Capital Times – Yonder Mountain String Band Feature
Genre-defying bluegrass band Yonder Mountain aren’t black sheep anymore
JOSHUA M. MILLER | Special to the Capital Times Jan 20, 2016
Since Yonder Mountain String Band first formed in 1998, the Colorado-based band has been pushing the definition of bluegrass music, incorporating other genres to create a potent mix.
Even with the departure of founding member Jeff Austin almost two years ago, the band hasn’t stopped their upward momentum. The band regrouped with two new members, Allie Kral and Jake Jolliff, and have used this new chapter and challenge to keep refining and pushing its sonic limits. This past summer they released their first new album with the lineup, “Black Sheep,” and are on a tour that brings them to the Orpheum Theater on Friday night.
“We’re having so much fun playing together,” guitarist Adam Aijala said in a phone interview. “We’ve been playing with Allie and Jake for over a year and a half now. We’re looking forward. That’s all we’ve ever done. There’s no shortage of musical ideas and new songs and set list ideas.”
As the band has played more and more shows together, the members have grown more comfortable together. When it comes to songwriting, Aijala said that the band’s always been very open and democratic where everyone is welcome to bring in ideas.
“Jake and Allie are starting to get their own voice within Yonder Mountain,” Aijala said. “Jake being so proficient on the mandolin and Allie being so dynamic on the fiddle gives us more texture. It makes us more dynamic and makes us able to tackle more genres.”
He added that despite rarely playing with a drummer, Jolliff’s rhythm is “so solid that he can lay down a backbeat similar to a snare drum. Jake is one most proficient mandolin players I’ve heard. He’s up there with the best. He’s really smart and knows music theory inside and out. I think in that regard we can do a lot more than we could before.”
Releasing their first album with the new lineup was a big moment for the band. It was the first album produced entirely by the band members themselves, with Aijala serving as engineer for the first time.
“We did it in the vein that we did our first couple records, meaning little to no effects or outside bluegrass instruments with the exception of reverb,” Aijala said. “The songs are evolved compared to our first couple records but there are some similarities.”
Aijala said the title “Black Sheep” reminded him of the band’s early days.
“If you were a ‘bluegrass band’ there weren’t a whole lot of bands that were all plugged in playing in clubs and getting super loud without a drummer,” he said. “So we were kind of looked at as the black sheep of bluegrass. I don’t think that’s the case now.”
The band already has their sights set on recording a new album during breaks in their tour and hope to get most of it done before summer.
“We have tons of backlogged material, meaning songs we’ve been playing a long time but never officially made it on a record, but we really want to work on new stuff,” he said. “Right now we have a half of an album as far as new stuff. There are tons of ideas on the table. They’re different. We have one that’s kind of funky, one that’s kind of a reggae beat and then we have a folk-y one and a faster bluegrass one. It’s kind of all over the place.”
The band is looking forward to playing their show at the Orpheum Theater. They’ll be playing some shows later on their tour with Wisconsin-based Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, who Aijala is excited to meet.
“Wisconsin has been really good for us. I’m not just saying that. When I think of states out of Colorado that I know love us, Wisconsin is literally the first one that comes to my mind,” he said. “People are always enthused. They always give us really good energy.”