‘On the Rise’ at the Wheeler Opera House: Front Country
If You Go…
What: Front Country
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Saturday, Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $25
Tickets: Wheeler box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com
Since winning the Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s vaunted band competition in 2013, Front Country has developed an innovative pop-centric string band sound and become darlings of NPR Music.
Now touring in support of the new album “Other Love Songs,” the San Francisco-bred quintet is back in Colorado to play the Wheeler Opera House’s On the Rise series and make their Aspen debut Saturday.
The band spent this week before the big show hanging out in Paonia. I spoke to the band’s lead singer Melody Walker on the phone from there.
Aspen Times: What did winning the Telluride band competition mean to the band? What changed after Telluride?
Melody Walker: It was a validation for the band, a sign that maybe we should really do it and be a touring band. Before that it had been more of a thing just for fun — just a collection of different players from the Bay Area. It gave us this kick in the butt to get our thing started and make a go of it.
AT: And you guys come from such different musical backgrounds — from jazz (bassist Jeremy Darrow) and classical (fiddle player Leif Karlstrom) and Afrobeat (guitarist Jacob Groopman) and so on. None of you are bluegrass traditionalists. How did you find the Front Country sound?
MW: It was pretty organic. It all started with the shared instrumentation of bluegrass. But we were all very interested in different kinds of music, too. We wanted to see if we could do something we hadn’t heard before.
AT: How is the new material from “Other Love Songs” evolving onstage?
MW: About half the record we hadn’t played live before the record came out and we went out on the CD release tour. So it’s been cool how these songs have marinated and changed and taken on a different energy on the stage.
AT: What’s Front Country’s mission for shaping the future of bluegrass?
MW: We’re just exploring the limits of what you can do with this instrumentation. We’re trying to make something that’s our own unique voice, but still has all of the elements going back in the tradition — from our most recent predecessors like Bela Fleck and New Grass Revival to the really old stuff and going pre-bluegrass to the Carter Family and Appalachian ballads.
AT: Speaking of which, you have a unique cover of the Carter Family’s “The Storms are on the Ocean” on the new record. How do you choose cover songs and decide how to approach them?
MW: The Carter Family one came about in a backwards way, where we had two elements we thought were missing for the new record: a traditional song that we rearranged and we were also missing a bluesy element. So it was this idea of, “What if we took those two things and put them together?” So “The Storms are on the Ocean” is a really sweet waltz, but we looked at the lyrics and they’re pretty rock ’n’ roll. So we approached it like completely resetting the lyrics to that song, using little bits of the original melody but changing the meter and the tempo completely.
AT: The band moved to Nashville from the Bay Area not so long ago. How has being in the center of the music world in Nashville affected the way you work creatively?
MW: Co-writing is the big thing in Nashville. So I’ve gotten into co-writing with good friends who are in other bands like Lindsay Loy & the Flatbellys, The Stray Birds, Shelby (Means) from Della Mae, Sally & George. It’s a great excuse to hang out. It’s just this big, happy musical family. So we’re stoked to be where our musical family is and influencing each other’s music in a more direct and hands-on way.
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