After two years off defined progression, the pieces are finally falling into place for Silent Old Mtns.
By Andrew Bailey
Photos by Casey Martin
With a Jolly Roger flag flapping lightly off the side of the porch, in the basement of a house off Jefferson Street in Frederick, the six members of Silent Old Mtns., surrounded by guitars and drums, talk a lot about “dominoes.” The biggest domino yet — a yellow shortbus the band funded on Kickstarter and acquired last year for touring — sits in the driveway of what serves as both practice space and residence to three of the band’s members.
“It was the first in a very significant line of dominoes that just kind of fell into place for us,” explains drummer Pat Acuña of the now-fabled bus. “A lot of real good — I don’t want to say luck — just good fortune: things that, I don’t want to say we weren’t ambitious enough to accept, but stuff that has never happened in other bands. I’ve been in four bands and I’ve never had things fall into our lap like this.”
Andrew Bromhal, the band’s founder, recruited Acuña and Thom Huenger to cover percussion and keys, respectively, for a show at Baltimore’s Ottobar in 2011. In the two years since, they’ve added Steve Younkins (bass), Samuel Whalen (banjo and spoken word) and Joe Jalette (guitar) to the roster.
“I can’t believe we played this long without Joe,” says Acuña. “It’s such a gaping hole in the music when we perform without him, and it blows my mind that we got to the point we have without that dynamic.”
Jalette, whose acquisition qualifies as another domino, joined the group last summer just in time for a tour of the Midwest in support of Velvet Raccoon, the group’s debut album. The adventure marked the first trip for the prized bus purchased from Craigslist, which Whalen insists runs exclusively on “great times and greater friends” as opposed to more common things “like oil” and routine maintenance.
Silent Old Mtns. are, at their core, a live band. While the bus represents another element in a growing line of successes, it also functions as a symbol for the essence of the band and the promise of what’s to come. It speaks to the effort and energy that goes into being on the road and performing with such frequency.
Divvying up cans from a case of Busch, the guys chat excitedly of another Midwestern tour to begin in late March, in which they’ll take a detour to Rock Island, Illinois, to record a live session for Daytrotter, a launching pad for many emerging artists and another tumbling domino. According to Younkins, they’ve played roughly 280 shows from the beginning of 2012 through January of this year, and it’s this live experience that the band hopes to capture on their in-theworks sophomore album.
“The whole thought of the next record is supposed to be giving our friends and people who come see us play what they see happen when they see us live,” explains Bromhal, whose voice resonates the softest of anyone in the room. With that mission stated clearly, Silent Old Mtns. expect their second record will be a markedly different experience than the first. The band has already enlisted Matt Cramer of Frederick’s Brick Wall Recording to produce the album, and Bromhal anticipates the new material being a more even mix of songs and spoken-word storytelling.
“The amount of music that we’re talking about would be like an EP’s length of music,” he says, “but with spoken word and poetry tracks — there will be some more depth.”
Upstairs, the group gathers to listen to the latest mix of “Beautiful Animals,” their first Cramer-produced single which is intended to be given the music video treatment and serve as a lead-in to the next album. Appropriately, a painting of a raccoon on velvet canvas hangs on the wall overlooking the stereo. The namesake of that painting — acquired by Acuña while living in Nashville — was last year’s 10-song record.
Although it isn’t the final mix, the new song represents a leap forward in the method of capturing the band’s live signature. The sound is fuller and the playback more closely resemble what you’d get from a stage show versus the polish of a studio. Huenger voices some concerns over the cleanliness of the snare after it finishes playing, and Acuña assures his bandmates that, after further mixing and eventual mastering, track will be “a lot less muddy sounding.” Still, even as it’s being developed, the new track offers defined progression.
“The new batch is a theoretical and volatile mixture of songs that each of us has individually written at different points in time,” Whalen offers wryly, “or, possibly, songs that have yet to be written.”
In just two years, Silent Old Mtns. has grown from being Bromhal’s solo outlet to a group of six “brothers,” as Acuña refers to them, with a mounting trail of triumphs in the rearview mirror of that converted yellow shortbus. With more tour dates and a brand new album waiting over the horizon, it seems a safe bet that there are plenty of more dominoes left to topple.
Silent Old Mtns. will be performing on Saturday, April 20 at both the Record Exchange (151 N. Market St.) and Flying Dog Brewery (4607 Wedgewood Blvd.) in Frederick (check www.frederickgorilla.com for times and more information). If you can’t go where the hills are alive with the sound of the Silent Old Mtns. performing their unique blend of indie rock, folk and poetry on stage, then take a look at www.silentoldmtns.com.
Local Band Shifts Focus From Popular Live Performance to Cultivate a New Studio Sound
By Andrew Bailey
Photography Courtesy of The Fieldhands
In February 2010, a series of blizzards so severe they became known as “Snowpocalypse” brought the area to a chilling standstill. Feet — not inches — of snow blanketed Frederick County, crippling roadways and forcing businesses to close. But not everything came to a frozen halt.Trapped inside their downtown home with little more than acoustic instruments, a bit of the hard stuff and uninterrupted time, Lora Walburn, Zach Norris, Matthew Reen and Evan Bell got busy planting the creative seeds for what would grow into the Fieldhands.
“We’d talked about it for a while and now we had the time; we were stuck,” Norris recalls. “We were completely snowed in.”
More than two years later, the Fieldhands boast a labor force of seven, since adding Collin Cottingham on guitar, horn player Adam Griggs and Brian Murray on fiddle. As their roster has grown, so too has their sound. Purveyors of folk-Americana and bluegrass, the band has amassed a wide range of musical influences, many of which they welcome into their live performances.
During a particularly spirited Cinco de Mayo outing at Middletown’s cozy The Main Cup, they supplemented a two-part set of original material with unique renditions of songs by Langhorne Slim and Outkast, then closed the evening by turning blues icon Lead Belly’s heartbreaking “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (popularized by Nirvana) into a rousing, whiskey-soaked country dance anthem.
“We’re a dancing band,” proclaims Bell, sporting a bright orange bandage to protect a broken pinky.
As saccharine and successful as the band may be in a live setting — “There was an hour wait to stand in the bar and they ran out of beer and whiskey, through no fault of their own,” says Walburn of their January show at the same Middletown venue — their focus, at least for the immediate future, has shifted from playing live to recording their first physical record. The band is tangibly eager to collect their newer, fuller sound in a format that will allow their music to stick beyond the confinement of just one performance. The band’s Reverb Nation webpage is home to seven songs, each one recorded prior to the lineup expansion.
“Those are fun recordings, but they’ve got that living room sound to them,” says Walburn, the band’s chief songwriter, adding coyly, “maybe because we recorded them in a living room.”
While many bands will actively seek to increase their live performance load throughout the summer months, the Fieldhands have pumped the brakes on their bookings in favor of the studio. Between full-time day jobs and continued education, there are plenty of obvious time constraints to take into consideration. Their priority seems clear. Having already conquered the art of transforming dimly lit coffeehouses into scoot-and-boogie parties, the logical next step in the band’s evolution is to capture the magic physically, a goal they hope to cross off in the coming months.
“We’re trying to put something out that we can really call our own — something that we can all be proud of and something where everyone can be included,” explains Norris.
While they may not have that “something” digitized for distribution to the listening public just yet, they are certainly not without a source of pride: in such a narrow window of time, they have already emerged as one of Frederick County’s must-see acts.
To the Fieldhands’ credit, they’ve even managed to make all those backbreaking hours spent shoveling out from under mountains of snow and ice seem worth it. And to the fortune of their well-deserved and ever-growing fan base, what lies ahead appears even more promising.
- Zach Norris – Banjo, Guitar
- Matthew Reen – Percussion, Harmonica
- Evan Bell – Bass, Vocals
- Adam Griggs – Horn, Vocals
- Lora Walburn – Vocals, Mandolin, Guitar
- Collin Cottingham – Guitar, Vocals
- Brian Murray – Fiddle
Upcoming Fieldhands Performance
June 24 | 4-10 p.m. 7th Annual Joann Garrett Classic
7612 Willow Rd., Walkersville
With performances by: G. Love & Special Sauce
The Scrawny White Kid Blues.
By Sean Jester
Photos by Mary Kate McKenna
Imagine this: I take you to a blues bar blindfolded. You can smell the bar’s signature aromas, hear the people talking, and eventually a guy starts playing the blues akin to some of the legends, like B.B. King, Eric Clapton and John Lee Hooker. When you take off the blindfold, do you expect to see a scrawny, 23-year-old white kid from Middletown, Maryland, who can’t weigh more than 130 pounds, soaking wet? I don’t think so.
Meet Paul Pfau. He is the aforementioned scrawny, 23-year-old, who—if you close your eyes and listen to his voice—you’d swear was a 60-year-old black man, weighing in at about 250 pounds.
The Songwriters Showcase at Brewers Alley
By Rachael Shankle
Photos by Bill Millios
It was a hot, late summer Monday evening when I met with local musician-host-songwriter-music promoter extraordinaire (whew!) Roderick Neil Deacey.
“Rod,” as he prefers to be called, is quite the colorful character, blending, as he does, a Salisbury, England, upbringing with 18 years of Americanization. But if it weren’t for this pond hopper’s passion for music, the Songwriter Showcase that’s been running at Brewer’s Alley for seven years, (where you can hear live, original music from 7:30–10:30 p.m. every Monday night) might not have occurred.
An Interview with Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade
By Rachael Shankle | Photography by Garth Phoebus
It was a familiar, cusp of summer, Tuesday evening when I interviewed the lovely Miss Tess—singer-songwriter and band leader of the eclectic Bon Ton Parade—during her stopover to play at Frederick’s Café Nola. I arrived just in time to see Tess and her all-male band swerve into a sweet parking spot right in front of the popular night spot and eatery.