Yonder Mountain String Band doesn't take much time off from touring, but it still values studio time.
"We're taking a laissez faire approach to making a new record," says Yonder Mountain String Band's Dave Johnston. The Colorado-based progressive bluegrass group has been in and out of the studio for a while now, cutting tracks but on their time, not on someone else's deadline.
"We're keeping pretty busy with live performances and traveling. We want to avoid overdoing it, and want to go into the studio feeling fresh and like we can transfer a good energy as opposed to a perfunctory one. So we're taking our time and seeing how it all shakes out."
Yonder Mountain String Band plays The House of Blues Saturday night, and the upcoming album will be its first since 2009's The Show. Like so many bands that found their audience on the jam band circuit, Yonder Mountain has made its name on the strength of its live performances, but unlike many of their contemporaries, they write solid, melodic songs that don't require live performance to work.
Despite the importance of live performance to the band's existence, Johnston says he doesn't think about how or if a song will work live. "I want something that connects to me," he says. "If I get that vibe from something I'm working on, it's probably worth pursuing and putting it up onstage."
The jam circuit has been so much about live performances that many of the bands sold concert tickets but not albums. Though Yonder Mountain hasn't been particularly prolific in the studio, a studio album remains meaningful to Johnston.
"In the performance world, so much of what we do onstage is dependent on the crowd and the vibe in the room," he says. "In the studio, so much is dependent upon a different use of your imagination. For me, the role of an album is - not making music that is more or less official, but a different kind of truth that recorded music speaks to than performed music. It's a different world to inhabit, and a refreshing one for sure."
As an acoustic, string-based band, Yonder Mountain has managed to stay relevant from one vogue - jam bands - to another - Americana. "String-laden music and Americana is really durable music," Johnston says, and even though his music comes from a progressive place, he's a fan of Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale's radio show on Sirius satellite radio. He hears his music as part of a continuum from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris to Uncle Tupelo and Jay Farrar. "This is really great music that is typically American in all the great ways. There's a lot of good, even great music being made in the Americana corner that seems really vibrant and cagey."
At festivals, Yonder Mountain String Band will often play for much larger crowds than many of their Americana forerunners ever performed for, and unlike many of their jam contemporaries, they play acoustic instruments, which can be less forgiving than electric ones. How does playing in front of huge, energetic crowds affect his technique? "I've had moments where I want to reach everybody and I really lay into it," Johnston says, laughing. "That happens and will continue to happen. Sometimes that works out for you, sometimes it doesn't."