When Jeff Austin roams around the state of Oregon, he feels as if he were in a strange movie. But it’s not just the scenery that keeps Austin and the rest of Yonder Mountain String Band coming back to this fine state; it’s the people. “Eugene is very near and dear to our hearts; it’s always been good to us,” says Austin, who plays mandolin and provides silvery vocals for Yonder. “We’re like old cowboys. We don’t forget that stuff.”
While the Colorado-based outfit was originally formed as a bluegrass band, and their instrumentation and productions resonate with that genre, the group is very much defiant of musical restrictions. “When I found what resonated with me about bluegrass, it stuck with me and became part of who I am, but I didn’t forget the music I grew up with,” Austin says. “To have forgotten that would be a great disservice to all the music that’s come into my ears.”
From covers of the Talking Heads to the Misfits, the group pulls from a variety of influences both to entertain and to keep things exciting. “It’s not like we have to strip apart these songs and struggle to find a way for it to fit to our structure. It just falls into place,” Austin says.
Although other members cite punk-rock influences and others more progressive rock, Austin was captivated by the likes of Phish and the Dead. “What caught up with me was the undeniable draw of playing call and response music,” he says.
Yonder hasn’t put out an album since The Show in 2009, but they’re headed back into the studio this year to put together a series of EPs. “We revel so much in the playing live thing that before long it was 2013, and holy crap, our last record came out when?” Austin jokes. “We’re in the process of working on the EP but we’re also trying to reinvent how to put out a record.”
The group will hunker down in Eugene for a two-night run at the McDonald Theatre. “It’s always fun to settle in for a few days, especially in a place like Eugene,” Austin says. “We have an audience that is just fucking awesome in that town.”
Yonder Mountain String Band plays with Head for the Hills 8:30 pm Friday, April 19, and Saturday, April 20, at the McDonald Theatre; $20 adv., $25 door.