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Downtime with Allie Kral

I know you couldn’t make Strings & Sol, which you’re obviously bummed out about. Are you excited to jump back on tour for the rest of winter?

I couldn’t go to Strings & Sol because they’re still really worried about the Zika virus for pregnant women down there. I had my first doctor’s appointment and I asked her about it and she said, “Not worth the risk.” And I thought, “Hmm, we’ll see. I don’t know if I trust you.” [Laughs.] So I got some more opinions and it came down to the decision that it wasn’t worth the risk for my baby.

I just had my mid-pregnancy checkup and ultrasound and the baby is healthy and I’m healthy, so I am definitely playing all of winter tour. And I’m hoping to feel good and play all of spring tour as well. I’ll have to kind of take it week by week. Every week is different from the next. There’s a chance that I might miss some shows towards the end of the pregnancy but that isn’t my intention, that’s for sure.

So you’ll be back on stage by the end of December?

Oh yeah. And it’s just so comfy, especially when we’re on the tour bus and we’re traveling. We just take extra time to make sure that we’re staying healthy and eating healthy. It makes for a good routine. As long as I’m getting enough sleep I’m good.

Since the release of the new record, Love. Ain’t Love, are there any songs that are feeling particularly good and gelling on stage?

Yeah, it’s really fun to see people sing along to these songs because they aren’t too old yet. They’re still pretty new. “Alison” and “Bad Taste” are two that were hits right from the start. I think people relate to them and really like to sing along. And then there’s a couple of jammers in there that we haven’t played, we haven’t brought out as often. So then when you hear them, they’re even more excited. It’s going well—playing the new tunes—and it feels good to have a bunch of new Yonder originals in our repertoire.

I wanted to ask you a little bit about your gear. What kind of fiddle do you play? Is it a custom or is it vintage?

It was made in ‘94 by a man named Manfred Reinl in Illinois. I rented all my violins from him from the time that I was five on up. And when it came time to buy a violin, I really wanted one from him. And so he had me try a bunch out. I would go home for a couple of weeks at a time with two or three of his fiddles, picked the ones that I liked the best and I ended up with this one. This is a special violin to me. It’s the only violin I’ve used throughout my classical career and then throughout bluegrass as well. I love that it’s a little bit bigger-bodied, so some people think it’s closer to a 3/4 sized viola. For a newer violin it sounds really deep, it’s got really beautiful tones and it sounds great plugged in or acoustic, and I love it so much. He would go to Germany every three years and collect wood samples, so the wood is over a-hundred-years-old from Germany. He was a third-generation violin maker and sadly he passed a few years back. But I’m really proud to have his fiddle.

Was he based in Chicago, or in the suburbs?

No, he was way out. I might be wrong about the suburb he was in, but he was I’d say at least an hour west of Chicago. He was a good hour drive from my house in St. Charles, IL. And that’s all I remember.

I didn’t realize you’ve been playing the same fiddle your whole career. That’s got some miles on it.

Yeah, it sure does. It’s got some miles. And there’s times when I’m like, “Hey, should I have another violin? I think it would be nice to at least just have a backup.” I found myself at WinterWonderGrass last year and before I got there I started thinking about having my Manfred Reinl violin in the cold—violins don’t wanna be in the freezing cold. They don’t want to be in the sweltering heat, either. You’ve really gotta take care of them. And since it’s my only violin, I actually started a search in the middle of the month-long tour for just a cheap, throwaway violin. A “throwaway” or “campfire” violin where you don’t get too attached to it and you don’t really care if you get too drunk around it.

I was in Grass Valley, California and was looking at fiddles at this little music shop, and I didn’t really like any of them that were relatively cheap. And this guy in the shop was like, “You looking at fiddles?” and I was like, “Yeah.” and he was like, “I’ve got my son’s fiddle in the backseat of my car and I want to trade it in. I’m willing to let it go for 100-150 bucks.” And I was like “Okay, this could be the start of a horror movie or this could be the best story ever.” [Laughs.] I’m like “Let’s check it out!”

He opens up his trunk and it’s so great. It’s one of those old-school mobster machine gun fiddle cases that you picture from the ‘20s. I’ve always wanted one of those cases and he pulled it out and it was a decent fiddle. It sounded great. I played it in the parking lot and he was like, “Wow! This fiddle hasn’t sounded like this ever!” and I bought it from him.

I know a lot of string musicians in particular name their instrument. I was curious if you named your fiddle or your backup?

Yeah, I never did, but I think I would just have to call him Manfred, especially now that Manfred’s passed on and I loved him. I loved his demeanor. I still remember the tunes that he liked, that he’d play the most. He loved when I played the Bach Minuet, and he was a sweet man. And so, yeah, I would probably call him Manfred. I don’t ever really refer him or her, I don’t really know if it’s a he or she. I was never really the type of person to name my cars or anything.

We’re coming to the end of the year. What music are you listening to these days?

Literally I’ve been on a Boyz II Men kick. I know this might totally not what you’re expecting but it’s kind of like a revisited love from when I was in, I think, 7th grade. Early 90’s, and early mid-90’s—I was just in love with Boyz II Men.

I just started listening to them again for the first time in years and I can’t stop! I can’t stop listening to them! I’m also a crazy Christmas carol-aholic. I’m that person who as soon as it’s after Thanksgiving, I’ve got the Christmas carol station on in my car all day long.

It’s interesting you brought up Boyz II Men, because that draws back to that cover idea you had at Red Rocks with the acapella harmonies. Boyz II Men—those harmonies are on point.

They’re unbelievable! They’re so good. Harmony singing is something that’s really fun to do. The longer the Yonder boys and myself are singing together, the more we’re able to really smooth out our vocals and realize, “Okay, when I’m singing in this dynamic with Jake and Adam, then I should back away a little bit more. When I’m singing a duet with Ben, I could totally belt it out. When I’m singing this with Dave, I could do this.”

It’s really fun to learn what your vocal limits are and to also learn what makes the cohesive group sound the best. You can’t just sing three-part harmonies and sing as loud as you possibly can like you’re at church or something. You can’t just sing like you’re a soloist; you gotta sing for the group.

Last question. I recently spoke with Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. In addition to all the amazing music that they play, they also take their son on the road with them. When you have your little one, is it going to be a Yonder baby and go on the road with you guys?

It’ll definitely be a Yonder baby. It just kind of depends on the shows. I think that being on a month-long tour, it would be really hard to be away from a baby. So as long as I’m breastfeeding and the baby is a certain age, I’ll have to be bringing the baby with me. And the band is totally stoked for it. I think I would try and find an RV, or something like that, to have a little privacy so that I’m not having a crying baby on a tour bus when everybody wants to go to sleep for the show.

And there’s definite festivals that I see my baby growing up at: Strings & Sol or String Summit or Telluride, Summer Camp, all of those festivals that are so much fun. I would definitely want my baby with me and growing up there and feeling comfy there and having lifelong friends.

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