Yonder Mountain at the Peak
First Posted: 7/29/2013
Yonder Mountain String Band has played Penn’s Peak before, but it’s never the same show twice.
The progressive bluegrass act makes sure of it, and when they return on Friday, Aug. 2, guitarist Adam Aijala promises material that’s different even from the night before. He chatted with the Weekender about his early influences, the evolution of their bluegrass sound, and why the band loves coming back to Jim Thorpe.
THE WEEKENDER: Have your early punk and rock influences played a role in Yonder Mountain String Band at all?
ADAM AIJALA: Totally. It didn’t at first, I don’t think, or maybe it did. I guess it like permeates whatever your abilities are, whatever your influences are when you’re playing, but it didn’t sound more recognizable or even more conscious to me until around when we did that self-titled record and we realized that hey, we all come from rock influences, and really, moreover, not bluegrass – all four of us. None of us grew up with it. With the help of Tom Rothrock, who produced that record, he kind of gave us the mentality that hey, we can do whatever we want musically. We don’t feel pigeonholed. Granted, our name says “String Band” on the end – that was our own doing – but we can basically get away with whatever kind of music we want.
I still think we’re bluegrass. I just think we’re a branch on the bluegrass tree. I don’t think that we’re anywhere near traditional, but people who don’t listen to bluegrass think that we’re bluegrass. They think Mumford & Sons is bluegrass.
W: So what made you decide on bluegrass initially?
AA: Well that’s kind of how we met. Basically, we were all playing bluegrass in some capacity at that point, and so that was the medium. It wasn’t like we grew up together and we went through all these different phases of musical influence and what we were into.
I met (banjo player) Dave (Johnston) and (mandolin player) Jeff (Austin) first, and they were having this pick, and so I think it was on Wednesday night in Nederland where we lived in Colorado, I went down and started playing with those guys, and it was always bluegrass. There was never going to be anything else really.
W: What are you guys working on currently?
AA: We have an EP that’s done that we just finished. It’s just four songs. We did “The Show” in ’09; ’08 I think we recorded it. I know, that’s so lame, but it’s been a long time. There’s been kids in between and one of the guys moved to California. Ben lives in California now, so it’s a lot harder to make the time to record an album, so we did this on the road, this EP. This process – it’s never easy, but it was the easiest for me. We basically just said, “Hey, let’s each pick an original that we sing.” There’s four songs, and we each wrote one of them.
To me, the whole point of doing a record is doing what you can’t do on stage, so we’ve kind of come to this, “Well, let’s make the rhythm really solid. Let’s make our solos solid and make the vocals solid.” We want to add effects, we want to do this and that, we want to add drums or anything – things that we can’t do on stage.
We’re a live band. We’re known as a live band, so to kind of do stuff outside that, that’s the whole point for us to do a record.
W: What do you guys have planned for this upcoming show at Penn’s Peak?
AA: I was looking at the schedule and I believe it’s the only indoor show of this run, and not a bad one to boot. I love playing up there; we all love playing up there. We’ve been going there for years now. We’ll look at what we played last year when we get there, and we’ll make the set list based off of that. We’ll play stuff that we didn’t play last time we were there.
That place is awesome. The crowd is always killer. I know our sound guy says it’s a hard room to mix because there’s so much glass in the back of the room and those really tall ceilings – he does a hell of a job, I think. He’s a perfectionist, though. But we always have a blast. It’s a fun place.
The people who work there are great. It’s just a fun venue. In the green room, they have one of those little basketball things that you see in the arcade where you shoot the hoops. That’s pretty fun. We always try to see who gets the highest score.