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Downtime with Allie Kral

At home in Missouri, there are a few things that Allie Kral loves to do: bake pies, relax with her husband and, surprisingly, listen to Boyz II Men. As one of the paramount fiddle players of her generation, and one-fifth of Yonder Mountain String Band, Kral admits that her newly rediscovered passion for ‘90s R&B hasn’t impressed her bandmates. “I asked them the other day if we could become a Boyz II Men cover band and they didn’t really go for it,” she laughs.

Following her stint in the band Cornmeal, Kral officially joined Yonder Mountain String Band in 2015, widening their sound and becoming a key player in YMSB’s second life. Itching to get back on stage with her bandmates and dive into songs both old and new, Kral gave us a call over the same weekend as the String & Sol destination event in Mexico. “It’s finally hitting me that I won’t be there,” she laments (Kral stayed in the U.S. for pregnancy-related reasons).

However, the FOMO didn’t last long as Kral gladly discussed her classical roots, her increasing comfort in front of the microphone and how she’s managed to play the same fiddle her entire career.

You’re at home in Missouri. Are you doing any baking? On your Instagram, you’re always baking something.

That’s hilarious. I’m actually looking at half a kitchen destroyed because I’m making banana bread for my neighbor.

That’s great. I’m sure it’ll be delicious.

Aw, thanks. Yeah, banana bread is easy. It’s an easy go-to that’s sure to please.

You joined Yonder in March of 2015 and a lot has changed in that time: multiple records, countless shows, and now motherhood. Does it all kind of feel like a whirlwind for you?

Well, not if you take it day-by-day. But yeah, if you look at it that way it can. It’s been a lot of changes but they’re all really good changes, so it’s hard not to embrace it and just roll with it.

You’re classically trained and you were a bit of a prodigy, starting from the age of five on the violin. Do you ever find yourself warming up with classical pieces or re-purposing any of that training in your work with Yonder?

Yeah. I think that’s really the only way that I know how to practice… Well, I don’t know if that’s the truth. I definitely practice all of our songs and I do that mostly by ear, just by listening. Whatever we’re learning, if it’s really difficult, I have to write it out and read it like I would when I was in my classical days. And once I do that, it kind of sticks in my head for good. So that makes it nice and easy for me.

When I’m practicing at home, I really love playing my unaccompanied Bach and some Fritz Kreisler, old Etude books and a lot of double stop exercises—that really seems to help with the bluegrass. But to be quite honest, I don’t practice 95% of the time. I’m playing so much and I love, love, love keeping it real on stage and kind of raw. Not to say I’m a lazy musician, but I kind of am. [Laughs.] I’m the person that spent most of her life in her craft and is now like, “Okay, cool, have fun with it!”

So I do my homework when I need to do it, but during the day, when I’m at home here in Missouri, I’m not inclined to pick it up as much. I’m way more inclined to bake or decorate the house.

You just talked about doing your homework. In another one of your Instagram pictures you were charting out a song called “Frankenstein.” Is that the Edgar Winter song?

It is! We picked a few cover tunes to learn for Halloween this year and we had a monsters theme. That was one of the songs that we kind of went back and forth on, whether we were gonna do it or not, because it was really hard. Not so difficult once you got into the nitty-gritty of it, but it was just a lot of work. And so we just decided, “You know what? The tune kicks ass so we’re gonna keep doing it. Let’s learn it.” And we did. We learned it really, really quickly because I think all of us were kind of putting it off.

I think the first time I played it, I probably had those notes on stage with me. And eventually, after a couple of times, I was able to get it in my head and now I don’t need the notes anymore.

I actually wanted to ask you about covers. When it comes to pitching ideas for covers or new arrangements, how does that usually work? Are there any ideas that were like, “Oh! Maybe we could play this song!” but it was almost too crazy and it never made it to the stage?

Sure, yeah. I think those are more my ideas [Laughs]. Where it’s like, “Oh my gosh, how cool would it be if we all learned different harmonies to “Because” [by The Beatles] and then sang it a cappella at Red Rocks?” They’re like, “Yeah Allie, that would be great…Uhm, I don’t know.”

It’s tough to do the cover thing because you’ve gotta make sure you’re doing a cover that no other jamband in your scene is doing. It’s not fair to take somebody else’s cover because the covers are really—I look at them as being a one-hit type thing. And you don’t want to put too many in your set.

The problem with Jacob [Jolliff] and I joining is we haven’t had much writing input. We’re trying; Jacob’s definitely writing his own instrumentals, and I’ve been really slow to the punch on writing tunes. I’ve got some ideas and I’m gonna send them over to Adam [Aijala], Dave [Johnston] and Ben [Kaufmann] and see what they think.

Anyways, the problem is that any time we came up with doing a song, it’s a cover tune. And then we end up having too many cover tunes or all the songs that I sing are cover tunes. And you don’t wanna do them too often because then the fans get sick of them. And I don’t want that. You want them to be exciting and fun to listen to and the crowd be like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe they’re doing that tune!”

I think it’s really cool how bands like Phish will save the covers for the encore of the evening. And the longer we’re a band with Jacob and I in it, the more we’re able to do mostly Yonder sets with just a couple of cover tunes scattered in there. So that makes me feel kind of happy and proud about that.

You mentioned that you are writing some songs. Are those instrumentals or are you gonna be singing on those? Because on the last couple of records, you’ve been using your voice more and more.

Yeah, that’s kind of a new thing for me. And I’m really, really coming out of my shell with it. I was really nervous about singing when I was in my 20’s. And now I’m just kind of going balls to the walls and really having fun with it. It’s become one of my favorite things to do on stage now. I really, really love the moments when I get to belt it out. And the guys love giving me that moment, they’re totally behind it.

So the tunes that I have in my head that I’m working on, I definitely do want to have a singing part in them. I don’t need to sing lead on it. Maybe the tune is meant to be a duet or maybe it’s meant to be for someone else singing it. I haven’t really written very many instrumentals and whenever I do they turn out to be cheesy fiddle tunes and I’m like, “Nah, I don’t wanna share this with anybody.”

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