A unified vision

On the road again: For almost two years, Uncle Mountain has been performing three to four nights a week. “You can practice a lot, but you really get a sense for what works when you play it live,” says drummer Ryan Lassiter (left). Kyle Beach

Uncle Mountain performs with a disarming ease that makes it seem as though the trio was born playing breezy folk rock.

And while congenital folkie is a stretch, it's not as far from the truth as one might expect. Dan Shearin and Ryan Lassiter have known each other for nearly 15 years, and they’ve been playing with Ryan Furstenberg since the three came together in high school a decade ago. These days, they share a house, complete with a rehearsal space and recording studio in the basement, and spend nearly all of their time together.

"If we're awake, we're around each other, with a few breaks here and there," Shearin admits.

It's not surprising then that the musical chemistry runs deep. But there's a lot more to Uncle Mountain than chemistry. At the heart of the band's appeal lies a knack for crafting pop-friendly folk rock grounded in complex rhythms, hints of Western twang and Appalachian harmonies with a Beatles-esque spin.

The latest album showcases offerings from all three members, who, in addition to contributing songs, often trade instrumental duties during live performances. From the bouncy, banjo-centric country flavor of "Hot Sun" to the warm, enchanting melody of the album's closer, "Whiskey Gingers,"  it’s a stew of modern roots, steeped in classic rock and peppered with bits of indie and pop sensibilities.

Fans will recognize much of the material from local performances, but the recording captures an energy and freshness rarely achieved when recording familiar tracks. But that's no accident. Uncle Mountain spent months recording in the home studio before scrapping nearly the entire project to capture an intangible element that was lacking in the dry recording environment.

"We were overdubbing, starting with drums, then adding guitar," explains Shearin.

"A lot of overdubbing," adds Lassiter. "And we weren't capturing the energy we wanted."

So when an opportunity arose to house-sit a friend's cabin in Swannanoa, the band saw an opportunity. For five days, they holed up there and recorded the majority what would become Miles of Skyline live. 

"There's a big, two-story ceiling in the living room and the upstairs is lofted," recalls Lassiter. "It's all wood paneling, so it makes for a really good sound. They had a fire-burning stove to heat the place. It was a good time.

"It felt really productive," he adds, "and it was just a very unified vision. We knew what we had to get done. There was no real busy work about it. It felt good to plow through that stuff."

The approach worked. There's an undeniable energy to the recording that captures the band's stellar live show, and what overdubs were added to the project only serve to enhance the intention of the songs. Often, the temptation to pile on layers in the studio, especially for multi-instrumentalists, can muddy otherwise clear and precise tracks. That was something the band readily admits they had to overcome.

"On our last record, we went a little nuts," says Shearin.

"This was almost like a backlash to that, and we still went over a little," adds Lassiter.

"It's not a total trio album," Furstenberg agrees, "but we made a conscious effort to make it so the songs were a lot more playable live, because we're a live band now. More so than our first album."

That's the modest way to put it. For almost two years, Uncle Mountain has been playing three to four shows every week, hitting cities like Charleston, Cincinnati, Washington D.C., Savannah and a host of other regional markets. The trio maintained that schedule even when recording, which meant playing music, either on stage or in the studio, seven days a week, up to seven hours a day. It's exhausting to even think about, but Uncle Mountain approaches it from a more practical standpoint.

"That's kind of how we make our living," says Furstenberg, nonchalantly.

"It's pretty much impossible to have a job and tour at the point we're at," adds Lassiter. "Which is kind of scary, because we're still at a point where it's kind of touch and go sometimes, economically speaking. But I could never see any of us going back to a job now."

And remember that disarming ease? Lassiter credits the relentless performance schedule with honing the band's craft.

“You can practice a lot, but you really get a sense for what works when you play it live," he says. "And just over the course of about two years now, since we really started playing every weekend, it's made a world of difference. We're a different band.

Despite the grueling schedule and seemingly endless rehearsals and touring, it's apparent the band has no regrets about jumping in head first.

"For the most part, it's really good to just be playing music," Furstenberg says. "It's a decision, you know."

what: Uncle Mountan CD release with Dirty Bourbon River Show & ES Guthrie
where: Grey Eagle, $8/$10, thegreyeagle.com.
when: Friday, Aug. 12, 8:30 p.m.

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2 thoughts on “A unified vision

  1. Ollie and Scout

    Glad that house sitting session was so productive. Maybe we can have an unplugged house concert out here sometime.
    I hope to make it out Friday night if baby decides to stay in moma’s belly a little longer. z

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