As progressive bands such as YMSB are capturing the ear of new audiences, there has been an unfortunate split between the progressives and the purists of bluegrass, according to the band.  “I am deeply devoted to bluegrass, but there are times when I don’t think bluegrass likes us,” said Austin.  “We’re different; we try different things.  And unfortunately, people will say that bluegrass is traditional music.  And as soon as you put the word ‘traditional’ on there, it’s like showing zippers to the Amish.”

Although they don’t fit into the stereotypical mold of a bluegrass band, their lively and rhythm driven shows continuously win over new audiences.  “After every festival, there will be at least a couple of people who come up to us, and they’ll be in their 50s and 60s and they’ll go, ‘Ya know, I watched you guys and I haven’t seen energy come out of a band since I saw J.B. Crow and the Bla Bla Blas or whoever.’ That’s what keeps you pumping.”

These old-timers are beginning to catch on to what has enchanted followers YMSB and other “newgrass” groups who are pumping energy back into the genre.  Moreover, YMSB reeled in many who are new to world of bluegrass, continue with an exciting and experimental new studio album to be released on May.

On going into the studio for the new album, the group left all inhibitions at the door.  Although they have been known for their raw acoustic sound, they welcomed experimentation and used this opportunity to explore their interests in other genres.  “We were allowed to not only let those influences come in but to execute them by using drums on a track, by using electric guitar on a track, by using feedback, distortion, and textural washes of sound,” said Austin.

Taking the framework of their years of playing together along with their new explorations, the new album will be another step in the evolution of YMSB. “It’s the most ‘us’ sounding record we’ve ever made,” commented Austin.  Their only requirement when they were playing around in the studio was that they had to be able to reproduce the sounds onstage.

With plans for a radio single as well as thoughts about a music video, this new album will be opening the doors to a whole new audience.  “We didn’t exactly tailor to that, but when we hit on something, we thought, well, this sounds like something that people could really catch onto.”

The Yonder Mountain String Band will perform at Newport Music Hall in Columbus on Friday and Saturday, February 24-25.

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