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Although Yonder Mountain String Band has come to be known for combining rock n’ roll improvisational tendencies with their fundamentally traditional bluegrass sound, the band also cites a seemingly surprising musical influence: punk.
“We didn’t even hear bluegrass until our 20s,” said guitarist Adam Aijala. “Falling in love with the sound of bluegrass instruments, while also having all of these outside influences that had nothing to do with bluegrass — well, what comes out isn’t what we envisioned.”
Their latest album, Black Sheep, reflects a time of experimentation for the group perhaps more than any other. Following the departure of a founding member, this latest effort is the first time the band has utilized the conventional five-piece bluegrass instrumental line-up of guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle and bass throughout an entire record.
“The traditional bluegrass lineup allows us to rethink things on different levels,” said Dave Johnston. “But at the heart of it all is the same energy and drive and a freewheeling spirit. It’s an exciting time for us because we have an invigorating sense of the future. At the end of the day, Yonder is a band with almost two decades of music under its belt, but we’re always a bit restless. We want to move the music forward to new places, which keeps us on our musical toes.”
Black Sheep marks the band’s sixth full-length studio album and will be released at the 42nd Telluride Bluegrass Festival on Tuesday, June 16 via the group’s own label, Frog Pad Records. They will tour throughout summer, fall and winter in support of the album, with a special stop in Colorado for a hometown show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Friday, August 21 with good friends Greensky Bluegrass and Fruition.
“We’ve been growing over the years and I feel like we really don’t have any limitations,” Aijala said. “It doesn’t feel like work when you get to hang out with people that you care about and play music.”
“It’s not just bluegrass — it’s progressive. Everything Yonder has ever tried to do, we’re doing in this record. It’s gonna take some time for fans to get acquainted with the new Yonder,” added bassist, Ben Kaufmann. “When you make a big change like we did, it’s a huge thing. But the band is a force, and the album is such a perfect example of our new direction.”