INTERVIEW: Misty Mountain String Band
Hi guys, welcome back to VENTS! How have you been?
Derek: It’s been an incredible summer with the release of Red Horizon.
Paul: We’ve been busy. Gigging and working. We have had an incredible response to the new album at the festivals.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Red Horizon”?
Paul: My wife and I used to go on lots of trips. I’m from Kentucky, she is from Texas, we met in Hong Kong. Traveling has always been very important to us, but now that we have a family and our situation has changed we don’t get to get out as much as we used to, so this song is a bit of nostalgia.
Derek: And as an outsider to the song, I feel like it’s a pretty universal experience. As life obligations get in the way of our free-wheeling younger lifestyles, it’s nice to daydream a bit about what it was like to have no responsibilities other than to be with the people you love.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
The chorus imagery is about the fresh feeling when you wake up early to go on a trip. My wife and I went down to Texas and Oklahoma a lot. It’s flat, lots of open road, and we would literally leave from Louisville at night and see the sun coming up as we drove towards Dallas.
Any plans to release a video for the single?
Derek: We are working on that, but the summer was busier than we anticipated or intended, so it has been hard to be home long enough to get one knocked out. I had a great idea that involved a roller skating rink, but I’m not sure that’s going to pan out.
Why naming the album after this track in particular?
Derek: Philosophically the album is very much about nostalgia and looking back. “Blooming Rose” is about Brian’s dad passing memories on to him, “Martine” is about the death of my aunt, “Birds and Bees” is about a snow storm in Louisville a few years back. “Red Horizon” is a nice upbeat song that looks back but also suggests a certain hopefulness about the future. So, for me that was important.
Paul: Also, we work with a tremendous artist, Abby Diamond, and we like the packaging to reflect the title and themes in the artwork, so we thought “Red Horizon” would be a great source of imagery.
How was the recording and writing process?
Paul: On our last two albums we did a lot of co-writing and editing together. This time around it was more difficult to make the time for that, so we pretty much wrote songs individually and brought them to the band completed. Then we arranged them for the string band in rehearsals.
Derek: We took all the finished arrangements down to Nashville to record with our friend Steve Thomas. He is a fiddle celebrity in the bluegrass and 90’s country scene. He played with everyone from J.D. Crowe to Brooks and Dunn, Jesse McReynolds to Kenny Chesney. Now he has a studio set up and works with all the best bluegrass artists. We definitely wanted his ear and advice on the recording of this album.
What led you to start a band influenced by the original sound of Roots music?
Paul: My Dad bought my mom the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken and I ended up stealing it and listening to it while I mowed yards for the summer. I started trying to pick out Doc Watson licks and learning to all the other folks who were on the album like Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, and Mother Maybelle. I’m still headed down that rabbit hole, and without that album I wouldn’t have started a roots band. O Brother Where Art Thou made American folk culturally relevant again in a big way at a time when I was also into punk, metal, and whatever else was big in the 00’s and that made it safe to be in a band like ours again.
Derek: I grew up in Muhlenberg County KY, and growing up I was always around old country and bluegrass. Merle Travis is from Muhlenberg, and Bill Monroe is from right down the road in Ohio County, so between being in community theater productions like Miner’s Memory and events like Pickin’ in the Park, I had a healthy dose of my roots music as a kid. My grandma could play one song on the guitar and that was “Wildwood Flower.” She really thought of Mother Maybelle as a hero. I didn’t authentically get into playing the music I was surrounded by until I moved to Louisville though. I had just got back from a trip teaching a bluegrass music camp in West Virginia when I went to see Paul do a solo gig at a coffee shop in Louisville, and he sang John Prine’s “Paradise,” which is about my old homeplace. Afterwards we started hanging out a lot and decided to get a band together. We were both playing some rock and some Americana, but the Americana won out.
Does Kentucky play a role in your sound?
Derek: 100%. Well, maybe a little less than that, Brian is from West Virginia after all, but Bluegrass is our home base and Bluegrass is Kentucky.
Paul: It has to. And even though we don’t play a “true” bluegrass style, we are picking up on the continuum that Bill Monroe started.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics on this material?
Paul: My songs are about family and relationships, as well as the tensions that come along with that. Songs are my way of dealing with and sorting out my thoughts and emotions. I tried to write from a more universal point of view, but all of my songs definitely reflect personal struggles that I have gone through.
Derek: My songs tend to be more narrative. I love John Hartford and have been on a big John Hartford kick for years. I love the way he can take a really mundane situation, or a person you have never heard of in your life, and make the situation or person important to a listener because they are important to John. So, I try to do the same thing with my songs. Whether they are about a snowstorm or my aunt I try to write in such a way that you can experience those situations with me, and maybe even abstract them to your life.
Paul: Brian writes about narratives from his life as well. “Right in front of Me” is a very specific song about his marriage. “See You Through” is about the death of his mother, and already we have had lots of feedback from folks that felt exactly the way Brian felt when he wrote that very specific, but universal song.
Derek: I think that is the great thing about folk music. At its heart it is storytelling, and when you are telling the stories of specific people you are speaking to the more general story that we all have, life, love, death, anxiety, hopefulness, etc. Folk music is so transparent in its specificity that you can’t help but see through to the deeper parts of our shared experiences.
Any plans to hit the road?
Derek: Right now our plan is to stay home a little more!
Paul: We have been on the road and consistently busy for the last year, so now we are trying to figure out how to be more selective as we are getting better gigs so that we can make some more time for our families at home.
Derek: Keep an eye out though, we aren’t slowing down for long, mostly regrouping to hit more festivals and intimate venues alike.
What else is happening in Misty Mountain String Band’s world?
Paul: We’re trying to plan what’s next. We’ve been so busy that a lot of opportunities have started creeping up and we’ve got to sort out what’s going to be the best course of action. Everyone’s pretty relieved now that Red Horizon is out and I think the creative juices have already started to flow again. Songs are starting to pop up. Who knows? There might be a new album sooner than we thought.
Derek: We have had some great radio response to Red Horizon, made a lot of fans at the festivals and on tour this year, we have met some incredible musicians and industry folk, so we are trying to build some momentum by making the most out of the connections we have made. We are definitely always touring and always writing, so we are just going to keep putting one foot in front of the other and see where we end up.