In the midst of a fall tour with his new solo band, mandolinist Jeff Austin continues to jam out on a nightly basis. Austin hasn’t looked back since departing Yonder Mountain String Band, instead choosing to look forward and bask in the music. L4LM’s own Rex Thomson caught up with Austin to chat about just about everything under the sun, including life, baseball, movies and more! Read on to see what’s going on in the life of Jeff Austin:

L4LM: So, here we are again!  This is like, the tenth time I’ve interviewed you!  I think once I get my card punched that my next interview is free!

JA: (Laughs) Actually, you have a choice!  You get to choose between a complimentary latte, we also give pedicures in the back, so there’s that, or the free interview!

L4LM: I gotta say…the opportunity to get a pedicure from Jeff Austin would be impossible to pass up!

JA:  (Laughs) I’d go with a latte…I’m a latte guy.   

L4LM: I don’t drink coffee and I just think you’re trying to back off the pedicure offer dude.

JA: Yeah…really though…coffee is my remaining vice.  Man, the amount of coffee we go through…we went through two GRINDERS on the last tour. When the first one went down we looked at each other and went…”Really?”  I was really not that much of a coffee drinker for most of my life, but I was the luckiest man in the world to fall in love with a woman from the Pacific Northwest.  They drink so much of it up there…I think it just runs in the streams…

L4LM: Yeah, we have some pretty jittery fish out here…

JA:  (Laughs)

L4LM ~ Before the serious questions…uhmm…Yay Cubs?

JA ~ Yay …well…y’know…until the last game is played I WILL NOT be the guy saying anything, but, I will tell you, in my forty one years of fandom, this team has been one of the most fun to watch.  There have been moments that have been absolutely inspiring this year and right now we are currently trying to stop the Pirates from scoring runs!

L4LM: I actually interviewed Ben Wright from the Henhouse Prowlers a couple weeks back, and he was AT a Cubs game when we spoke.  So you’re actually watching a game right now? (Chuckles)

JA: Yeah, I am. (Laughs)  Well, it’s on the TV…I am actually paying close attention to you.  I’m sitting on the back of a tour bus and it’s kinda noisy, so I am listening close.  As for the Cubs this year…It’s partly the change in the culture behind the team…a change in the culture between the people that I know…I think a majority of Cubs fans I know agree…It’s been one hell of a year!  It ain’t over though, y’know!  It sure ain’t over!  it’s a tricky world.  People have been like “OOOhh…I can’t believe you’re not talking more shit!”  No, no non no…I don’t mess with any of that stuff. 

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L4LM: So, obviously, the question on every one’s mind is “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the”…wait…those are last weeks questions.  Okay…you’ve had a line up change.  Do you wanna talk about that and what’s going on with the Jeff Austin Band?

JA: I can just say for a year and a half, this band got to have a member who single handedly changed the way people looked at American stringed music. We were so damn lucky to be able to share a stage and play music with Danny (Barnes) as long as we did…and I can tell you that the addition of Ryan Cavanaugh has been equally as inspiring.  It’s not a greater or a lesser.  That’s not the way any of us are looking at it.  There’s a beautiful difference that is really inspiring to us. It’s funny, we were up til about three in the morning watching Miles Davis videos, and Ryan was telling stories about Bill Evans and his playing…I just feel like the luckiest guy in the room.  I get to sit and be inspired by all these people…past or present.  It’s so cool. 

Ryan is really passionate about the music.  We’re only five shows in, but he’s really settled in quickly.  He’s really passionate about music, and being part of what we’re trying to be…We were sitting up front (of the bus) eating friend chicken from Nashville and laughing our asses off…Cubs on in the background.  For my trajectory over the last seventeen years, I did one thing for a long time, then I took a lil break, then I got to do this new thing, and now I get to do it again.  I keep looking at all the massive positives, past and present…and to quote the sticker…”I Have No Complaints.”   What it really does for me, it inspires me for the material I am writing for the band to fully realize.  It’s cool to have my wife hear a song or an idea or hear something I am playing and to have her appreciate the energy.  She’s the greatest adviser I could ever have…to hear her go “That’s F@#$ing somethin’!” feels pretty good!  To think that this little band of ours has only been around for a year and a half and that the two banjo players that have been a part of it are so good…what else could I ask?

L4LM: You mentioned that you’re writing new material…do we have some stuff with this line up on the way?

JA: Omigod! The thing is…there’s so much of it!  (Laughs)  After my time with Yonder, I took the better part of 2014 off.  I just produced material.  I put the mandolin up, and just let my body heal.  I don’t know if it was tendentious or what, but my body just needed to rest and heal.  The material was coming out was coming so fast…it was hard to keep it in order.  I would get a little bit of an idea, and it would percolate, then I would get another idea and then I would say to myself “Woah.  We gotta focus on one of these ideas and get it done.”  The other part is that I was writing…for a different thing. I was writing for Ross (Martin) and Eric (Thorin) now writing with Ryan in mind.  The way they’re playing, their personalities, their energy influences is what I’m working on.   So yeah, there’s a lot of new material coming. 

We’re gonna have a rehearsal here in a bit.  Ryan is such a fast learner.  We have a catalog of 75 songs, and shit, for a band that’s only been around a year and a half, and he’s learning that material and now we’re adding in some brand new stuff…even bringing back some stuff I played prior in my career which has been really cool.  There are some tunes like “Dawn’s”, “Snow On The Pines” and “Half Moon Rising” that a decent amount of people have been saying “Hey it would be great if you played those songs.”  Playing those songs, and seeing the new energy and life they have to them.  We wanna try and get in the studio by early February, with the goal being to get the record out in May of next year.

L4LM: Just in time for festival season!

JA: Y’Know, nothing happens by chance.  The last record I made, A Simple Truth was really fun, but for me, that was a collection of songs that I wanted to realize them as I heard them.  Now, what gets to happen is I have this other collection of songs in mind, and my head hears them like this band.  A lot of people said “This band doesn’t sound like the band on A Simple Truth.  But the thing is, I was already in a band when I made A Simple Truth, y’know?  (Chuckles)  Between making that record and the record coming out I was in a band then I wasn’t in a band, so I was really able to let that record stand alone as a collection of songs.  Now it’s gonna be really fun because any new stuff gets to benefit from the identity of Ryan, Ross and Eric.  

L4LM: I recently took a new job, and in the process I kinda wondered, since you did too a while back…did you have to get all new cards?

JA: I don’t have cards. (Laughs)  I will say one of the interesting things that would happen, and I didn’t actually notice this for a few month because after the whole Yonder thing I took a few months off from social media, a complete disconnect, a break.  I just got back on Facebook, and that’s been really fun, to communicate with fans and stuff like that.  I love Twitter, I think it’s a great way to communicate.  You have “X” amount of space and you can say anything, put up cool videos, pictures and songs.   I didn’t have to change business cards but it was quite interesting to when someone would say “I can’t wait to see you at the show!” and I would go “I don’t think I am gonna be there”  (Laughs) “I don’t think I am going to be playing in Pittsburgh next week, I’ve got a party to chaperone at my daughter’s elementary school.”  But yeah…I’ve never had a business card in my life.

L4LM: With your previous band, you kinda helped blaze a trail, fighting the stuffy view of traditional bluegrass.  A lot of bands have followed along.  Do you feel proud of what you helped get going…or even somehow responsible?

JA: (Laughs)  I believe people need to take responsibility for themselves!  (Laughs) Let me put it this way.  when we started out playing, and we were at a festival, a non bluegrass festival that is, we would be the only band with a banjo, a mandolin and no drums.  The fact now that you can look at a festival line up for anything from a more roots styled festival all the way to something like an Electric Forest that is primarily an EDM thing you will see multiple bands there.  You see the Shook Twins, you see Fruition, you just see much more than one band. 

You could almost tell, back in the early days, that we were looked at like the novelty act.  “Oh! Here’s the cute little band with the banjos!  And…OH!  They don’t have drums!  Why don’t they have drums?!”  Now when you go to a festival, it does my heart good to see that many string bands.  Because that means that they’re working…they’re making a living, they’re paying their bills, gas in their tanks and putting food on the table.  That’s the part I like.  I don’t take ANY responsibility, or credit or any of that crap.  I would never be as bold as to ever say anything like that but what it does is make my heart feel good to think that people go and…I guess “Rage” is the words the kids use these days?  (Laughs) They will rage a set just as hard for someone else playing different kinds of music.  It’s really cool to see.  There’s room for everyone in the pool. Being in a band is cool and fun and stuff, but it’s even more fun when you can pay your electric bill. (Laughs) And what that does is it inspires the people who are making this music, who are taking this risk.  To see all these cats out there doing it…it’s just so cool.  

L4LM: Yeah, responsibility might be a poor word choice on my part.  Outside of bands like Yonder, Leftover Salmon and The New Grass Revival and such, I feel like the biggest progenitor of the resurgence of  the love of bluegrass has to be the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?”  

JA: It’s so funny, I remember when that movie first came out.   Every single interview I did asked how much credit I gave “O Brother” for the resurgence.  I don’t know…what is the metric weight of a shit load?  I mean…when did that movie come out?  Ten years ago?  Twelve?

L4LM: 2000.

JA: And we’re still talking about it!  To bring that music forward, into people’s daily thought patterns was massive.  It changed everything.  It changed everything.  Most importantly, it made it okay to like something that heretofore had been considered music that your weird cousin was into, or your grandfather listens to.  It was huge, it was really, really huge.  It made it cool to have a mandolin in your band.  It made it cool, if you were a rock band, to suddenly strip down and have a little acoustic set.  

L4LM: Movie wise, or more precisely public consciousness wise, it changed banjo music from meaning forced sodomy in the woods to George Clooney’s handsome mug!

JA:  You’re not kidding!  (Laughs) When people thought banjo their mind went to (Scats the main lead to “Dueling Banjos”) 

L4LM: Yep!  Toothless kid on a porch.

JA: Whereas you had people working their asses off their whole lives to move the music forward.  And when it came out you said “Yeah, George Clooney is hot, it’s brothers chained together in the woods and it’s funny!”  And, you know, on another level, that movie is fucking awesome!  The fact that they took “The Odyssey” and used it as a connective line…and they SLAYED it.  They got one of the biggest actors of the time, some great music…I mean…you couldn’t have had the movie in better hands than Dan Tyminski‘s…him singing “Man Of Constant Sorrow” for that movie.  I have gotten to know him a little bit, I wish I could go and have lunch with him every week.  You could just not put that song…entrusting it, the film, with what that song would end up meaning to the music…in better hands than in Tyminski’s.  The mans a monster!  He’s a MONSTER!  (Laughs)  He’s so good at what he does, but he’s humble. It was such a hit at the time, and for good reason.  The cast, the bands…they just slayed it!

L4LM: What’s it like balancing life as a family man and living life as a “Rock Star? (Chuckles)

JA: That’s such an odd term, especially towards me.  I think of myself as a dad, a husband and a guy who makes dinner.  And somewhere in there I’m a guy who goes out, sits on the back of a tour bus and plays music.  “Rock Star” to me means “Holy Crap!  Keith Richards is walking towards me!”

L4LM: It’s funny you should mention Keith Richards.  Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Keith has been on a bit of a tear in the media lately, talking a lot of smack.

JA: Well,  y’know, Keith Richards hasn’t been as successful as he has for as long as he has by being stupid.  So the Stones are off tour…and they need a lil press buzz…I heard a lil of it, but I don’t really know the specifics of it all, but here we are talking about it.  Figure he’s doing something right!

L4LM: I’ve heard people say he’s just doing it for the press, but I honestly just think he’s finally entered into “Cranky Grampa” stage. (Chuckles)
JA: (Laughs)  Yeah, but think about it…that would be the greatest “Cranky Grampa” that any family has ever seen.  I would love him to be my “Cranky Grampa!”

L4LM: At the very least it would be a much more exciting thing to “Help Grampa” with his pills! (Chuckles)

JA: (Laughs)

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L4LM: A while back you told me about a film you helped score about voice-over actors.  What was that called again?

JA: “I Know That Voice.” Gosh…that came out a couple years ago.  I was lucky enough to get to go to L.A. and go to the premiere…That was cool.  I’d never been at a movie premiere.  I got to meet a lot of people that I really respect.  As a vocalist I don’t just get inspiration from  other singers.  Really, my biggest influences lately have been voice over and broadcasters and sports announcers.  There’s something about the…the information that they’re giving you and the way they give it to you.  And John DiMaggio, (Bender the Robot, Jake the Dog) one of my dearest friends in the whole world.  When he asked me to do that I was just so happy.  He liked the tune, and it’s been really cool to watch the project live on, see the people commenting on it.  I follow John on social media, and the film too, and on a daily basis people are saying “This is inspiring me do what I’ve always wanted to do” or “I thank you for this.  It made my kids laugh.” It’s a bad ass movie!  It’s just really worth watching to see what some of these people do with their talent..their gift, their voices. Mind blowing…absolutely mind blowing. 

L4LM: You’re a big cartoon fan.  Any that you want to recommend?

JA:  Okay…so…(Laughs)  Alright.  A couple of them.  For kids…we are a Doc McStuffins house. What a great character, a great message, y’know.  It’s a pure kids show.  Our kids don’t get a ton of TV.  We’re not the “Plop them down in front of the TV and let it babysit them for six hours” kinda people.  When they do get to and they want me to watch with them I’m like “Hell yeah let’s watch cartoons!”  That shows plots are awesome, just kinda real “Life Lesson’y” kinda things.  The bears and her stuffed animals will come alive and she takes care of them…then…HA! 

Adventure Time…just keeps getting better and better.  That cartoon…my friend John is involved in that too.  I remember when that first started, it’s surreal.  It’s like a Dali painting come to life, with modern coloring techniques.  It’s just keeps getting better.  The story is so deep and it’s a blast to watch.  It’s like something everyone can watch.  Kids will get into it, and adults will be sitting there laughing and saying “that’s fucked up!”  (Laughs)  But I will say as far as MY favorite cartoon lately?  Seriously…my favorite cartoon is this thing called Mr.Pickles.


JA: HOLY SHIT!  Okay…when Adult Swim had…I don’t know if it was a week or a night of pilots. I remember watching this and thinking “They have got to be fucking put in therapy!” The cast of this..I mean I am sitting there watching this and I am dumbfounded, disgusted and amazed.  This is a nightmare premise.  This is the kind of thing where if I found a kid watching this I would have to be like “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WATCHING?”  (Laughs)  But you know I…I…I like the dark side of things.  (For the record, there was a disturbing zeal to his voice as he made that last comment.  Just saying.)   (Laughs)

L4LM: Who doesn’t?  (Laughs)

JA: I find it oddly entertaining…just as a whole…the animation style, the flow…it’s like Boom!  Boom!  Boom!  Twelve minutes of just an absolute mind assault, and I fucking love it!     

L4LM:  This is running a lil long, but i just have to ask you…have you seen the “Mike Tyson’s Mysteries” yet?  

JA: Wait wait wait! That was the other one I wanted to get to!  That cartoon is an absolute stroke of genius. I mean, Norm Macdonald is genius.  So fucking spot on.  Genius fucking casting.  He’s one of the funniest humans that’s ever walked the Earth! And to have him as a pot growing pigeon…Genius. 

And Mike Tyson is just..(Uncontrolled laughter) It’s damn funny is what it is.  I also like that they’ve gone to the trouble of…it’s like Hanna-Barbara’s classic look.  The episode where he goes to give the commencement speech…and he goes to Miami The  University of Ohio…and the student is walking him around and she says “Now, Mr.Tyson, you seem to look a little confused.  Did you think you were going to Miami, Florida?” And he goes “Hell no.  What do you think I am…stupid?”  And then it cuts to him at the airport and they go “Welcome to Ohio!” and he goes “What the fuck!” (Laughs)   It’s a stroke of genius to take a character like that, he is a real, living human being…but he has adopted this caricature version of himself It’s just fucking genius.  I don’t like throwing around the term, genius, but is is, it’s just so damn good!

L4LM:  Mike Tyson has had one of the best second acts of any celebrity in a long time.

JA:  He has very …he went through some very public really dark times.  As bad as you can get.  And to be able to find himself and revive himself…to be able to tell these kinds of stories and not go jump off a bridge ..(Chuckles) It’s a hell of a second act, yeah…it is.  

L4LM:  Well…thanks for taking so much time to chat with us, as always.  We’ll be at the upcoming Magnolia Fest down at Suwannee.

JA: Yeah we’re doin’ Magfest and we’re gonna have a surprise about that to announce sometime soon… Ross Martin and his amazing girlfriend are expecting their first child together… So this will be the last trip that he does, the last bit before he gets to go home and be…really be dad, y’know?  It makes me think back, y’know, to when my wife and I were expecting Penelope, and it’s cool to see the look in his eyes…his demeanor…the way he’s playing.  You get all sappy and you offer advice…We’ve had an active year.  Erik and his wife had their second daughter earlier this year, and now Ross and his girlfriend are having their son.  We’ve had an active baby year in the ole band.  

L4LM: always, thanks for the chat!  

JA:  It’s always good to talk to you.  You can just redeem your punch card at our desk.  I would really consider the latte…(Laughs)

L4LM: (Laughs)  I’m holding out for the pedicure! (Laughs)