15 MINUTES IN TRAFFIC WITH JEFF AUSTIN (of Yonder Mountain String Band)
Interview by Bradley Darby
@DarbySTL / DarbySTL on Facebook
Jeff Austin, who you may know as the mandolin man and one fourth of the jamgrass powerhouse that is the Yonder Mountain String Band, recently took some downtime with Yonder to hit the road with a few close friends. Austin’s current project, Jeff Austin and The Here & Now, consists of banjo picker extraordinaire Danny Barnes, as well as the husband and wife / legendary bluegrass combo of flat picker Larry Keel and Jenny Keel on the bass.
The tour kicked off in Chicago a few nights ago and has recently stopped in Kentucky and Ohio. They also stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Thursday before wrapping up at the Mumford and Son’s Gentlemen of the Road Stopover in Guthrie, Oklahoma this weekend.
You can download a FREE 4 SONG EP HERE. Be sure to check out one of the few Jeff Austin and the Here and Now shows or catch Jeff later this fall when the Yonder Mountain String Band resumes their schedule. All the dates are listed below, may I suggest the Harvest Music Festival in Ozark, AR in October. Not only do you get Yonder, but you get to see Tedeschi Trucks Band, Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang, Railroad Earth, JJ Grey and MOFRO, as well as Friends of Concert Confessions, Dirtfoot and many many others. Get the full lineup here.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Jeff Austin to discuss his new adventure while he was sitting in traffic with Danny Barnes en route to their show at the Bluebird in Bloomington, Indiana. We also discuss a lot of things St. Louis (this was originally done as preview piece for STL show on another site) and Jeff’s passion for delicious food.
Me: Thank you for taking a few minutes to talk to me about The Here and Now. Its a great project that I’m very excited to see on Wednesday.
Jeff Austin: I’m pretty excited too. It’s some of my heroes and they happen to be some of my friends. Every day is just great, I’m really looking forward to it.
Me: You’ve been involved in many different solo projects over the years, from the 30dB shows (with Brendan Bayliss from Umphrey’s McGee) to various Bluegrass Balls to the Grateful Grass show (with Keller Williams and Keith Moseley) How did the Here and Now come about?
Jeff Austin: The first time the 4 of us played together it was two years ago out in Oregon. I got asked to do a set of Jerry Garcia music on the anniversary of his death. They said play whatever you want, hire whoever you want, and I kind of went… Shit, this could be a fun lineup to try and get together. Everyone was able to do it and it was just a blast we had a great time. The musical conversation was really neat, it was very easy to have, the call and the response and all of that it was just beyond cool and to ignore that would be irresponsible. We’ve all been busy, it took a little while to get it together, but earlier this year we played together in Colorado and it was off to the races… we put together a tour and it came together.
Me: I am very happy you’ve chosen St. Louis as a stop to bring this project to. You’ve been at the Old Rock House a few times before with the Bluegrass Ball, is that a venue you personally wanted to come back to or did it just happen that way?
Jeff Austin: I really enjoy that venue, I think its perfect for this project. Its not too big, but its not small. Its got that intimate vibe to it. This is a Wednesday night and a new project, so its all about new things. I’m telling you, I like St. Louis… I really, really like St. Louis and I wanted to kind of make sure this was somewhere we went on our first run. It worked out perfectly and the people at that venue are really nice and accommodating and open to musicians coming in. I was really glad when it worked out.
Me: A few of the other shows are just duo shows with you and Danny Barnes. How does planning a set list with just you and Danny differ than a set list with the whole Here and Now band?
Jeff Austin: The Keels had a prior engagement at that Lock’n Festival that they have to fly out to. One of the things with Danny and I just doing that show, and I’m looking at him right now, with just the two of us it will be a lot of open ended stuff and kind of, off the cuff. Seeing how the emotion of the evening kind of writes the set list for us. Some of the songs we probably haven’t even rehearsed like ‘Hey you know this Hartford tune’ or whatever. That will be really cool, it’ll be really kinda in the spur of the moment thing and see how the crowd reacts and how we’re having our conversation with each other.
Me: Is the Here and Now going to be a rotating cast of musicians, similar to Sam Bush’s New Grass Revival, or is this the group of four you plan on moving forward with?
Jeff Austin: Well it has the potential there that we could write songs, have a horns section, who knows? It could turn into anything. It kind of really is based on the idea of Here and Now, what’s happening in this moment and what works. Not just because I’m writing material I want to play for people, but you know… I have so much freaking fun with this lineup that I may be hard pressed to pick up traveling with anyone else. Its pretty damn fun.
Me: What does the future of the Here and Now look like? Is there going to be an album or is this mostly a live thing?
Jeff Austin: The plan right now is that I have a laundry list of material I want to put on a record I was hoping to have out this fall. There are certain songs being played, that I can’t think of any other lineup playing them than the folks I am traveling with, so as i’m thinking of the studio version of it I absolutely want to see these guys play on it. But it could be a rotation of songs where i want a horn section or drums or strings or this and that. It will vary a little bit but the core of it will be built around the way that this project is sounding… thats what I hope
Me: That sounds awesome.
Jeff Austin: There are songs that I didn’t write in a bluegrass vane but I played them in a bluegrass vane and when I put them out, I want to play them the way that I wrote them. To be able to go into a studio to do those songs that way, its going to be interesting because its not going to be a bluegrass album by any stretch of the imagination. It will just be a record. I guess if you had to categorize it Americana? I don’t know, but i’m looking forward to that process. i’m in the part right now of getting the lineup of songs, editing, and all that kind of stuff and going full steam ahead.
Me: I’ve read recently that in your freetime one of the things you love doing is running a food blog, “Table for One”, right?
Jeff Austin: It’s not only a food blog its going to be turning into a webisode kind of thing. I’m actually in the editing process right now with that as well. I did filming a number of months ago, and I have four days of a shoot coming up in September. My hope is by mid or late October to drop the first webisode of Table for One. I have some high aspirations for that so that hopefully it could maybe turn into, or launch, a show at some point, but yeah its a huge passion of mine. Just telling the story of people who are passionate about what they do and how that affects me and how it affects people. I find that story intriguing.
Me: Back in Spring 2012 we spoke briefly and you told me about the Thai Kitchen Cafe down on Delmar. Is there anywhere in St Louis you are looking forward to checking out when you get back in town or somewhere you went last time you want to give a shout out to?
Jeff Austin: Thai Country Cafe.. I LOVE that place. One of the heartbreaks on the road for me was when they took the duck noodle soup off the menu, and then they put it back on. I was so happy… so happy. I love that place. Uhh… I am not sure. I’d like to make it a point to get back there. The beautiful thing about having not done a tour like this is with these friends is that I get to take them to new food joints that I love and I want to share. This morning in Chicago we went to Hot Dougs Sausage Emporium. I’ll tell you what I like at the Rock House is right down the block that tiny little joint, that one room diner. That place blows my mind. When the Del McCoury Band was just down there doing a couple nights… me and a couple of those guys, we will text each other when we know we’re in a restaurant that someone else likes. I got a couple photos of just them at the counter or the menu on the wall.
Me: Well Jeff thats really all I had for you, is there anything else you want to tell us about? What else is going on in the life of Jeff Austin?
Jeff Austin: I’d say check out www.JeffAustin.com, I am going to try to post something everyday from the tour whether its a little video of us playing, song ideas or food updates or whatever but I’m going to start that up tonight here and do little things everyday. Kind of a little road diary type of thing.
Me: Thanks for the time Jeff, we’ll see you on Wednesday!
READ MY MARCH 2012 INTERVIEW WITH JEFF AND DAVE JOHNSTON FROM YONDER MTN STRING BAND HERE
JEFF AUSTIN and THE HERE & NOW on Tour:
9/04 Old Rock House – St. Louis, MO
9/05 The Shrine – Tulsa, OK *Jeff Austin & Danny Barnes duo show
9/06-07 Cottonwood Flats – Mumford & Sons Gentlemen of the Road – Guthrie, OK
YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND
10/09 Wilmington, NC – Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
10/10 Charlotte, NC – Amos’ Southend
10/11 Athens, GA – Georgia Theatre
10/12 Silk Hope, NC
10/13 Chattanooga, TN – Track 29
10/16 Oxford, MS – The Lyric Oxford
10/17-19 Ozark, AR – YMSB Harvest Festival at Mulberry Mountain (3 nights)
10/23 Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall Ballroom
10/24 Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue & 7th St Entry
10/25-26 Chicago, IL – House of Blues (2 nights)
10/29-30 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl (2 nights)
10/31 Philadelphia, PA – Theatre of Living Arts
11/01 Boston, MA – House of Blues
11/02 Portland, ME – State Theatre
12/27-29 & 12/31 Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater (4 nights)