Now celebrating their 25th anniversary, Leftover Salmon has been experiencing quite the revival in recent years. Adding Bill Payne of Little Feat to their lineup, Salmon keeps on bringing the good time vibes wherever they go. With a lengthy fall tour coming up that includes a stop at the Phases of the Moon Festival (find tickets and more info here) and a return to Portland, OR for New Years Eve, expect big things for the remainder of Salmon’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Our own Rex Thomson sat down with founding member Drew Emmitt to talk about…
L4LM: First off, congratulations on 25 years of Leftover Salmon! How does that achievement feel?
Drew Emmitt: Thanks! It feels like a long time! It feels like a lot has happened, but it feels good ’cause right now the band is the best it’s ever been.
L4LM: I have to say I agree. I’ve seen this new line up a couple of times, and it’s pretty impressive how well you all fit together.
DE: Well, it’s really gelled for us too. Bill [Payne, newest member of Salmon and former member of the legendary Little Feat] is definitely part of the band now, and it feels like it. We definitely feel like we are a complete unit. It’s really been fun.
L4LM: You’ve also had Andy Thorn with you for a while now! What’s it like having these different voices with you onstage?
DE: Andy’s been there for about five years now, so it feels like he has been there a while.
Actually, the other newest member, next to Bill, is our drummer, Alwyn Robinson, who’s been with us a little over two years, and he’s been wonderful. The rhythm section combination of Greg Garrison and Alwyn fits perfectly, so…yeah…this new blend has definitely been a great thing.
L4LM: Leftover Salmon is a “Swiss Army” band, with a style for every occasion. Do you ever have any issues figuring out what works best for each tune?
DE: You know, I think it just kinda happens, but sometimes you set out to write a certain kind of tune, like a bluegrass tune, or a rock tune or even a calypso or zydeco thing. A lot of the time it just kinda happens.
Our original tunes just come out the way they come out. But the great thing about Leftover is there’s really no box we have to fit into. Mostly…there are some boundaries.
L4LM: So no Death Metal?
DE: No…well not yet! No, it mostly just kinda occurs. We’re going to be making a new recording the fall in New Orleans and we’re gonna be slanting it towards the Cajun and zydeco kinda world. That’s gonna be a more specialized record than we have made in the past
L4LM: Any idea where you’ll be recording this new album?
DE: Yeah, the Parlor. [Check them out here] The guy who runs it is the son of Ronnie Van Zant’s widow, Judy. We’re real excited.
L4LM: I’ve toured that studio. It’s gorgeous, and all the equipment is old school.
DE: Yeah, it’s a really comfortable space, and pretty much brand new. Great equipment, great back line, great guitars and it’s also a really nice neighborhood. We’re very psyched.
L4LM: Yeah, and recording in New Orleans brings the added bonus of..well..being in New Orleans!
DE: Exactly! In addition to that we are putting out 25 live songs for our 25 year anniversary. We’ve got a lot going on. We released “High Country” last year, we have this 25 Alive download and now we are going to be making this New Orleans session thing…sorta a flurry of recording activity.
I think we’ll be covered for awhile after this next one! (Chuckles)
L4LM: You’re a singer and a multi instrumentalist, but you are also part of a band with some major talents. I’ve seen shows where you have four different leads on songs. How do you go about fitting all these pieces together, both in the studio and onstage?
DE: You know, once again I think it just kinda happens. We try and give everyone a chance to shine, and whoever comes up with a song gets attention. It’s great having so many people writing now. Vince [Herman] is still our main lead singer, but it’s really nice to have these other voices too, especially Bill Payne bringing in his Little Feat influence. Andy Thorn has been writing us some really good tunes and Greg writes too, once in a while. It’s really fun to spice it up and bring in the other vocalists. Whoever’s got a good idea to entertain the people…we’re all about it!
L4LM: One thing that’s never changed about Salmon is the joy you and Vince seem to share playing together. Is that real or are you guys the best actors ever?
DE: No (chuckles), It’s real. We have more fun than people should be allowed to have.We’ve just had a great time. I mean, everything has it’s ups and downs, but consistently we’ve enjoyed working together. Right now we’re having more fun than ever.
L4LM: That’s good to hear…I want you to keep doing what you’re doing for a long time to come.
L4LM: So you guys have teamed up with the Breckenridge Brewery to make “Silver Salmon” lager. Let’s be honest…this is just you guys scoring free beer right?
DE: Well…I mean…that would be good too… We won’t argue with that! But no, what happened was Breckenridge Brewery has been around for 25 years as well. We’ve done some things together…we did a couple really big block parties in Downtown Denver and they supplied the beer.
We got talking a few years ago about giving away song downloads on six packs of beer and that served as a preview for our last record and that went really well. We played the grand opening of their new, giant brewery complex down in Littleton, Colorado and there was about 8,000 people at that
and it ended up being kinda a big deal, so they wanted to make a beer for us to coincide with that. It’s not quite out yet…it’s been brewed but not bottled yet but it’s coming. It’s a pretty cool thing. As a band, there’s a lot of cool things that can happen and this is pretty unique, having a beer named after you.
We’re very excited about it.
L4LM: Are you gonna be putting away a six pack somewhere safe, for posterity?
DE: Oh I think so. (Chuckles) In addition to giving away as many as we can to all our friends who are asking for some.
L4LM: Do you have any other business you’d like to partner with? Personally I’d buy Leftover Salmon brand pickles!
DE: Well, that would be great. We’ve thought of like, maybe a line of outdoor gear, like hydration packs or boots or mountain bikes. What would be really cool though would be a Leftover Salmon Learjet. We would totally sponsor a Learjet.
L4LM: You guys live in Colorado…maybe you could get your own marijuana strain!
DE: Well…that’s a whole different story! (laughs)
L4LM: I’m not trying to lead anyone into bad behavior here, but it does seem like a good idea!
DE: It is certainly a good business to be in these days.
L4LM: I was pretty excited to see your upcoming tour dates announced, seems like you have some fun festivals in there like Phases of the Moon and Strings & Sol… but I’m especially excited for your New Years Eve show in my new home, Portland! How hard is it to pick a spot to ring in the new year?
DE: Well, you gotta do it WAY in advance. We’ve had this hold at the Roseland Theater since last year. It’s actually a challenge…there’s so many great bands out there wanna get the best gigs and there are so many great towns. Last year we played Chicago and that was great, although it was a little cold that time of year, which made it a little challenging. (Chuckles)
Luckily we got our hold in early enough and we’re pretty pumped up. It’s definitely challenging though, because there are so many great places to play, and a lot of bands vying for the really good venues. We’ve kinda given up on playing New Years here in Colorado, ’cause everyone wants to play here and some of these bands have those gigs sewn up through eternity.
It’s fine though, we get to play here a lot and we have gone out the last few years and tried to fine some really cool places to play. One of these days we need to get down to the South East, play a New Years there, but the West Coast is really our favorite. We did Seattle a few years ago, San Francisco is great but everyone wants to play there as well, but Portland is great.
We played Portland, I think four years ago, at the Roseland and it was a lot of fun! But it’s definitely not an easy thing, so you have to think really far in advance.
L4LM: I’ve always wondered if bands communicate with each other, and say stuff like “Hey, we’re gonna do this there that month or that holiday.”
DE: The managers are pretty much all in touch as far as who is playing where and helping steer clear of each other. Booking agents and managers definitely have their ears to the ground. There’s a lot more bands touring now in our genre than when we started out, so it’s more of a challenge. But that’s something our managers and booking agents keep and eye on. But that’s why they make the big bucks! (Chuckles)
L4LM: Hey, at least they’re earning their commissions!
DE: (Laughs) We have a great manager in John Joy who’s always coming up with good ideas and Joshua Knight from Monterrey also books The [Infamous] Stringdusters and Trampled By Turtles…so we’re really lucky to have such a great team.
L4LM: Just curious, have you booked an opening act for the New Years show yet?
DE: No, not that I know of.
L4LM: I don’t wanna plant too many ideas in your head but I have been known to do some pretty good freestyle poetry.
DE: (Long pause) Alright…we’ll keep that in mind…
L4LM: So I reached out on my Facebook earlier to see if anyone had any questions for you, do you mind a couple lightning round questions?
L4LM: First off, a couple folks wondered if the Emmitt-Nershi Band (A collaboration between Drew and Billy Nershi of the String Cheese Incident) would be doing anything?
DE: Not so far.
L4LM: That works for me. I’m pretty happy with what you two are doing with your main bands right now, with Cheese and Salmon both being out there and kicking ass!
DE: Yeah, I think that’s the deal. I’m doing a few things with my side gig, the Drew Emmitt Band. We’re doing a festival in Oklahoma in September and also something in Montana in February. That’s about it for outside of Salmon, and I think that’s probably it for the Emmitt Nershi Band.
L4LM: Do you guys still have the Mayor McCheese head? [Salmon has a severed head of a “Mayor McCheese” statue that has long served as their mascot, though it has been prone to kidnapping over the years)
DE: (Laughs) We do but he is not in our custody, somebody else has him right now.
L4LM: But he’s safe? You guys are getting ransom letters in the mail with little bits of him broken off, demanding ransom?
DE: No, not this time! (Laughs)
L4LM: You guys are playing at Strings & Sol coming up in December. Is that as much fun as it looks?
DE: It’s pretty amazing. We’ve done every year and it’s a really great gathering, of musicians especially. A lot of our buddies. It’s all on the beach, everything’s included, and a lot of the same folks come back every year! It’s a blast!
L4LM: I’m hoping to make it down there myself! Well…I think that’s all I’ve got for you. Thanks for doing what you do sir! Can’t wait to see you out kicking some butt.
DE: Thanks Rex!
For more info about Leftover Salmon, including tour dates and all sorts of goodies, head to the band’s official website. You can also check out Leftover Salmon at Phases of the Moon Festival, which runs from October 16-18 and features performances from moe., Yonder Mountain String Band, The Disco Biscuits, Lake Street Dive, STS9, Warren Haynes with the Ashes & Dust Band, New Mastersounds, and Larry Keel as an Artist-At-Large, among many more top-notch performers. (Details here)
Don’t miss Salmon on the road!
[Cover photo via John-Ryan Lockman / ShowLove Media]