Yonder Mountain String Band’s YMSB EP ’13 illuminates and innovates traditional bluegrass. Lead singer and guitarist Adam Aijala spoke with CMT Edge about the short but seamless new collection.
“We generally try out our songs onstage before we put them on a record,” the longtime Boulder, Colo., resident says. “Whenever we have new stuff, we just like to play it, and all of the songs on the new EP are songs we’ve been playing.”
In addition to Aijala, the band consists of bassist Ben Kaufmann, banjo player Dave Johnston and mandolinist Jeff Austin.
Each selection showcases the band’s disparate influences, such as the Foggy Mountain Boys, Led Zeppelin and Son Volt. The result? Runaway instrumental jams and soaring Rocky Mountain harmonies backed by sharp storytelling.
CMT Edge: How long have these songs been around?
Aijala: I believe the oldest is 6 years old. One’s, like, 2 years old. Actually, the one Ben Kaufmann wrote, “Straight Line,” is pretty old, but he never really finished it. It dates back to when the band first started. The two of us played it in a duet setting around 2010, and we just recently started playing it with the band last year.
Explain why you chose to do an EP and not a full-length record.
It’s a timing thing. It’s not that we don’t have the material. We have tons of songs, probably enough to do a double or triple album of originals. It’s more that there are a lot of young children in the picture all of a sudden, and generally in our off time is when we’d decide to do a record, but it’s not really desirable now that families are around. So we decided to record while we’re on the road.
Having content, in general, is more important in our opinion, so if we have time to do four songs, let’s just put them out, as opposed to taking longer to do a full album. We’re doing this having in mind that we’re gonna try to do another four-song EP sooner than later. It’s cool, too, because it gives us an opportunity to record in different studios and use different engineers, and it’s interesting for us to be in different places.
Did you purposely include one song written by each member?
That’s how it works. We’ve always been a pretty democratic band in that we’re four equal members, which isn’t all that common. The whole band writes and sings, so it seems a good way to represent us.
It’s funny how there can still be continuity with four different writers. So, yeah, it was intentional. It’ll probably be that way with the entirety of the EPs. I think we’re gonna shoot for four EPs and we’ll each have one song on all four EPs. We’re organized like that. No, not really. (laughs)
Are EPs and singles the future for the music business?
I think if there’s someone you want to hear, you don’t care if it’s a full album or a video or whatever. You just want something new, something fresh to check out. I think with the ease of acquiring music now with the touch of a screen, it just changes the whole thing.
I’m still a person who will buy a whole record and will listen to it in full, but I shuffle a lot, too. I know a lot of people who will just buy an individual song from a record, or they’ll constantly be shuffling their libraries, not playing a whole album.
Tell the story behind writing “All the Time.”
It’s kind of funny because it’s obviously about a breakup and I’ve been with the same woman since ’99. She was actually sitting in the room when I started it. (laughs) It’s not about her. I guess it can be based on personal experience from relationships from years past, but it was more like I just got a melody in my head.
Do your melodies usually come first?
I don’t usually say, “Today, I’m gonna work on a song.” Dave works on songs all the time. I generally wait for some inspiration, whether it’s lyric or music, and it can be both or one or the other. Generally, it’s music first and then lyrics, but “All the Time” was one where I had a vocal melody in my head, and I just started writing.
I wanted to write something upbeat, and I thought I could put a tempo behind it. It’s faster than normal, but as far as there being a deep meaning behind that, I’d say it’s just getting an idea and rolling with it instead of (whispers), “This goes back to a time when I was heartbroken.” (laughs)
I’d like to say it was deeper, but it was really just a vibe I was rolling with that day. Some songs take me six months, a year, to complete. That was one I wrote in a day, which is not normal for me at all. I actually like to run stuff by the other guys in the band or write with them to get a different perspective. A lot of times people have a radar, like, “Eh, that line’s a little cheesy.” I like that input. I’m not so vain that it needs to be all my song. I want it to be as good as it can possibly be.
Are all the guys like that?
Pretty much. It’s just easier for Dave and I. Jeff’s up in the mountains. Ben’s in California. Dave lives right down the street from me, like less than two miles away. He and I collaborate the most, but we’ve written stuff with all four of us.
Our last record, [2009’s] The Show, there’s a song called “Dreams” that we all wrote. It was the last thing we came up with for the record. We each wrote a verse. “Angel” and “Sidewalk Stars” on the self-titled record [from 2006], we wrote together. Most of the songs I’ve been writing, I give Dave a credit for helping me finish as well, but we do all write together.