When you can truly conduct a career on your own terms, you’ve accomplished something special. And perhaps no band exemplifies this better than Yonder Mountain String Band (YMSB). The Boulder, Colo.-based trio of Dave Johnston, Ben Kaufmann and Adam Aijala – now aided by new members Jake Jolliff and Allie Kral – has brought string band music to the masses while running its own label, Frog Pad Records. On Friday, October 24, YMSB will return to Birmingham with a performance at Iron City. The Larry Keel Experience will open the 8 p.m. show. Recently, we caught up with YMSB banjoist/vocalist Johnston by phone from his Colorado home.
Weld: Dave, thanks for your time today. What’s going on with YMSB as we speak?
Dave Johnston: We’ve already written and recorded our tunes for the new album and now we’re kind of finishing them off. It’s been really great – we are all really excited. Working with Jake and Allie on the new record has been a fantastic experience for everyone and we’re enjoying where things are going. [The album release date] will be next year sometime – the spring seems likely, but maybe in the winter.
Weld: You guys were ahead of the music industry curve when you established your own record label, Frog Pad Records, a number of years ago. If you will, describe what it’s like to run your own label.
DJ: We finance it ourselves – I don’t know if we run it ourselves [Laughs]. We feel like it’s been the best thing for us and it’s important to feel like you have control over your music and control over when you make it. We had a brief flirtation with [record labels] Vanguard and Sugar Hill and I don’t think it really panned out that great, so it’s good to stick with the way we’re doing it now.
Weld: Of course, improvisation is a big part of your band’s musical approach. But do you ever get tired of playing a song after you’ve played it hundreds of times already?
DJ: For me, I feel like I’m always trying to improve or reinvent what I’m doing in a particular moment. How well I execute something is secondary to how I feel in the moment when I’m playing it. I kind of make it up as I go along – sometimes that’s evident in a bad way, sometimes it’s really successful [Laughs]. For me, not knowing exactly what I’m going to do keeps things fresh.
Tickets to the show are $22.50-$25 day of the show and may be purchased at ironcitybham.com.