Rumpke Mountain Boys
Our latest New Groove is Rumpke Mountain Boys, chosen via our Jambands 250 poll. Here is what the Cincinnati-based quartet has to say about their ‘Infamous Trashgrass’...
Can you talk about the development of the group? How did you meet and how did the current line-up solidify?
Jason Wolf : We started out like most string bands, trying to learn many varieties of music, traditional, bluegrass, folk, blues and gospel. We had a completely different line-up back then. As the band members changed and grew so did our musical tastes and influences as well as our ideals on performing live. So we made the transition from traditional bluegrass festivals to smokey bars and more diverse venues and music festivals. The current line-up began when Ben Gourley answered our add for a mandolin player in the local music newspaper. He had just started playing the mandolin but had been singing for some time. I heard him sing and he was in, we knew his pickin’ would catch up to his vocals. Guitarist, Adam Copeland, soon followed. He was playing in a three piece band in Dayton, Ohio. We had played a couple of shows with his band and liked what we heard. When we heard his band had split, coincidentally at the same time we had lost our guitar player, we got a hold of him and really felt like we were moving in the right direction. Soon after the addition of Adam we lost our bass player and Travis Gates stepped in. Travis, who had been a long time RMB fan and pretty much new our entire repertoire, brought a lot of experience and musical knowledge to the group and the revolving door that was "the Rumpke Mountain Boys" was finally closed.
In terms of your musical backgrounds and interests, what does each of you bring to bear?
RMB : We are one of the most eclectic group that you’ll find. Each of us seem to have a vast list of songs that we know, musicians we love, and shows we have seen. The one thing we have in common is that none of us were raised listening to or playing bluegrass. Only one of us even comes from a musical family. We’re all into songwriters like Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, and John Hartford, but we each came down a long musical road that includes blues, rap, metal, hardcore/punk, classic rock, jazz, and folk. We enjoy the freedom and open mindedness that the Grateful Dead and Phish brought to the jamband scene. You can cross every genre of music in one set and the audience gets it.
On your website you describe your music as ‘Infamous trashgrass.’ Can you elaborate?
Jason : When people ask what kind of music we play and we say "bluegrass" they think of a more traditional style. Then they come out to a show expecting to hear a lot of old time songs and get a 30 minute Dark Star/Tom Waits medley. We don’t want to misrepresent ourselves. We could say "Jamgrass" but Trashgrass has a nice ring to it. Trashgrass comes from our name. Seeing how a lot of grass bands name themselves after a local landmark be it a mountain, river, canyon, etc. and the only mountain in Cincinnati being a giant pile of trash built by the waste and recycling company it only made sense to go with it and become Rumpke Mountain Boys. We added the infamous after getting introduced as "the infamous Rumpke Mountain Boys" at a Halloween show in Athens. Infamous means more than famous right?
You play regular a Tuesday gig in Cincinnati, How did that come about and can you talk a bit about it from a musical and community perspective?
Travis Gates : Stanleys Tuesdays started with a side project of mine, Houshmandzadeh. The members were each in other working bands so they couldnt make it every week. When the club owner wanted a more steady week to week operation, we (RMB) saw it as an opportunity to play a low key friends and family show, and a good venue for a single condenser mic, traditional bluegrass style performance. These shows give our loyal Cincinnati fan base a good opportunity to catch a show with a more personal one on one feel, rather than our psychedelic jammed-out group mind and body experience we usually deliver on the road. *How would you describe the vitality and support of your local music scene? *
Travis : First of all, 89.7FM WNKU, greater Cincinnatis premier NPR and independent music station stops at nothing to play, publicize and pimp us and other local compatriots. This music communitys wheels couldnt turn without their support. Cincinnati has a tendency to treat national bands great and local bandsnot so much. We feel lucky to be respected by our town on a level more typical of the national acts. It seems the very eclectic influences, which made ourselves somewhat musical outcasts in our youth, are what endear us to our fans. Basically, Cincinnati loves musical diversity, and treats us well because we deliver it. Sure, we could make more money as a cover band play mostly requests. But, our people seem to get a kick out of us refusing to play Man of Constant Sorrow and Rocky Top. In Fact, Wolf just wrote a song about that. However, we constantly have to explain to the traditional bluegrass community that WE ARE NOT A BLUEGRASS BAND. We just play one on TV.
Who writes the band’s music? How it is typically presented to the group and how does it then come together?
Ben Gourley : We all contribute to our original repertoire, it seems to come in bursts of creativity, where one or two of us will write a new song and inspire someone else to write one. We usually start with a basic progression and any fundamental melody lines and bring it to the next show, usually Tuesday night. After a quick run through of the basic parts and changes, quickly start playing to the crowd before anyone in the band can object. Everyone adds their own flourishes and we all trust each other to add the best part for their instrument. After two or three shows we generally have it pretty solid and decide if it will stay in the rotation.
How do you approach original songs in the live setting?
Ben: Nervously at first. Once we settle into our parts though, I am amazed at the textures and changes that emerge from our originals when performed in the right setting.
What about covers, can you talk about what songs you toss in from time to time? Who selects them?
Adam Copeland : We have hours worth of originals to play but can’t help but nod to our influences every chance we get. We were all fans before we were musicians and that hasn’t changed. Some of the more traditional bluegrass bands do nothing but covers, so we don’t feel as guilty for straying from originals.
Ben: We stopped counting covers that we know a couple years ago. We had reached over seven hundred. It grows almost exponentially it seems at times. Long story short. We know a lot of songs and rotate them fairly regularly. As far as how we pick them, I think it is just a matter of a song hitting one of us the right way one day. *In terms of cover tunes can you talk about any spectacular successes and failures? *
Ben: Our best covers seem to appear by chance and on a whim. The first time we do a song is often the best version upon revisitation. We seem to have success borrowing from the Grateful Dead, John Hartford, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, among others. As far as failures go, sometimes we play a song to fill a request that doesnt really do it for us. Or, a song might seem like a good idea but never really gets to the point where we are satisfied with it, so we drop it.
How often do you rehearse? What do you focus on when you get together for rehearsal?
Adam: In the four years I’ve been with the band we’ve "rehearsed" a total of one time. Wasn’t much focus involved…in fact, I think I was cross-eyed by the end of it. The closest thing to a rehearsal we have is when we pick after hours in kitchens or by camp fires. That is when we throw out new songs that some of us don’t know yet. Thankfully, we’re all quick learners.
Can you talk about some of your performance highlights thus far. Is there a gig (or gigs) that stand out? Why?
RMB: Its hard to narrow it down. We have been lucky enough to share the bill with Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, Ralph Stanley, Bela Fleck, Old Crowe Medicine Show, Vince Herman, and Larry Keel. Weve also been given some great festival opportunities including a set at Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival that lasted from 3am to 9am. We had to stop because yoga was scheduled on that stage.
Halloween in Athens was cool, too. We had a good set in front a huge enthusiastic crowd. Athens is so laid back we ran well over on time and when the police came to stop us they still let us have a couple more songs. Another one we have to put high on the list, was successfully hosting our own festival, Snugglefest. By successfully, I mean we only lost a few hundred dollars. This year we joined forces with Shamy Bash and have a really good weekend of music scheduled. *You just put your first studio disc. Can you talk about the experience and also the challenges of bringing your live energy into the studio for the debut? *
RMB : We had no expectation of re-creating the live experience in studio. We all had our own opinions about studio versus live recording. It was an amazing privilege to work with Erwin Musper, veteran engineer for such acts as Van Halen, Def Leppard, and Scorpions. It was a great experience for all involved, most of us had very little studio experience and he had never worked with our style of music before. Erwin conquered every challenge associated with translating our live sound to a studio album without us having to lift a finger, and furthermore, did it faithfully to our vision of the music. We hope to have the honor and thrill to work with him again in the future. Also, studio time isnt cheap, and were blessed by a publicly anonymous patron who put up the money for us to make the album out of pure desire to help us and our families have a shot at a better future. Family Perspective could not have been made without their unending support. *Any final thoughts to folks across the country who may be hearing about you for the first time from this piece? *
RMB : We pride ourselves on our live shows. We have a nice run of festivals this summer and are planning to travel extensively in the fall. So if you havent had the chance, come check us out. And if you have seen us in the past come again. We are constantly adding new material and never play a song the exact way twice. We have a nice schedule link available on our website rumpkemountainboys.org. Be good to each other, watch out for your brothers and sisters, and enjoy the good life.