Allie Kral‘s bursts of fiery fiddle fury and long, emotive notes have made her a bright light in the bluegrass and jam scenes for more than a decade. For the last year or so, Kral has been finding her way in her new musical home as a member of Yonder Mountain String Band.  Fresh off the Strings & Sol Mexican getaway festival and a star studded New Years Eve run, the band is already out on tour and rehearsing songs for their next album.

We recently chatted with Ben Kaufmann about his take on the new lineup, and now, our own Rex Thomson caught up with Ms. Kral as she tries to catch her breath from the whirlwind lifestyle in Yonder.  

Live For Live Music:’ve got a year with Yonder down.  You’re not the new kid anymore.

Allie Kral:  Nope.  I’m bona fide now.

L4LM:  Does it feel like you have a space in the songs to work now?  You’ve always done a lot of sit ins and such, and you’re very good at fitting yourself in. 

AK:  Thanks.  That’s what’s best about bluegrass…it’s a language that is easy to share. I like to bring emotion to a piece. I have been working on bringing some more percussive elements to my playing, which is kinda new for me. But yeah, everybody’s been open to finding new ways, new arrangements. I really feel like we’re making these songs a new thing.

L4LM:  You’re pretty hard on your fiddle when you’re playing.  Have you ever had your instrument just fall apart in your hands?

AK:  I break a lot of bow hairs, and every once in a while I’ll break a string.  One time, playing a show at Griffins Public House in Chicago, my fiddle got knocked over by my guitar player at set break.  The finger board just came completely off.  It was such a weird thing to have happen.  I mean, from where the violin fell it should have been fine, but I guess I had worn it pretty loose.  So I had to play the second set after duct taping my finger board to my fiddle.    

But I haven’t sawed it in half yet if that’s what you’re asking.  (Laughs)  Not yet… 

L4LM:  We’re finally starting to hear a lot more of your singing voice. Are you starting to see it as another weapon in your musical arsenal?

AK:  Yeah, I’m getting comfortable with it….and honestly…I’m having sooo much fun with it. I think, back in my twenties, I was using a very mousy voice.  And that really didn’t match what I was doing with my band.  And now, in my thirties, and I’ve heard this from opera singers as well, your voice starts to really open up. I never used to sing with my diaphragm, I never used to sing with all my guts.

And now I am and it feels so freaking good.  It’s awesome! It’s become my second instrument…I love it and I just wanna do it all the time.  I’m quite addicted. 

L4LM:  This will be good news to all your fans who have been wishing to hear more of you.

AK:  (Laughs) People have been asking for years, and I just kept telling them I didn’t sing. Things happen at the time that they’re supposed to, and it’s pretty fun.  And it’s not only singing though.  I’m feeling more of who I am, and really coming into that person and really bettering that person.  Just being more confident in what I’m presenting to the world, and being happy about it. That makes a difference too.

If I’m not really sure of myself…and I’m singing these words and sharing my feelings…I just…I just wasn’t comfortable with people putting the spot light on that.  I just wanted people to hear my feelings through my violin. Now…now I want them to hear it both ways. I love it.

L4LM: It sounds like you’ve been working on improving your skills.  Do you have any sort of goals in mind on that end?  Like, a solo record?

AK:  One of my first goals for this year was to start writing, because I had never really done that either.  I think it was for the same reason. It was just a lack of confidence. And my first initial lyrics were really cheesy, and turning cheesy lyrics into poetic verses is hard.  

But you just have to do it, and keep doing it.  And so I met with my friend Brad Parsons a few weeks ago and we wrote my first song together. My plans are to do something like that, individually, with other members of Yonder. Hopefully…hopefully we’ll do something good. We’ll see. It’s not something I’m too attached to yet. And I’m also not thing that someone who is just writing their first song is gonna write something that sounds good in between stuff from songwriters who have been doing it for twenty years.

We’ll see. We’ll see what we can do. And the guys have been really good about helping me, and helping to make them sound like Yonder tunes. We’ll just see what we can produce. And I’ll continue doing it with my friend Brad Parsons, too, until I can do it on my own. If some of those songs don’t become Yonder tunes, then yeah, I’d be totally down for an Allie record somewhere in the next couple years.  

But my real goal for right now is to write Yonder tunes. I’d really love to have some originals out there.  

L4LM:  You could always just go the instrumental route.

AK:  Well…I’ve done that.  I’ve done a few of those. I mean, I like that and all…but I’d love to write a song that pulls to people as much as some of the songs do…like “Left Me In A Hole.” Plus…there’s the whole democratic thing. I don’t want to feel like I’m not pulling my weight, you know?  (Chuckles)

L4LM:  Well…you’re probably getting paid the same regardless…

AK:  (Chuckles) They’ll be sitting there for hours and hours writing songs…and I’m just sitting there knitting.  That’s not fair is it? (Chuckles)

L4LM:  Well…you did use your knitting to do some solid fundraising with those yarn black sheep for the special edition of the album Black Sheep.  Are you gonna push to name the next album something easy to knit?

AK:  It all depends.  I’m up for the challenge… You can pretty much knit anything though. I’ve had a bunch of nieces and nephews, so I’ve gotten a lot of practice.

L4LM:  If I was you, I’d be in the album title pitch meeting yelling “Let’s call the new one “Blankets and Mittens!”

AK:  (Laughs)  That would really make it easier on me! Coming in to the next couple years I’m going to start an Etsy page or something and make it available for some people to have. It’ll be fun…to someday see someone in the audience wearing something I made. That would be fun.

And I’ll definitely keep doing it for fundraisers, for sure. Especially if the money is going to any kind of animal organizations. There’s a wild life sanctuary in Colorado, near the Denver airport. That’s the one I worked with for the Red Rocks show, and I’d love to do stuff with them for every show we have there.  And anything that puts instruments in the hands of kids who maybe couldn’t afford them…that’s a cause I like to get behind.  

L4LM:  Your new band, Yonder, just hosted their annual Strings & Sol Festival down in Mexico.  Tell the truth…how big a factor was their annual party on the beach in Mexico in your decision to join the group?

AK:  (Laughs)  You mean getting a free South of the border winter vacation every year? That is a pretty good deal. My husband comes too, and that’s great. Yeah…it’s pretty nice having a built in vacation every year, but when I joined the band I didn’t realize they were such a big part of it every year.  It was a pleasant surprise. 

L4LM:  That would of been top of my list in my research.

AK:  Yeah, no kidding.  “Oh, y’all get to go somewhere warm every winter?  And hang out on the beach, play with all your friends and drink margaritas?  Okay…sign me up!” 

Check out our coverage of Strings & Sol HERE.

L4LM:  On the subject of having fun at festivals, last summer at the Northwest String Summit you joined forces with Mimi Naja from Fruition and a bunch of other super talented ladies for a project dubbed “Sideboob.”  That was a lot of fun…how’d you get involved in that?

AK: Mimi dreamed up the name with another friend of hers who was gonna join us, but she ended up being out of town. We were thinking about having an all girl group playing just the tweener sets at the Summit, just to have some fun.  When we were thinking about it we thought we were gonna have the Elephant Revival girls there, but the timing didn’t work out for them either.  But we recruited the Shook Twins, and we decided we would invite all the ladies playing on the bill to come out with us if they wanted to. 

Literally we wanted to make it every single woman who was there at the festival playing music. We ended up getting a real band together. Somewhere about a month before the show, Mimi got the idea that it would be amazing if it was all nineties R & B and hip hop. (Laughs) We barely practiced for five minutes before we went up there. For a fifteen or twenty minute set it was easy. Then we went up and had a blast! 

After we played, everyone started asking us when we were gonna play again.  I think it’s gonna happen again at this year’s Northwest String Summit, and be a full set.  We had our first Sideboob meeting and we decided to keep it at Mimi, The Shook Twins and myself…we’re the original members, and any of the other ladies on hand who want to join in.  And we’ll do TLC and En Vogue…and Lauryn Hill covers.   

L4LM:  I’m not sure if you’re aware, but there’s a page on Facebook dedicated to petitioning the String Summit to give you ladies your own late night set.  

AK:  (Laughs)  Is there really?  I’ll have to check that out.  That’s so funny. Yeah…I think we could make that happen.

Check out our review of last year’s Northwest String Summit HERE.

L4LM:  So you’re classically trained.  Does it ever feel like cheating to play the looser bluegrass/Americana style of play?

AK:  I think it did when I first started playing.  It was pretty looked down upon to play anything but classical music with a violin. And never call it a fiddle. (Chuckles) It was hard for me too to come back to Urbana where I had left my classical career behind to run off with a bluegrass band.  Then I started realizing I could do this for a living…all I had to do was keep doing it and persevere.

Now, finally…it’s so much easier. Now I don’t even think about it. I learned how to play technically from my classical days, and I’ve always been a player with a lot of emotion, even in my classical days. But when I started learning how to improvise, and play bluegrass…and I still get to play with a lot of emotion.  I’m just better at expressing myself now. In the end, I’m not too worried about what style or genre I’m playing…I just love playing the violin.

L4LM: Has it always just been the violin for you?

AK:  It’s always been the violin for me since I was five years old. My cousin played, and she was just really, really good at it.  So I went to my mom and said, “Mommy I want to do that.”  So she was supportive and signed me up for lessons, not having any idea that it would last this long. I just really enjoyed it, and I was lucky to find my instrument right off.  I have heard from so many people who started out on one thing, who ended up playing three or four things until they found the one that was theirs.

L4LM:  As a woman in a pretty male dominated field, the live improvisation jam scene, do you ever feel any pressure to represent your gender in a big way?

AK:  Only when people ask me about it.  It’s weird…people ask me what it’s like to be a woman up there. And I don’t really think of them as men.  I don’t care.  We’re all making music and we’re all equals. I’ve been practicing since I was five years old to be up there with them. I’m not up there because I’m something different to look at.

But people ask, do I really get how much of a positive influence it is, for some people to see me up there. If I really am having a positive influence on people by being up there and performing and being comfortable, then that’s amazing. If there’s smaller number of female musicians out there on tour, maybe it’s because the touring life is kinda gross. (Laughs)  You never know when you’re gonna get to shower, or do your laundry…It’s kinda gross sometimes. (Laughs)

It may not be for all people, but I don’t know.  It works for me.  When I first started playing with Cornmeal I would dress down, I would wear jeans.  But then I just started wanting to feel more like me.  I LIKE wearing my dresses and my cowboy boots.  I like doing my make up and getting ready for a show.  It makes me feel good.  It’s like I’m getting my “A” game ready.  

L4LM:  I like hearing a balance of voices, male and female. I like balance in general. I think there’s something to be said for the female energy being brought to a sound. And you, specifically, I’ve heard from several parents at a lot of the bluegrass festivals I’ve covered who’ve specifically cited you as the reason their daughters wanted to start playing music.

AK:  Good. I may be oblivious about it.  That is pretty neat. I wonder if it has something to do with the instrument itself. I mean, the woman’s body is such a curvy, beautiful thing and so is the violin. So when the woman is playing the violin it looks like it’s all part of the same thing. It’s just a pretty thing. And for cellos and bass and violas as well.  

L4LM:  Let’s wrap this up with a fun one. Is there anything you were surprised to learn about the band when you started touring with them?

AK:  (Laughs) …I’m trying to think of some dirt I could give…

L4LM:  We like juicy stuff!

AK:  I’m really drawing a blank. This is gonna sound cheesy…but I wasn’t really sure I wanted to join a band.  I kinda wanted to do my own thing for a while, so I could learn and grow.  And I only got to do that for like a year before I kinda fell into playing with Yonder. I said to my husband, “If I found a band where the guys are for the most part married, with kids, and not wanting to tour too much…And that they were faithful and calm and didn’t do drugs or party all the time then maybe…maybe I’d wanna join that.”  

I’m not even kidding you, Yonder called right after that. So I was like “…Okay…maybe I’ll give this a try.”  And you know what has surprised me? It’s just how sweet they are.      

L4LM:  Well, thanks for taking some time to chat with us…I know you’re out on the road working hard. Have a good time on the road, and we’re looking forward to hearing the new material.

AK:  Thanks for having me.

Catch Yonder Mountain String Band as they travel across the frozen nation this winter.