Leftover Salmon Full Interview
We caught up with Leftover Salmon after their soundcheck at Blue Ox Music Festival. Drew Emmitt, Vince Herman, Greg Garrison and Andy Thorn sat down with us for about 40 minutes.
It wasn’t the best location for audio recording. We were in a hospitality tent that was occasionally occupied by caterers setting up, and there was an occasional truck idling outside. At one point another band took to the stage for a soundcheck.
We did our best to transcribe this as accurately as possible, and to correctly determine who the speaker was at all times. There may be an occasional error!
It was a hot day, and the band was all in a bit of relax mode, but we seemed to get them to perk up with our questions, and by the time we got rolling everyone was participating.
Also, we couldn’t help notice that, when we had the band speaking about jazz music, Vince Herman didn’t seem capable of saying the word “jazz” without following it with “man.” Jazz, man! How hip!
Much thanks to Rusty James and “The Newgrass Show” for providing his audio, which was of much better quality than ours!
Listen to the full audio:
LOS has a strong background in jazz music, even more so when you have Erik playing the keys. How has that added to the LOS sound, and how does that influence your take on traditional bluegrass music?
Vince Herman: I think it provides a whole different dynamic for Erik to play with, it’s really his instrument, you know, it’s like, the difference for us, playing into microphones versus using pickups, but even more so through the piano, playing acoustic piano, wow, it’s the coolest stuff, and when we do jazz with that, with Greg (Garrison) on upright, Alwyn (Robinson on drums), we break it down to that trio thing, it’s just a whole different palette for the band, and that’s really cool. We’re really psyched about that. HIs playing is pretty modern, you know, and with him in the band, fully two-thirds of the band wear skinny jeans.
Andy Thorn: It’s official!
Vince: It’s kind of taking us in a new direction.
FGN: You finally hit that hipster crowd you’ve been looking for?
Drew Emmitt: I don’t know if we’ve been looking for it!
Vince: I’m scaling back to a goatee, I think! A goatee and a man-bun is what I’m thinking.
Greg Garrison: Musically, with Erik, he’s a good listener and he’s someone that I’ve played with a bunch in the past and we kind of have a common language…the challenge is, how do you fit that sound, the kind of jazzy sound, into the context of what LOS is. Sometimes it’s sticking a square peg in a round hole for sure, but we’re getting better at at least getting closer to an oval peg, maybe. Sometimes it works, though, and it’s fun. It’s a challenge to make the two worlds coexist…
Vince: But that’s the nature of polyethnic cajun slamgrass music…
Greg: Yeah, we kind of do whatever the fuck we want to do
Vince: Anything’s game, you know?
Andy: There’s no “jazz” in that, though – polyethnic cajun…
Vince: Grazz! That’s good!
Andy: That might be in the new description!
Greg: Andy actually has a Jazz degree. Andy is an educated Jazz Master!
Andy: I’m a jazz guitarist
Vince: Hiding behind the banjo.
FGN: Many of you have a history in jazz. Greg, you have a jazz background as well?
Greg: I do. On my phone i have a jazz background. It’s great. I got it on the app store.
Vince: Greg has a doctorate in music, and teaches. He’s a professor. He’s heard of that jazz stuff. What is jazz, man? To me, jazz is just a willingness to improvise on an American music form, you know? I think we do that all the time. Jazz is not just for brunch, you know? A lot of people think the best thing about jazz is the hollandaise on the eggs benedict, but it goes way beyond that.
Drew: It’s good for martinis, too.
Greg: Martinis and hollandaise sauce, together. That’s a good combo!
Vince: Yeah, but jazz, man, has been pigeon-holed into this weird little – for the sake of the music industry – little hole, defining what jazz is, man, and it’s so much wider, I think.
FGN: I think “jam” music also has that same connotation, where all these bands are just considered “jam bands” but they’re all unique in their own way. That’s just another similarity that jazz music has, that it’s a freestyle form of playing music.
Vince: Jam bands just means that people with hair are gonna be there.
FGN: With hair? That’s an official definition?
Vince: A lot of hair. That’s what it’s code for -it’s the hippie state I don’t know if there’s any musical thing that ties together jam bands.
Drew: Not really. It can be anything.
Vince: Except jazz.
FGN: Speaking of other musical influences, we were fortunate enough to have experienced John Hartford Memorial Festival with you. Could you talk a little bit about John Hartford, and how he has influenced your music and your songwriting?
Drew: That’s a hard question to answer easily and quickly, I can say that. All of us go way back with Hartford, for sure. I started listening to Hartford records when I was a teenager. I got to open for him in Boulder, with my old band Lefthand Stringband, years and years ago and ended up in a jam with him in the dressing room. That was amazing! Especially for us, at the time, a bunch of kids opening for John Hartford. It felt really special. Vince and I got to be in a jam with him one night in a hotel lobby with Vassar Clements, we were playing rhythm, while they played all these amazing fiddle tunes. So we’ve had some really cool moments with him. He played between sets for us at the Fillmore in Denver with his band, Retro…
Drew: Retrograss! Mike Seeger and David Grissman.
I actually was in a room with (Hartford), just the two of us, for a good half hour. It was about 2 weeks before he died. He told me some pretty heavy things in that little session there. He just really opened up to me. He told me that he had hundreds of scraps of paper with, like a chorus or a verse on them, scattered around his house. He also told me that he couldn’t play anymore so it was really hard for him to express himself. What he told me was really interesting, he said “I’ve never looked under the hood before,” that’s a direct quote. He said “it made me really look under the hood,” because he couldn’t play anymore, and that was his whole way of expressing himself. He told me some deep things. He was really frail, and he was obviously on his way out, but he was very lucid, and very present. I could have sat in that room with him for hours. It was really, really cool. And he also told me that our version of “Boogie” was his favorite version of one of his songs that anybody had ever recorded! He said “You guys got it!” So that really meant a lot. He told me that on two separate occasions. All of us have definitely had some connection with John Hartford.
Vince: I call him the best writer of the 20th century. His catalog is ridiculously massive. I can’t think of any songwriter with that kind of prolific production over the years and years – in all kinds of ways – like tv shows- he’s just amazing. He did jazz records, man, you know? He did bluegrass and old time and respected the hell out of all these old fiddlers and stuff.. I lived in West Virginia for a time and studied the old time and bluegrass music, and John just venerated that stuff… to think of a guy like that being as successful as he was – doing Gentle on My Mind, the Glen Campbell Show, The John Hartford Show, Johnny Cash’s show – it’s just the epitome of an amazing musical life.
FGN: Would you guys say that we’re here because of him?
Vince: I might have lost my lunch box, but I’m still here! Yeah, in a lot of ways that Steam Powered Aeroplane record really turned the world on it’s head, you know? Newgrass, too, you know? Yeah, I think John’s a lot of the reason why festival culture is here. And a lot of people say this is the new Mole Lake! Mole Lake was the amazing Wisconsin festival – people still tell stories about how insane it was – and John was there every year. I believe that’s where the motorized couch was developed? Where you put a couch over your riding mower. All kinds of developments there.
FGN: Mole Lake?
Vince: Mole Lake. It hasn’t happened in like 15 years, but if you go around this weekend and ask any old timer to tell you a Mole Lake story, you’ll probably get some!
FGN: One of our favorite parts about John Hartford fest were the late night picks throughout the campground. You guys are, and get to play with some of the best pickers on the planet, but you still made time to pick with the campers. Why is that, and is there something different you get out of those particular experiences?
Vince: At Hartford Festival those are some of the best pickers on the planet in the campground! The picks were amazing! There was this 7-piece fiddle thing that just happened spontaneously – 7 fiddles, a bowed bass and a cello – and they just improvised this baroque kind of thing – they listen so well that they could do that – that’s just a campground pick! John Hotze who started the festival is a friend of mine, and I played the first two of them with Great American Taxi, and advised him to really try to turn it into a pickers festival and have band contests, and fiddle contests and banjo contests and stuff like that, and get people to come to the contests and they’ll come with their string bands and camp and pick all weekend and make a really good thing, and that has happened! I saw a bunch of people there from Clifftop, and Galax, Mount Airy, and these really old time traditional fests, and there was a ton there. Because John Hartford not only was a pop artist, he was deeply in tune to the old time and bluegrass scenes, and that’s whose coming to his fest. It’s so cool, because John Hotze really put his life savings into making the festival happen, and it looks like with the fest sold out, or nearly sold out I think this year he’ll be able to make some of that back! It’s so awesome, because we need these kind of festivals, these pickin’ festivals, to make the culture survive, and to bring young people to Bean Blossom to do that stuff is a really great service to humanity there. Yeah! John Hotze!
FGN: It was super special. We’ve been to a ton of festivals, and there is nothing like John Hartford Festival. It blew our minds!
Vince: John Hotze showed me a record he has that John (Hartford) gave him in high school and it’s John “Harford.” Chet Atkins added the “t”!
FGN: Chet just liked “t”s, I guess!
Vince: “T” works for me!
FGN: There are a lot of bands with different sounds and different styles on the road right now that have a very similar fan base. For example, here at Blue Ox we have Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, The Flecktones, Pert Near Sandstone and Leftover Salmon, to name a few. What do you think is the unifying factor that ties them all together and leads to festivals like this appearing all over the country?
Vince: Clearly the banjo.
Andy: Uh huh!
Vince: That’s the one common denominator in al those bands.
Andy: Yup. I think it is.
Greg: There’s probably a bass in all those bands.
Vince: Yeah, but no one notices the bass!
Andy: I know, man, it’s all about the banjo!
Vince: It could be all the mandolins!
FGN: Pretty sure it’s all about the bass. There’s even a song about it.
Vince: Yeah, I don’t know what it is. A deep appreciation of roots music, I guess.
Greg: They’re definitely all gateway bluegrass bands, too, you know what I mean?
Vince: Bluegrass for beginners. From us it’s just one short step to third time out.
Greg: 3 RD. Yeah. (Not sure exactly what Greg says here)
FGN: In terms of unique festival experiences, Leftover Salmon has been thinking outside the box with your three-night runs. The last few years we’ve had 3 nights at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, and you recently just played three nights in Asheville, NC in different locations throughout the town. Are you trying to rethink the typical festival experience?
Greg: I think so, I mean, I think while we know we are always trying to pick up new fans and reach a younger generation, we know that our fans are kind of aging along with us, and people sometimes like to go somewhere and stay in a hotel, and be able to walk and get some food. Or go to an interesting place like The Stanley and have an experience. It isn’t necessarily in the summer, in the heat, in the rain, in the mud! It’s kind of like Strings and Sol or some of the destination festivals where you get to go somewhere cool, it’s not your typical thing, there’s a little more of your creature comforts, for us and the fans. Asheville was amazing!
Vince: And you get to settle in for a little while, and make the most of the festy opportunity.
Greg: Absolutely. And then everyone gets to choose their own adventure, as to what they do. You’re not just in one place, everybody doing the same thing. You all come together for the shows and for the music and everything, but you have a lot of different activities that you can kind of do for yourself, which I think is pretty cool.
FGN: Yeah, we think it’s pretty cool!
Can we assume we’ll be back at The Stanley next year?
FGN: And did I hear something about Chicago?
Greg: Yes! Yeah we did one last year at the Vic Theater, what was it called? Funkn’ grass? (The Funkn’ Bluegrass Bash was at Chicago’s Vic Theater, with Bonerama, Dumpstaphunk, Love Canon and the Travelin’ McCourys). February we’ll be doing something again like that. I don’t know if we’ll do it at the Vic again and I don’t know if it will b e more like we just did in Asheville with one big kind of festival show and then some smaller shows around. I feel like the Acoustic Brunch we did… “Brunch,” starting at 3 pm…
Vince: Brunch in Asheville starts at 3…
FGN (Jason): As long as there’s bloody marys it’s brunch!
FGN(Kelly) And Jazz music.
Greg: Yeah! It was awesome, so much fun playing a nice small venue the day after the big show, very relaxed for us and for the crowd. It was kind of cool – I liked that.
FGN: Yeah, we get it. We love Strings and Sol. It’s nice to have a shower, or a nap on a bed!
FGN: Ok, so lastly, we have what we call the Festy Five… these are kind of silly, quick, mostly single word answers…
FGN: Ok, what was your first concert?
Vince: My first concert was at Three Rivers Stadium, it was Bachman Turner Overdrive, Johnny Winter, Dave Mason, Foghat, Styx, Kansas and a band called Bonaroo.
Andy: I don’t remember – it might have been Spin Doctors and Soul Asylum.
Greg: Bon Jovi with Cinderella opening up.
FGN(Jason): Me too! Holy Crap! Where was yours?
Greg: Rosemont Horizon, Chicago.
FGN(Jason): The Spectrum in Philly!
Andy: That’s funny as shit!
Drew: Doobie Brothers and War at Folsom Field in Boulder
FGN: What was your first music festival?
Vince: Camping was in Wilson Kentucky, I think it was called the Wilson Bluegrass Festival. But the first one I got turned onto bluegrass music was called the Smokey City Folk Festival in Pittsburg.
Andy: Merlefest. That’s the first time I saw these guys (Leftover Salmon) actually.
Drew: Same, Rockygrass, but it was called “Rocky Mountain Bluegrass Festival”!
FGN: What was the last album you listened to?
Vince: I think it was The Bluegrass Album with Tony Rice.. Doyle Lawson …who else…
Drew: J.D. Crowe?
Andy: The Bluegrass Album Band?
FGN: Was that the same last album for all of you?!
Greg: No, we don’t have a whole bunch of music going on. We can’t figure out… you know with bluetooth, and different iPod inputs and stuff… depending on the bus there might absolutely nothing you can plug anything into! It’s kinda weird…
FGN: You need like a 22 year old on there to show you how to work the technology…
Vince: I was just talking about the last piece of vinyl I put on the turntable.
Andy: I have a lot of vinyl. I don’t think I’ll remember what I put on last!
Greg: I think the last one I listened to was Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free, his new one.
Drew: The last one I put on when I was home was Mountains of Venus. Jimi Hendrix.
(Note: We think maybe Drew meant Valleys of Neptune? Not sure, though!)
FGN: Ok, I don’t know if you’ll know the answer to this, but what was your high school prom’s theme song?
Vince: Well, I wrote the class theme song…
“Come on down and bring your lady,
Party with the Class of Eighty.
Don’t mean might, don’t mean maybe,
We’re gonna get wild and crazy!
Find a place that’s nice and shady,
We don’t mind if we look lazy.
Cause we’re the one and only
Class of Eighty!
Ode ley Ode Leeeeeeeeyyyyy!”
Vince: 1980 was also the peak year of marijuana use amongst American high school students. So I’m proud to say that I’m a member of the Class of Eighty! And that is why there is such a song as that!
FGN: Nice! I don’t think we’re going to make the rest of you answer that question now!
Drew: No, I don’t think we need to! That was pretty great!
Vince: Really? Come on!
Andy: I don’t remember at all…
FGN: I can guess, it was probably Wonderful Tonight!
Greg: Yeah, I think that’s what mine was!
FGN: OK, last one: Bert or Ernie?