Yonder Mountain String Band (YMSB) is a long-running Americana act featuring Adam Aijala (guitar), Dave Johnston (banjo), Allie Kral (fiddle), Ben Kaufmann (bass) and Nick Piccininni (mandolin). Since its emergence in 1998, there have been subtle personnel changes along the way, each one signaling a slight shift in sound. Still, the common thread is that its collective members have always been committed to a shared journey of musical discovery that has taken them well beyond the borders of traditional bluegrass. We recently caught up with Aijala to discuss the evolution of his ensemble, his love for Bob Dylan as well as the current tour that lands YMSB back in the Lowcountry this week for a Friday show on the Windjammer’s beach stage.
City Paper: Can you tell us about your background and early influences?
Adam Aijala: I grew up in a small, rural town in central Massachusetts and started out on electric guitar, influenced originally by bands like Black Flag and The Clash. Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia played a large role in motivating me to practice as I got older.
CP: What were some of the major milestones in your artistic development?
AA: Discovering Grateful Dead, which introduced me to Old & In The Way, which got me to bluegrass. Bob Dylan and Neil Young got me interested in the acoustic guitar in high school. Jerry helped me learn to jam and Dylan got me into writing songs.
CP: You’ve been at it a while now. In your estimation, how has YMSB evolved over the years?
AA: Well, aside from the obvious personnel changes, which affect the overall sound, I feel like our songs have evolved in the same way our personalities evolve as we age. We write what we’re feeling at any given time and not for something or with specific intent. I suppose I shouldn’t speak for everyone, but that’s my view. We continue to do it because it’s fun and we want people to have fun when they see us perform. Adding Nick to the band has been great for new inspiration.
CP: Do you think that labeling yourselves as a string band rather than a straightforward bluegrass outfit has given you more freedom for musical exploration?
AA: That wasn’t our thought when we named the band back in 1998. It ended up kind of happening organically. We truly wanted to be a bluegrass band but because our influences were anything but that we ended up sounding like Yonder Mountain and we rolled with it.
CP: How would you describe the current dynamic within the group?
AA: It’s democratic, though we all have different roles as well as strengths and weaknesses. The overall vibe when we’re together is lightheartedness and we like making each other laugh, which I think is a big reason we’re still together.
CP: Since you were, more or less, forced off the road for the last year, what has the band been up to?
AA: I’ve been handling the business side of things and also curating a series of videos we labeled, “Quarantine Vids” on our YouTube page. We collectively live in four different time zones but for these videos everyone sends A/V of a specific song to me and I edit us into boxes on a screen, Brady Bunch-style. I think we did just shy of 30 over the last year. We’ve also been working on a new record and have 11 brand new songs that we are hoping to get released late in 2021 or early in 2022.
CP: You’re back in action now with a handful of new tour dates. What can we expect from the current live show?
AA: High energy and a positive experience. We have lots of material to pick from and with Nick joining literally a few months into 2020 that means there’s still quite a few folks who haven’t seen us yet with him performing with us. We are looking forward to it.
Yonder Mountain String Band performs 7 p.m. Friday, May 14, at the Windjammer on Isle of Palms.
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