Yonder Mountain String Band is closing in on 20 years of progressive picking, and while the lineup has seen a few changes, the positive energy, musical chops and thoughtful songwriting that have defined the band since the beginning remain. This month, YMSB is on the road again with a series of dates that includes co-headlining shows with G. Love & Special Sauce and a handful of concerts with special guests The Railsplitters.
YMSB’s current lineup features founding members, Adam Aijala (guitar, vocals), Dave Johnston (banjo, vocals), and Ben Kaufmann (bass, vocals), along with Allie Kral (violin, vocals) and Jacob Jolliff (mandolin, vocals). According to Aijala, the addition of Kral and Jolliff has brought everyone’s playing to a new level.
“We have two new musicians who are really proficient,” Aijala said. “Jake is one of the best mandolin players on the planet, in my opinion. That guy is unbelievable. All he does is play and practice all the time. He’s earned everything he’s got, and he deserves it. It’s good to have someone like that to play next to all the time, and we pick a lot off stage, so that helps everybody’s playing. Allie is the same. She can learn anything really fast, and she has a great stage presence. I think having those two around definitely raises the bar on the technical level for sure.”
The band’s last full-length album was 2015’s “Black Sheep.” Aijala said YMSB finished recording another studio album in November, which they hope to release early spring.
For Aijala, who often writes with Johnston and Kaufmann, songwriting is a collaborative process, less about ego and more about creating the best song possible for the band.
“Lately it seems like the best way to write is to run ideas past each other and say, ‘hey, this is what I’ve got,’ whether it be a melody with no lyrics, or a bunch of lyrics with no music, or a combination of both,” he said. “I always feel like the more people looking at an idea can only result in a better song.”
Aijala has a lot of trust in his fellow musicians.
“I don’t have the ego. I don’t care enough about it being mine. I want it to be the best it can be. If Ben or Dave or Allie or Jake are going to make it better, or anyone else, then I’m totally game, and I’ll give them a writer’s credit. I don’t care,” Aijala explained. “Let’s make it the best song it can be.”
YMSB is known for its loyal and large fan base, and the band keeps that audience in mind when it thinks about the performances, constantly changing up the setlists and thinking of ways to improve the shows.
“We try to think about how we can make this show the most interesting,” noted Aijala. “That could be things like not taking two minutes to tune your instrument between songs, or talk a little bit more if someone does need to tune.”
Recently, the band has been experimenting with one long set in place of two sets with a break.
“It equates to the same, and sometimes even longer, number of minutes actually playing,” Aijala noted. “We played a show the other night where we played two hours and forty-five minutes. I like that because instead of having to build up twice in a show, you can build it up throughout the whole show.”
Aijala is happy with the current band lineup.
“I feel like I can trust everybody and we can go to weird places where maybe we couldn’t go before,” he laughed. “We like to expand on that. I think the crowd digs that, too.”
Click here for a complete list of YMSB tour dates.
– With permisson from Red Dirt Nation.