Interview with David Johnston and Ben Kaufmann from Yonder Mountain String Band

ymsb, yonder mountain string band
Yonder Mountain String Band

Photos by Tobin Voggesser
Interview by Scott Preston

Yonder Mountain String Band has always played music by its own set of rules. Bending bluegrass, rock and countless other influences that the band cites, Yonder has pioneered a sound of their own. With their traditional lineup of instruments, the band may look like a traditional bluegrass band at first glance but they’ve created their own music that transcends any genre. Dave Johnston points out “What could be more pure than making your own music.” Yonder’s sound cannot be classified purely as “bluegrass” or “string music” but rather it’s an original sound created from “looking at music from [their] own experiences and doing the best job possible.”

Jamband News: How was NYE for Yonder this past year?

Ben: It was interesting to be out of Colorado on NYE, but everything turned out great. We had a chance to play some tunes we don’t normally get to play. For the people there I hope it was one special show.

Jamband News: What were some highlights for the band in 2010?

David: We had a lot of fun playing with Widespread Panic in South Carolina. NYE was fun, it was nice to throwdown outside of Colorado. We had a great time playing with the Blind Boys of Alabama in Lincoln Center. It was all around a great year and in a lot of ways better than the year before.

Jamband News: You have had some great success playing Red Rocks. When you started out did you ever even think you would sell so many tickets there?

Ben: It took me a long time to even think that would be something we could do. It feels awesome to get to do something like that. It seems strange for me to say this, but now that it has happened it almost feels normal to get to play there. Once you accomplish something you are always looking for the next challenge.

Jamband News: Was there a moment for you guys at some point in your careers when you thought something special was starting to happen?

David: There is one stage when you say to yourself, this is pretty cool and you see things here and there happening. There is that feeling of bewilderment that fades and you almost expect certain things to happen. Then all of a sudden you end of playing on a tv show like Craig Ferguson and that some feeling comes rushing back again.

Jamband News: Is Yonder working on any new material?

Ben: We are actually going back into the studio to work on the new record. Right now we are just doing basic tracking and getting as much content down as we can. Then we will work on the actually producing aspect. The intention of this record is different than even the previous 2 records. Its more akin to our first record, in regards to the approach. We are hoping to capture the same feeling as what we do live. We are also looking for this record to help us get more attention overseas as it relates to performances and band recognition. As I look at what we have done in the United States in the last 12 years, it has become a little predictable in the terms of growth. When people know you are going to be at a certain place at certain time of year, they can become complacent in wanting to come and see you perform. I want to start doing more shows overseas to help shake us out of this predictable touring schedule.

ymsb, yonder mountain string band
Yonder Mountain String Band

Jamband News: Speaking of performing overseas, does the band already have a start in certain areas?

David: We seem to have a good time in Holland, we have been over there a couple times. We also went over to France and had one of the best times ever. The vibe was just really cool and wasn’t one we expected right off the bat. We also have done some work in London and Japan. We will probably be going back to Japan in the near future. There also are all sorts of Pacific rim countries where we would like to perform.

Jamband News: Do you guys enjoy recording in the studio environment?

Ben: I do enjoy being in the studio. I think it can give you the chance to become a better musician because of the microscopic effect of being able to play back what you just played and really listen to it. It can really be inspiring because it can show you what you need to work on. In my self deprecating periods, it shows me where I suck and what I need to do to become awesome (laughing). Sometimes it requires a lot of practice and therapy sessions.

Jamband News: Why did Yonder decide to start their own record label?

Ben: Well, really nobody but us would know what to do with us. They might hear one of your songs and get really excited and will tell you they will start pushing it and then somebody else on the label will come out with a song they like even more and you end up being forgotten. Big record companies have to divide their attention, which isn’t always fair to a majority of the artists. Having your own record label means if you aren’t happy with how something is going, you can stand in front of a mirror and demand action.

Jamband News: Does anyone in the band have their own side projects?

David: I have a project called Swing Set. Honestly I think we only played 1 or 2 gigs last year. By the time I get home from a Yonder tour anymore I feel like just relaxing at home and playing in my garage instead a gig situation.

Ben: Adam and I have this duet thing where we will do 2 local gigs a year here in Colorado. Then we will do a 5 show mini tour , we hit the Mid West last year and I want to hit the Northeast this year. We also have a band Wicked Messenger, which is a anything goes type of deal. I think what we try to do is pick a theme. The last gig was one set of Bob Dylan and one set of the Grateful Dead. This year we are going out as a power trio and will pick out songs from classic power trio rock bands. We have also re-arranged some Yonder tunes for that set up. That project doesn’t require a whole lot time. The major time commitment has to be Yonder Mountain. The other stuff you can use as a palette cleanser and is just for fun.

02.13.2011 Lexington, KY Buster’s
02.16.2011 Charlottesville, VA The Jefferson Theater
02.17.2011 Columbus, OH LC Pavilion
02.18.2011 Covington, KY Madison Theatre
02.19.2011 Madison, WI Orpheum Theatre
02.20.2011 Urbana, IL Canopy Club
03.03.2011 Boulder, CO Fox Theatre (Jeff Austin & Friends)
03.04.2011 Denver, CO Bluebird Theatre (Jeff Austin & Friends)
03.05.2011 Fort Collins, CO Aggie Theatre (Jeff Austin & Friends)
03.29.2011 Fayetteville, AR George’s Majestic Lounge
03.31.2011 Houston, TX House of Blues
04.01.2011 Dallas, TX House of Blues
04.02.2011 Austin, TX Stubb’s
04.03.2011 Tulsa, OK Cain’s Ballroom
04.06.2011 Billings, MT Babcock Theatre
04.07.2011 Missoula, MT Wilma Theater
04.08.2011 Missoula, MT Wilma Theater
04.09.2011 Seattle, WA Showbox
04.10.2011 Eugene, OR McDonald Theatre
04.13.2011 Bend, OR Midtown Ballroom
04.14.2011 Eureka, CA Eureka Theater
04.15.2011 Chico, CA El Rey Theatre
04.16.2011 Santa Cruz, CA The Catalyst
04.17.2011 Sacramento, CA Harlow’s
04.20.2011 Stateline, NV MontBleu Resort
04.21.2011 Petaluma, CA McNear’s Mystic Theatre
04.22.2011 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
04.23.2011 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
05.28.2011 Thornville, OH Hookahville
07.15.2011 Oak Hill, NY Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival
07.21.2011 North Plains, OR Northwest String Summit
07.22.2011 North Plains, OR Northwest String Summit
07.23.2011 North Plains, OR Northwest String Summit
07.24.2011 North Plains, OR Northwest String Summit
10.13.2011 Ozark, AR Yonder Mountain’s Harvest Music Festival
10.14.2011 Ozark, AR Yonder Mountain’s Harvest Music Festival
10.15.2011 Ozark, AR Yonder Mountain’s Harvest Music Festival
10.16.2011 Ozark, AR Yonder Mountain’s Harvest Music Festival