The recipient of 2013's International Bluegrass Music Awards Momentum Award for Band of the Year, Town Mountain, will release their new album, Southern Crescent, April 1st . For this new project, the five-some - Robert Greer [vocals and guitar], Jesse Langlais [banjo and vocals], Bobby Britt [fiddle], Phil Barker [mandolin and vocals], and Nick DiSebastian [bass] - worked with producer Dirk Powell at his Cypress House studio in Louisiana to produce a collection of soulful, raw and energetic roots-grass tunes. In advance of the release, Jesse Langlais kindly took the time to talk about working with Powell, finding their sound and more.
Southern Crescent is your fifth album and it seems like you guys did some things differently with this one, like working with producer Dirk Powell. Why did you want to work with him, and what did he bring to the project?
During the initial planning of the album, we were trying to figure who we wanted to produce it. We play bluegrass, but our influences run much deeper than that. We wanted someone who understood all of the musical genres we loved and who was considered more of a roots musician and producer as opposed to someone who was just a bluegrass musician or producer. Dirk’s name kept coming up, and he was the one we unanimously decided upon. We all really respect him, and thought he would understand our music maybe more so than other people.
I think our influences as well as other elements are really incorporated in this record. Too often bluegrass is just “sit down, be polite and listen to it” music, and that’s certainly not who we are or who the band is, especially at a live show, and we wanted to convey those ideas on this project.
It definitely has that live, make you get out of your seat feel to it.
Since four of you write, and write mostly solo or with outside writers, how do you go about choosing songs for a record?
For the most part, the band operates as a democracy, especially when it comes to the material played. Some of us write more than others, but everyone in the band has some hand in songwriting. When one person brings material to the group, everyone else gets an opinion as to whether your song makes the cut or not - so the chopping block can be kind of brutal at times, but it forces you to bring your best material to the table.
When it comes to writing a song, none of us collaborate with one another; we all collaborate with other people or have solo writes, so when we present a song to everyone, it is essentially finished. The melody, lyrics, chord progression and a groove are all essentially set, but the band will help craft the arrangement – which is just as integral as the song itself. You can take a mediocre song, but with a cool arrangement you can make it a great song and vice versa.
You have said that Town Mountain has finally found their sound with this album. What makes you say that?
I think that it takes a long time for a band to settle into what their sound is, and I think we have been working towards our “sound” for a couple years now. Particularly in the acoustic music world, there are so many expectations, like if you play a certain type of music, then this is what you’re supposed to sound like, and if you play this, then this is what you’re supposed to sound like. Self-consciously we probably deal with that, but over the course of playing for several years, we realized that there was this country influence inherent in our music and figured that rather than shy away from it, we should embrace it. This album is kind of like the product of that realization in a tangible form that everyone can take home.
Everybody wants to call bluegrass what they think it is, and unfortunately a lot of people think it shouldn’t be anything other than what it was 45-50 years ago - and that’s not the reality of music these days. All music influences all other music, so I personally, as well as rest of Town Mountain, have an issue with that because it’s detrimental to music as a whole [to stay the same]. You will always have a band that will be extra traditional and carry the torch of what bluegrass was, but there’s a progression; you write about what’s current, play how you’re feeling and move with times, and that’s where we found ourselves.
These songs have been road tested. Is that something Town Mountain typically does?
We work things out in rehearsals, but the way we operate is that we always road test material. Over the course of playing it ten to twelve times or so live, you realize the little intricacies that can help craft a song into a better final product. I think it would be interesting sometime to perhaps go into the studio with songs none of us have ever played and see how that works, but there is also something to be said for fine tuning things and making sure the song is where you want it before you record it.
One of the songs you wrote solo is “House with No Windows.” Is there a particular story behind that one?
There are probably seven stories behind that one (laughing). Most people playing music write about playing music, being away from home, and staying up late - and those are the overarching stories in our music as well. People think music is this sexy, romantic job, and don’t get me wrong, it is, but there are so many other aspects of playing music for a living. It’s a business, we drive more than we play and we miss the people we love.
This song is about someone else – it’s about that guy who spends all of his time in a bar – the house with no windows. We see a lot of those guys as we drive around the country; so there’s no personal story here, other than the overarching story of being away from someone you love and being gone from home too long.
What about the title of the album, Southern Crescent, which is also a track on the record?
The Southern Crescent was a railroad line that rain between Louisiana and somewhere on the East Coast, so there is that connection, but in all honesty, the titles of our records are typically random kinds of things. Somebody blurts something out in the middle of a conversation, and we’re like “Oh, okay. Great. Next,” and we move on. There’s not much reason to it other than there is no rhyme or reason to it. (laughing) We’ve got much pettier things to agonize over.
The album releases April 8th, and it looks like you guys will be hitting the road pretty hard as of April 1st.
It’s been a slow winter for us, probably the slowest in four to five years, but things are going to pick back up on April 1st, and then it will be back to normal. We have a busy spring-summer-fall schedule. We’ll spend the first four to six months on the road in support of the album: going to some places we have never been and going back to some places that we haven’t been to in a while, like Pick-A-Thon, which is just one of the coolest festivals on a killer piece of property with an awesome, eclectic line up. We’re looking forward to it.
Town Mountain will play Hill Country Live in NYC April 8th
Where: 30 West 26th Street
For more information visit their official website
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Order Southern Crescent here