Yonder Mountain String Band is an iconic Colorado bluegrass band, leading fans on a string-filled musical journey for nearly two decades. With over a dozen albums under their belt, the band kicked off the 44th Telluride Bluegrass Festival last week, making it an especially magical one, as it became a four-day celebration and album release party for their new album Love. Ain’t Love.
Elevation Outdoors Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with one of the founding members and banjo player, Dave Johnston, to talk about the album.
Elevation Outdoors: Love. Ain’t Love. is Yonder Mountain String Band’s fourteenth album (including officially released live and studio recordings). I’m sure listeners will agree that it carries with it your roots while bringing a continually progressive bluegrass tone. How do you feel the band has changed or progressed from 10 or 20 years ago, to Black Sheep, and now with Love. Ain’t Love.?
Yonder Mountain String Band: Ten years ago, we were writing albums about situations and times or events; mostly characters in the midst of an event. Black Sheep and this new album, Love. Ain’t Love., are more about environment – things you’re subjected to. On Your Dime is sort of an anti-media song and Chasing My Tail is sort of an anti-political song. There’s lots of other directions those songs go, but those are threads and themes that inform them; and the Love. Ain’t Love. album cover is a daisy representing a change in relationships, which is something we’ve always been writing about. They’re all kind of mixed up together, of course we never plan anything out. We’re not outliners. Those are the impetuses to write, anyway. Lenard Cohen would call it “the crises that provoke creativity.”
EO: Love. Ain’t Love. also brings something new to the table for a YMSB studio recorded album. It brings listeners into the recording session with you in a sense, with some of the raw in-studio conversations remaining on the final tracks. Why did the band take this route on the final cuts?
YMSB: Yeah, you hear people counting, voices, people talking. We didn’t set out to create that, but when listening, you think: well, wait a minute, you’ve got a little bit here that kind of informs this song and what’s happening, so it fits. It makes a space between the listener and the band smaller which is what our culture is quickly becoming.
EO: YMSB has a very distinct sound with each unit of the band prominently featured at different points in each of your albums and during live shows. What has Love. Ain’t Love. provided you as a musician to grow your art?
YMSB: For me, writing something is what I want to do. I’ll always let that be the guiding light. I’m not sure where it’s going though (laughter). I think it was novelist E.L. Doctorow who said “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night: You don’t know really where you’re going, but you have an idea at the end of where you’re arriving.” You really only see a few hundred feet in front of you, and that’s good enough to get you where you need to go, and I think about it those terms these days.
EO: Listeners hear something different, yet uniquely Yonder in every album. Is it intentional or more organic?
YMSB: Music is endlessly interesting to me. We like to dig in and do something different. It’s definitely organic, I mean, the only intent really is we have to go make a record. Everything else is kind of, I don’t know, you live your life with the idea that you’re going to be writing songs, lyrics, or melodies and you find time to do that. Same with other concepts like trials and tribulations. You worry about whether it’s good or bad, that never goes away, but it’s a good feeling; it’s what makes you want to do better, open your ears more, your mind more.
EO: This album has a lot of instrumental pieces (Fall Outta Line, Eat in Go Deaf (Eat Out Go Broke), Kobe the Dog, Up for Brinkley’s) that kind of presents an energetic segue into the next track. What made you go that route?
YMSB: Ya, there were none in Black Sheep and there are four instrumental tracks on this new album. It was stuff that’s there and we thought, let’s record it. Does it fit? As a band you’re always asking is it effective? And does it make me feel a certain way? And it worked.
EO: So for listeners out there – from the die-hard YMSB fans to the new-to-bluegrass audience – what’s your perspective on Love. Ain’t Love.?
YMSB: The album is great. I love it and we [the band] are really pleased with it. It’s an evolution from Black Sheep. It’s different and as [I/the band] work more with Allie and Jake, the more you find ways of collaborating, so our sound is evolving. But it’s also not radically different. It’s jammy, we play long sets, jump off a lot of cliffs, and the new album does that too – probably more than any other album we’ve done.
Yonder Mountain String Band’s latest album, Love. Ain’t Love. was released on June 23, 2017. To celebrate your summer right, get a copy via Google Play, iTunes, or their website at: yondermountain.com.