Ever the hotbed for up and coming bluegrass bands, there’s a new Colorado string band to pull up on your radar screen – Head for the Hills. This quartet of high country pickers have made a splash around bluegrass circles in recent years, having recorded their debut at Billy Nershi’s Colorado studio with Drew Emmitt behind the boards producing, being selected as a SXSW Critic’s Pick Must-See by the Austin Statesmen and Colorado’s best bluegrass band two years running by Denver’s the Westword and getting invited to play their first Telluride Bluegrass Festival this summer.
We caught up with mandolin player Mike Chappell to talk about the latest big news out of the Head for the Hills camp – the band’s first-ever live release. In conjunction with the album, HftH also shared an early look at a mini-doc they created in support of the new album.
Hidden Track: It’s great to hear you guys have a live album on the way. I can’t wait to hear it. What are some of the notable performances you selected and what made them stand out in your minds for inclusion?
Mike Chappell: We are very excited about this live album! It definitely has a lot of different musical flavors on it. The way that we selected material for this live album was by recording a total of five shows. We had a large amount of material to choose from between those shows so the process definitely left some things out that sounded good.
That said, what made it on the live album is what we felt was the absolute best. One of the major standouts on this album is Bosun Ridley, a new song written by Adam on Guitar. This song is previously unreleased. This is one of my favorites, especially after mixing and mastering. We had our good friend and long time collaborator James Thomas playing organ on this one. About ¾ of the way into the song the organ and the guitar are matching on one of the instrumental parts and it sounds nothing short of epic. I hate to use that word but I feel that it applies for this part of the song. It’s dark and has a very interesting dynamic between the guitar and the organ.
Other standouts for me are the New Lee Highway Blues>Nooks and Crannies. This segment of the album has a wide array of different styles and I feel that it represents our live sound well. The other stand out to me is the Iron Maiden song Run to the Hills. We kept getting asked if we were an Iron Maiden cover band because of our band name so logically we decided to cover an Iron Maiden song.
HT: Being based in Colorado, you guys are exposed to probably of the best settings in the world for playing and seeing bluegrass from Telluride to Mishawaka to all the ski towns. What is your absolute favorite Colorado venue?
MC: We are so lucky to get to play music in Colorado! This state is so good for music. Mishawaka has been our absolute favorite place to perform. There is magic at this venue that is hard to duplicate.
You mentioned Telluride also. Though we have not had the chance to play at Telluride Bluegrass Festival yet, we are lucky enough to be invited this summer. This is one of my absolute favorite venues to see music and has been for years. We are so excited to be able to play the main stage at Telluride!
HT: As a fellow bluegrass nut, I have to ask, who do you guys view as the most influential bluegrass bands and musicians of the modern day? Are you more students of the so-called Newgrass style or purists in the Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs sense?
New Lee Highway Blues
MC: We are definitely trying to pursue the so-called Newgrass style. Our goal has always been to have no limitations as far as our material goes. Some of our new material is on more of the indie folk direction. Some of the new material is bluegrass songs. We have always tried to be pretty loose with what genre of music we deliver.
As far as the most influential bands right now, I think that Punch Brothers are one of the most innovative bands playing right now. They can do almost anything. Also I would like to give a nod to The Infamous Stringdusters and Greensky Bluegrass, among others. They are doing really great things for acoustic music and live music.
HT: So, this is huge summer for you guys in terms of festivals with Telluride, High Sierra, Wakarusa and many more. Are there any you’re especially excited about playing?
MC: All of them are exciting! Festivals are so much fun to be a part of. Telluride is definitely one of the most exciting things that we have ever done as a band. It will be Adam and I’s tenth and Joe and Matt’s sixth [time attending Telluride]. After seeing so many, it is crazy that we get to play it for the first time!
HT: Musically, it’s been a little while since the first album came out. Has the band evolved musically since 2010 when Head for the Hills came out?
MC: Head for the Hills was actually our second album. The first one was called Robbers Roost released in 2007. It has been a while though. We are actually in the process of entering the studio to do our third full length album. The music has definitely evolved. We feel that it is changing in an extremely positive way and are looking foreword to the process of recording these new songs.
HT: You guys seem to have a lot of fun with your covers, hitting on a lot of different genres like Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel to Yes to bluegrass standards. How does the introduction of a new cover into the repertoire tend to come about?
MC: Usually it will be a song that one member really likes and brings to the band. Then we all learn it and fall in love with it. Some are attainable as a song to play and some don’t always work. Most recently Joe came to the band with a White Stripes song that we are going to be playing soon. It should be pretty great!
HT: I always like to hear about band’s touring setups. What’s the Head for the Hills cruising vessel these days?
MC: We are traveling in a 2000 Dodge Ram 15 Passenger Van. Her name is Gladys and she likes to break down on us. We are actually in the process of shopping for a new vehicle. Maybe a Dodge Sprinter?
HT: Finally, if there’s one barn burner you think new fans should check out on the new album, what song would you recommend?
MC: On the new live album I would say if it is a barn burner you are looking for listen to Big Mon>Fire on the Mountain. If you want to get freaked out listen to Run to the Hills.