Contra dance, folk and swing band The Mean Lids are “only as mean as they need to be to keep the grit in their tones and the edge on their tunes,” according to the band’s website. They are Miriam Larson (flute and jaw harp), Ben Smith (fiddle, baritone fiddle, banjo, low whistle and kick drum) and Matt Turino (guitar, fiddle and feet). The trio is based in Illinois; they perform at LEAF this weekend. In advance, Larson talked to Xpress about headwear, experimental music and the group’s new album
Find the full festival schedule here. LEAF runs Thursday, May 9-Sunday, May 12. Tickets are for sale (online or by phone at 686-8742) in advance only, through May 9. $184 adults/$153 kids ages 10-17 for Thursday-Sunday with camping. $159/$134 Friday-Sunday with camping. $106/$94 Friday-Sunday no camping. $47/$38 Friday evening or Sunday day only, no camping. $57/$50 Saturday only, no camping. Parking is $5 per vehicle with free shuttle.
Mountain Xpress: First of all, LEAF has bands that play for listening crowds and bands that play for dancers (as in contra, cajun and swing). I get the idea that the Mean Lids could do both — which will it be at this particular festival?
Miriam Larson: We are playing for dancers, our favorite!
Did you all happen to meet over a common love of hats? Give us the rundown on how the band started, and also where the name comes from. I have made up a story once about a dragon that had a love of hats and a dragon-slaying adventure that brought us together. The truth is really that we came together around a love of music and the hats were an added bonus! Matt and I go way back to elementary school days. Ben came along to study music in town and once I got back from college, we became a band.
The Mean Lids are influenced by musical styles like Cajun, Celtic and old-time — all genres that have purist followers who don’t like to see those genres messed with. But you all seem to fluidly marry those influences. Do you look for commonalities in themes and sounds or just go for full-out experimentation? And do you ever face criticism for your dabbling? I feel like the contra dance community welcomes musical experimentation as long as it has a good groove. Although there are some dance purists who prefer and are used to certain styles of music over other styles, people have been very receptive of our experimentation. Our approach to combining music styles is fairly organic, we each bring different influences to our composing and our improvising. But in the end, our aim is to provide different textures and rhythms that will make dancing fun.
You have an album in the works for this year. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Maybe themes, or where you hope to record, and when it’ll be released. We hope to have the CD available at LEAF. We are excited about a number of new compositions we recorded for the album that have been tested and enjoyed on the dance floor. We’ve also had the opportunity to work with several amazing visual artists who did wonderful paintings for the cover and the inside flap.
Looks like you have a bunch of festivals and dance weekends lined up on your schedule. When you go to such an event and you’re not performing, do you all try to get out and dance? If so, what sort of dancing do you each like best? We definitely love to dance, and we all dance a lot of different styles including swing, salsa, Cajun and non-couples dance, too.
Photo from the Mean Lids’ Facebook page.