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Published: 2013/10/10
by Kayla Clancy

Yonder Mountain String Band’s Fresh Harvest

Photo by Stuart Levine

When did you first pick up the banjo?

I first started playing banjo when I was in college. A friend of mine’s dad had a banjo and he was really into Earl Scruggs, and older bluegrass music, and that’s when I started playing.

Did you have much familiarity with bluegrass before you started playing?

We never really listened to music in my house; we listened to talk radio. I didn’t really get exposed to straight bluegrass until I was in college and I found the radio program and I would listen to it then.

What would your advice be to all the young musicians out there trying to do something like that?

My advice, if you really wanna do it you find time, you make time, to learn your instrument to the length and depth you wanna learn it, and you learn how to sing, and you learn what you love about music and you follow the things that you love and let that be the guiding spirit about what you’re doing. Know that’s what you like about music, pay attention, and notice what you’re noticing, and go with that. We don’t need to everyone to be Bach, and we don’t need everyone to be The Lumineers either. You figure out where you fit in this whole thing and you go with that.

Are there any up and coming bands you have been enjoying?

I like honeyhoney. And they’re not up and coming, but I like Vampire Weekend. Fruition is a good band. Vince Herman’s son has a band called Gypsy Moon. There’s plenty out there. It’s really exciting.

What has been your main source of inspiration for yourself as a musician over the years?

I feel really inspired by the people I get to work with. I feel really inspired by the availability of music and the friendships that I have with musicians and with the fans, stuff like that. It feels really good.*

What is your songwriting process like?

I don’t have any rules about that. I just try to stay paying attention, and try to work on something every day, and an amount of time to do the work. For me, I need to do it every day. I don’t have one thing come first. I’ll do whatever it takes to flush things out if I have to. I try not to have any rules about what needs to come first or the procedure or sequence of things. I just like to try a little bit of everything eventually.

Do you listen to the Grateful Dead much for inspiration?

I love the Grateful Dead. I loved them a lot when I was younger, and I kind of quit listening to them when I started to listen to bluegrass, and then I started to listen to them again and had kind of a more mature understanding of what they were doing. It seems like they’re a band you can go to again and again and get something different from them. They’re a great part of American music, and they might be some of the most American music ever made, on par with bluegrass and bebop, and blues. I really think they’re a tremendous American musical thing that happened. I can’t overstate how important they are for sure.

When you say, ‘what they were doing’, what is it that you think they were doing that people had to gain from them? Was it a mixing of genres, or something more than that?

What people can learn from them is that you can be yourself and play the music you wanna play and you don’t have to be overly self-involved with which category you want to belong to. You can just play the music you like to play. You play the music that speaks to you, and hopefully you can speak through that to other people.

Last question: what are you most looking forward to about this year’s Harvest?

I’m really excited just to be on site and be a part of that vibe. You know it really is such a wonderful time, and I’m really excited to see everybody. There’s a big track, you know, a big loop around the festival grounds, and I like to run laps around it and listen to the bands.

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