Leftover Salmon: Diving Back In
After six studio albums, a spot on the renowned H.O.R.D.E. tour and the tragic death of original banjoist Mark Vann, Leftover Salmon took a break in early 2005. The members of the group laid the groundwork for a number of different “non-side projects” during that time, including guitarist Vince Herman’s Great American Taxi and Drew Emmitt’s solo band. Following a short hiatus, the bluegrass pioneers reunited for a few select performances in 2007, but remained in the shadows of the scene that they helped bring to national attention. The self-described “polyethnic cajun slamgrass” group recently ramped back up for a successful 20th anniversary tour and have begun work on a new batch of songs to record. Shortly after capping off their first East Coast tour since Vann’s death, Herman and Emmitt discussed Salmon’s first studio album in eight years.
Fire It Up
Drew Emmitt: We took three years off and we got back together and started doing one-off festivals and bigger shows such as Red Rocks and The Fillmore in Denver. We felt like it was time to put a little more effort into it and kick things up a notch. We did a little tour last week of the East Coast, ended up in New York and had a great show there. And we felt like, “Why not go back into the studio and go make a new record and see how it goes?” It took a while for us to get to that point but I think we’re all feeling like it’s a good time to move things forward a little bit.
Vince Herman: We’re feeling really good at this point. The addition of Andy Thorn on banjo has really revived the whole thing and he’s got a feel, for lack of a better phrase, just like Mark Vann. It’s got us fired up to be playing not only the old tunes in the repertoire but also some new ones that we’re excited about. We’re psyched to get out there and see some old friends and try and pull in some youngsters whose lives we can ruin by turning them onto bluegrass music. [Laughs.]
Ain’t What It Used To Be
Emmitt: [The new record] is going to be all new [music]. We’re in the process of writing [the album], so it’s still a mystery to what it’s going to be. Vince and I have been writing a bunch and our new banjo player Andy Thorn has some banjo tunes brewing and [keyboardist] Bill McKay’s got some stuff brewing, too. I think that we’re going to get in there and let things fly. We’ve had a couple of sessions where we’ve gotten together and written, which is something we didn’t really do that much in the past as a band. We all wrote separately and we’re doing something different this time around, which is really creating a collective album—more than we’ve probably ever done before.
Herman: It’s a really different thing these days—not only making albums but trying to sell them, too. CDs aren’t the same as they used to be. It looks like we’ll be working with Steve Berlin from Los Lobos on this one and using a couple of different studios. It’ll be a different process, but as I make more records, we’re becoming more comfortable with the process. We’re not dealing with the forced “on the spot” and “deer in the headlights” kind of feeling that the studio has given us in recent years. I’m looking forward to seeing what becomes of it.
Emmitt: After we were all out doing our own solo projects and playing with different bands, we’re a lot more relaxed about [the recording process.] We’ve all learned a lot over the years. I’ve made three solo records, Billy Nershi and I made a record and Vince has made three Great American Taxi records. It’s going to be cool to come back together after having [had] those experiences with other bands and other projects and it’s going to contribute a lot to the Salmon record. At this point, we’re more relaxed as a band ‘cause we’re not on the road all the time, and I think we’ll be a lot more focused this time around.
Emmitt: We’re going to step it up. We’re definitely going to keep doing our side projects, which aren’t even side projects at this point—they’re probably the main projects. Our plan is to do two or three tours a year with Salmon. We’re doing a short tour in December running up to New Year’s in Portland, Ore. Then in March, we’re going to be doing some ski towns tour around Colorado and the West. Then, we’re looking to do a tour of the Southeast sometime in the spring, followed by some festivals in the summer. We’re going to consistently keep touring, but not like we did before—not all the time. We’re going to keep the other bands alive. It’s nice to have some different things going on and not be pigeonholed into doing the same thing all the time.
Tapping the Well
Emmitt: There are a lot of great bluegrass bands out there right now. I’m partial to the more innovative bluegrass bands like The [Infamous] Stringdusters—they’re doing some great things. They’re combining the more traditional bluegrass with experimentation. They’re definitely taking a page out of the jamgrass book. Their banjo player Chris Pandolfi was the first banjo player in the Emmitt-Nershi Band. He actually turned us onto Andy Thorn when he left and started the Stringdusters. We have a lot of connections with them and know them well—they’re definitely one of our favorites.
Herman: I think bluegrass music is doing great. There’s a brand new John Hartford Memorial Festival, which is held out at Bean Blossom, Ind. It’s great to see a new generation of the younger fans coming in an honoring John and getting into Bean Blossom and seeing what’s on the new frontiers of bluegrass. Bluegrass is a deep well that you can keep going back to and it’s influenced so many other styles of music, rather than just it’s own little bluegrass circle. It informs old country and rock, so people will keep digging back into the bluegrass well.
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