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The Road to String Summit: A Conversation with Fruition’s Jay Cobb Anderson

Photo by Melissa Steinberg

After Fruition’s rain-soaked set at Del Fest, I had a chance to talk with their guitarist Jay Cobb Anderson. It was a free flowing conversation. I asked who would win a “Devil Goes Down to Georgia” style fiddle-off between Allie Kral and Bridget Law; I was sworn to secrecy but I can confirm that the winner’s last name does have an “a” in it. A spontaneous performance of “Meet Me At the Mountain” proved once and for all why I should only write about music. As we continued to hide out from the rain, some insights did come out about playing in bad weather, their history with the String Summit, lyrical analysis, the meanings in a band name, and some stories about what it’s like to be an upcoming band in the 21st century.

Seeing you play with Allie last night was surreal. It felt like it should be in the northwest. How could I be in Maryland?

Jay: That happens to us all the time. How am I so far away from everything I know in a lot of ways, but also it’s all so familiar. All of our friends are ramblers. When everyone’s moving around, you meet up wherever you can. That’s one of the most beautiful things about playing music.

The first time I saw you guys was back at the String Summit in 2012. I had never heard of you and like 18,000 [actually like 100] people swarmed the mainstage.

Jay: We used to do a lot of stuff. The way we got into that festival was basically our fans. We used to go to festivals and just play in the campgrounds. Then we started playing a lot more in Portland. We started having people asking, “Why aren’t you playing at the String Summit?” “I don’t know?”

So we started entering the band competition which we got denied twice. We had to pay $50 each time – non-refundable – and we didn’t even get a chance to compete in the band competition. I remember telling the band, “Don’t worry about it. We’re just going to skip all this. We’re going to play the mainstage. Everything’s going to be fine!”

It kind of happened like that. We brought generators. Our buddy Marc Cregeu brought generators. Set them up. Played a show. Got shut down by Bob [Horning] like two songs in. But there were hundreds of hippies up in the hill and up in the trees loving it. So from that point, Peacock – a good buddy of ours, works String Summit – he talked to Bob about getting a late night stage. So the next year we played that and the next year after that we played the mainstage! And after that, the next year we played the late night stage and the mainstage and got to judge the band competition, which was hilarious. We went from being denied twice to judging.

They asked me, “Do you want to judge the band competition?” and I said, “Absolutely! I decide who lives and dies!” [laughter]

But randomly I found the program from that first year and you were listed as Fruition String Band. Was that an intentional move away from that?

Jay: We moved away from that. When we recorded with Nat Keefe with Hot Buttered Rum which was, I think, 2010 where we did our first LP. He produced the album. And he said, “You guys never know what’s going to happen. If I was you, I would drop the ‘String Band.’” Hot Buttered Rum did the same thing later.

It’s not just the name. You’re starting to add electric guitars and keyboards and drums. Did that just happen naturally?

Jay: That happened pretty naturally. But the String Band thing, we cut it out when we did the album with Nat and that was still a year before we got drums or electrified. He was just saying, “You should stay away from that name.” The progression into the music that we’re doing now is that we just really want to embrace all of it, all of the elements that we have now. Kellen [Asebroek]’s been playing keys a lot. He got so good on the keys in just a year and a half.

Since we have drums and Kellen’s progressed on the keys. It got to the point where stuff was changing. Mimi [Naja] always played guitar forever. She’s been more influenced by things like the Alabama Shakes lately. So she was wanting to move more in that direction. All of us just wanted to move in a new direction.

You’re like the brand new classic rock band

Jay: It’s funny but that’s kind of how we view it. We feel like we’re doing stuff like all of our old idols did. We’re figuring out rock and roll. I think the thing that separates us from a lot of bands, even bands like the Alabama Shakes, is that we don’t stick to any genre.

That’s the tricky part with us. We have three songwriters and don’t stick to any genre. Kellen’s got a new song “There She Was” that’s funky disco-y, but then it goes into a jammy part, and then it goes into a heavy rock part. We don’t even care. We just want to make something cool that we like, and hopefully other people will like too.

Here’s a random thing that fascinates me about what it’s like to be a touring band. Do you drive yourself or do you have a driver?

Jay: We drive ourselves.

Who’s the best driver?

Jay: Me.

Would everyone else say that?

Jay: Yep [laughter]

Hey Kellen [doing an interview across the room], is he the best driver?

Kellen: I think he has the most background and forward thinking skills. He comes from a racing family. They’re all aggressive yet defensive drivers.

Jay: My dad, all my uncles, my grandpa, they’re all racecar drivers. I got some motor oil running through my veins.

Kellen: In the city he gets a little aggro… He’s never put us in harm’s way. It may not be the most comfortable ride…

Jay: So there you go. I’m obviously the best driver [laughter]. Actually when we first started touring it was in Kellen’s Ford Explorer and he drove most of the time. And then when we got a van, I bought the van and I was leery of anyone else driving it. The first tour and a half I drove the whole time. Then it got to the point where I was just… “No. You guys are driving. Someone else is driving. I am tired.”

One thing I’m wondering about with a band of your size, is simply how do you make money these days?

Jay: We make our money off our shows. These days I think most bands do. There’s two main things you get your cash from. And there’s two more things that you can get some cash from. Shows, that’s how we get our personal pay. We split up that mostly for us. We have a percentage that goes to our band fund, a percentage that goes to management and booking agency. There’s a cut. We cut them all in for every show. Where we really get the money to fund the band is from merch. All of our CD sales. We don’t split up any of that. We just put it back into the machine.

Is it better to buy from you guys at a show or from iTunes?

Jay: It’s better to buy from a show. The other reason why is that iTunes takes a cut. That’s OK because we offset that with our pricing.

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