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.