After Yonder Mountain String Band‘s exhaustive weekend as the host band of the Northwest String Summit we thought we would give guitarist Adam Aijala a few days to gather his thoughts before chatting with him about his perspective on the crowd-pleasing affair–It’s only fair to let the man catch his breath having just finished three headlining sets that featured a parade of guest stars and an entire album recreation of Pink Floyd’s Meddle. As fans continue to rave about the weekend’s wide-ranging setlists and picture-perfect weather, we took the time hear from the mellow man on the six-string himself:
Live For Live Music: How long does it take you to recover from a “Host Band” gig like the Northwest String Summit?
Adam Aijala: I didn’t really party that much so I was pretty much fine. I just had too much to do! Every night after a show is when I would normally get into some trouble, but I had stuff to do the next morning so I thought “yeah…probably better not. That kept me from feeling too bad afterwards.”
L4LM: How involved is Yonder in the planning phases of the “Strummit?”
AA: Well, we don’t actually own the festival so not that much at all really. We’ve been asked for ideas in the past, and they are totally open to ideas from us if we have a band we really want to have there, but we don’t pick the bands. Our main involvement is playing a whole lot of music all weekend long.
L4LM: I suppose that fact removes the temptation for you to hold a spot at NWSS over your friends and their bands’ heads all year long…
AA: No…but that isn’t a bad idea. You’re helping…
L4LM: Let’s do a little post-game look at the Northwest String Summit while we have this time. Yonder pulled out all the stops during the fest, including a particularly awesome adaptation of Pink Floyd’s Meddle (1971). After last year’s excellent take on Floyd’s Animals was this just you all really wanting to do some more Floyd?
AA: We threw around some other, y’know, not Pink Floyd ideas but it came back to, for me at least, the fact that I have always loved Meddle. I mean sure, we would like to have gone all out and done The Wall…but that is a LOT of material. I think there’s what, twenty songs on there? Considering this is all for a fun, one off show that just seemed like too much work.
I know a lot of jam bands do the “Cover An Album” thing, but The Wall is something beyond that. If we were gonna do a whole tour or something, sure…but we really just wanted to do something as a treat for us and the Kinfolk. So we needed to pick something that we could learn and that we all really loved. Well…not so much Jake (Joliff). He didn’t really grow up listening to rock and roll. It’s not like he didn’t like the album either, he just didn’t grow up listening to it like the rest of us.
It’s a weird album from Floyd. It was the one of the last albums where everyone was contributing songs instead of adding parts to something from the singular song writers vision. The albums became more cohesive when Roger Waters took the reins. Songs on Meddle like “One Of These Days” and “A Pillow Of Wind” which follows it on the album…you can’t get much more different than that stylistically. Even tunes like “Days” and “Echoes” don’t really sound similar at all.
Watch video of Yonder Mountain String Band’s 7/14/17 rendition of “One Of These Days” from Northwest String Summit below courtesy of Rex Thomson:
The lyrics on Meddle aren’t as political as they would later get either. I probably didn’t hear the album all the way through until college, though I probably had heard “One Of These Days” sometime before then. When I first heard Floyd it wasn’t that long after The Wall that I discovered them. My friends and I were learning, and some of the older kids and even older siblings steered us towards the rest of the stuff. My sister, who is two years older than me, turned out to be great for turning me onto music. These days you just go to iTunes or Spotify. But back in the day it was hard unless you had somebody to help point the way.
L4LM: Those services have changed the musical landscape forever. The real issue to my mind is the sensory overload that can accompany having a limitless set of choices.
AA: Exactly. You get in there and it can totally overwhelm you. I’ve talked to people on both sides of the fence regarding the value of these kinds of services. Some folks like it but some folks can’t figure a good way to digest it all.
Sometimes I play a game with it. When I get up in the morning I take the first band I think of and I play one of their songs and then just let the algorithms take me on a journey from there. Or a genre. But it is a fun way to discover new stuff. There are pros and cons to it I guess, but for me it is just a fun tool.
L4LM: You just released your new album, Love. Ain’t Love, and it is out there on these services. Do you trust these formulas to help spread your music?
AA: There are a lot of bands of a similar size as ours around the world. If you just listen to the radio and don’t really seek out music like ours, you won’t ever hear of us. I go play golf in Boulder and sometimes someone will ask me what I do and they will have never heard of me. So I think everything helps.
Unless you have a friend who digs us you can easily just never know our music. There are a few other roads too, of course. Live For Live Music is good for that, for helping bands get heard. It lets people know if you like bands like Phish or the Dead you might find us through that. I mean, you might not just have us pop up in Spotify or Pandora…but maybe you might! You never know.
L4LM: When we recently spoke with Ben Kaufmann, he talked about how much you had all enjoyed the recent studio experience and that you were leading the way back. Are you planning on doing a fast follow up to Love. Ain’t Love?
AA: Yeah, as far as songs that are done done, as in ready to perform live…there is maybe one almost there. There is a lot of stuff in the works. Dave (Johnston) actually started three songs a while ago now. We are gonna be getting together a bit off and on to start pulling those together. I like to get everyone’s input as well. I’m sure Ben touched on that when he talked to you.
Dave is amazing with lyrics and vocals. I write a lot of scratch vocals instead of the “La La LAAA” stuff. I like to say something, even if it isn’t anywhere near what the vocals will eventually be. Dave is really good at pulling things out of those though. The words will be about what the music evokes, or maybe what I was feeling when I wrote it and he finds ideas and brings them out.
L4LM: We are all just happy to hear you are looking to embrace a far more regular release schedule.
AA: Absolutely. I don’t think you have to worry about us in that regard any more. We have a lot of ideas floating around and a lot of positive energy to put behind them.
Watch Yonder perform “Take A Chance On Me” from their latest disc, Love. Ain’t Love from 7/15/17 at Northwest String Summit below, via Rex Thomson:
L4LM: Though much of the scene you’re in is based around exploratory jamming, you still need to have fresh material to launch from. It’s interesting to watch improvisational bands tighten down the screws and make a recorded and semi-definitive version of their tunes.
AA: I can think of bands that I prefer their live shows…and I suppose to some people we fall into that category. But I’m with you, I like to see what bands come out of the studio with. I love the quality you can get…the time you can spend on making it. The whole point of it is that you can do different things in the studio. And yeah…maybe sometimes you end up creating something you can’t recreate or you need to re-interpret onstage. But I think that’s okay.
L4LM: At the Northwest String Summit you had your usual wonderful problem of having so many of your friends want to join you. The charge included some of your oldest collaborators, Danny Barnes and Darol Anger. That has to feel pretty comfortable.
AA: Oh yeah, definitely. Danny is in the area so he is usually at Strummit, and Darol, yeah, over the years Darol is easily the most worked-with. We haven’t been seeing him as much though…not since Allie (Kral) joined the band. They’re similar in that they can both play with pretty much anybody…honestly that is [Allie’s] strong suit. She can roar into any situation…Darol is like that too.
You had plenty of time with both Darol and Danny on Sunday at Strummit. I asked Allie if she was into it and she said “Hell Yeah!” I was just making sure we weren’t stepping on toes and she was just wanting to get down.
Watch Danny Barnes and Darol Anger make themselves at home during this thirty minute jam from the Northwest String Summit on 7/16/17:
L4LM: It’s safe to assume no one was against Danny Barnes sitting in…and even if they were, what could they do? The guy is eight feet tall!
AA: Danny is just the best musician, and so under rated. I talked to some folks about it recently…and there were a couple theories floating around. One of them sounded right to me. It’s that Danny only does what he wants to do musically, what he truly believes in. You’ve got his bluegrass stuff, his solo acoustic stuff…all those experimental solo records…the Bad Livers…all that stuff he does is my sweet spot.
It was funny watching his set in the tent and seeing mellow hippies come in and then leave. Not to mention the people who were trying to mosh. Some folks who just watch for thirty seconds and leave. I am constantly impressed by the songs that he writes and the music he makes. He just sent me a clip of him doing some of his newest material and I was blown away. Then I saw him on the Strummit schedule I knew I couldn’t miss that.
It’s just him playing electric guitar in different tunings with finger picks and regular guitar picks…playing, like, metal. Instrumental and with lyrics, just him and this drummer Max Brody, who played with Ministry for like six years. Brody is a sick drummer, he was great. The people that were getting into it were really getting into it. It was funny to see at the Northwest String Summit.
L4LM: You brought Asher Fulero and Jay Elliot back from last year’s Pink Floyd success to go for two in a row. Are they your go-to back up Yonder Floyd henchmen now?
AA: They could be. Asher is another one of those incredibly good musicians like Barnes. A quick study, a good hang…great guy. Hay is an old buddy. When Yonder first started playing I met him. He was playing with a band called Runaway Truck Ramp. He’s also a sick drummer. We reconnected when he started working at the Boulder Theater.
We started playing together when we could. He played at that Dylan & The Dead set I played at The Mishawaka back in 2009. After that we decided we should play together more. When we decided to do those punk and metal covers a couple years back he was out there with us.
Watch Yonder get spacey during this cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”
L4LM: Some of your onstage guests were a little bit grabby, at least when it came to Ben Kaufmann’s bass. Did someone put a bounty on him or something?
AA: Well…we had Ethan (Kaufmann‘s brother) come up and do the swap-out thing with Ben, but they love that. Unless you mean when Anders (Beck, of Greensky Bluegrass) jumped in on the bass. But that is all Ben’s fault. He told Anders to do that. We’re not a pure bluegrass band, obviously, but that music is at our core. And Ben has no problem admitting that his job in this type of music can be pretty boring. So when he and Anders were trading back and forth I think he really enjoyed it. That is why you bring out guests after all…to shake things up.
L4LM: Well please don’t let me keep you from writing more new music! Thanks for giving us a bit of insight into the Strummit.
AA: No problem! Hope to see everybody soon.