Impact Chats With… Mountain Man!

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The Virginia-based Mountain Man consists of Amelia Randall Meath, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Molly Erin Sarle.  Their debut album, Made the Harbor, is a stunning, expansive landscape of harmonies, accompanied sometimes by a guitar, and sometimes nothing at all.  Their songs are comfortable and broken-in without ever sounding gimmicky or plain.  On November 5th, Mountain Man’s live set included a few new songs, and almost every song performed off of Made the Harbor had been reworked in some way.  I thought they were something of an odd fit to open for the particularly energetic Jónsi, but they captivated the audience better than most opening bands I’d seen.  Their voices could start slow and quiet, drawing in the listening, and would swell into three-part harmonies that hold, move, shift, and trickle back down to a single voice.  I was able to catch up with them back stage after the show.  I sat cross-legged on the floor, while Molly, nursing
a broken foot, was stretched out propped up on her elbows and Amelia sat rubbing Molly’s back and stroking her hair.

Matt Revers: I understand you guys met in college.  How did you decide to become Mountain Man?

Amelia: I heard Molly’s music.  And molly’s music made me want to sing more, and so I taught one of Molly’s songs to Alex, and Molly wanted Alex to sing more, and then we all came together as a trio.

MR: So what’s the writing process for you like now?

Amelia: One of us will write the melody and the lyrics, and then we’ll come to each other and say, “Hey! I’ve got this really cool song -“

Molly: “–I’m kinda scared to share it with you”

Amelia: “I’m kinda scared. But I know you guys will be okay with it so I’m gonna show it to you. I’m still kinda scared.”  Then we all write our own harmony parts.  And then we’ll listen to the song a lot, and we’ll sing along to it.

Amelia speaks in a strong, direct way.  Molly is quieter and speaks with a comfortable, warm unhurriedness.

MR: I’ve heard your music described as traditional or minimalist folk, but those titles don’t seem to hold.  How would you guys describe your music?

Molly: I’d usually describe it as three voices looking for something and finding each other in the process.

Amelia nods as Molly entwines her fingers together.

MR: What would you say your main influences for Made The Harbor was?

Amelia: Molly and Alex.

She speaks with a strong certainty.  Molly pauses to think.

Amelia: When you ask about influence, it’s really hard to think about because everything in here is influential.  Everything that’s good.

At this point Ólafur Björn Ólafsson, known as Óbó, the keyboardist for Jonsi, comes into the room followed by Alex.  As she sits quietly behind the two other girls, looking comfortable in the background, I introduce myself to the two.

Molly: Óbó is very influential.

Amelia: Yeah, Óbó is very influential in my sound and Made the Harbor.

Alex: Crucial.

Molly: Singing with my mom in the car is pretty influential.  And I listened to a lot of Mariah Carey and Celine Dion when I was little.

MR: How about you [Amelia]?  When you think back to the music you used to listen to what do you usually think of?

Amelia: Well, Foreigner and NRBQ and Chuck Barry and Mace and Biggy and all sorts of things – Joni Mitchell, a lot of Joni Mitchell.  For my birthday my dad got me all of Joni Mitchell’s records.  So a lot of that.  And my family and I used to sing around the table every summer evening.  So I heard a lot of different songs.

MR: I noticed that on the live versions of the songs, you guys changed a lot of the arrangements up; they got a lot more complicated, it seems like the chords are a lot less stable, what would you guys say guided that choice to make those changes?

Amelia: Excitement.

Molly: It’s hard to sing the same songs over and over again.  And we’re really good at listening to each other, so it follows that we like to change things up.

MR: What was it like to find out your music was really getting out there to people and people were really hearing your music?  It seems like you guys got big really fast and you kind of blew up on the internet.  What was that like?

Molly: I was very surprised.  I think one of the tricky things and making music and putting it out there, whether or not it’s recognized – it’s hard to understand how each individual relates to it or why they do, but it’s exciting to feel like so many people are relating to something that felt very personal to me.

MR: You guys have played a lot of different shows; you’ve played churches, you’ve played [South By Southwest].  What’s your favorite kind of shows to play?

Molly: The ones where the audience is very positively responsive, which has been at a wide range of venues.

Amelia: The ones where, simultaneously, the audience is not expecting anything, but also expecting everything, or like open to any situation that they’ll be confronted.  So really, just receptive humans.  And, really, that has to do with our interpretation of how the audience is feeling.  So when we’ve had a beautiful day, and when the audience is excited about hearing music, it’s an amazing thing.

MR: How would you describe the touring schedule and life on the road?

All look around at each other and smile or laugh in agreement. Amelia tenses up her face and makes a screeching sound.

Alex: Digestive upset!

Molly: Well let’s just say that today, I have a broken foot and I ate Popeye’s chicken, I haven’t showered for four days, I smell crazy everywhere, for dinner I had raw broccoli, hummus, and beer.

Alex: That about sums it up.

Amelia: I also love touring.

Alex: I do too.  Sometimes I hate it.

Amelia: Yeah sometimes I hate it, and like, touring is like living really fast all the time, and also not living at all.

Alex: That’s exactly what it’s like.

Amelia: It’s like taking a major Mario Kart pause on everything.  But also just going forever.  Everything all of the time.  Which is my latest Radiohead mantra.

She sings the chorus and Molly murmurs in agreement.

Alex: It’s also like a huge time warp, because it’s only been three and a half weeks since we left Charlottesville and it feels like four months or something because we’ve been to so many places.  We’ve been living quite fast.

Amelia: It’s just living really fast.

MR: What do you think is next for you guys?  Can we hope for a new record?

The three start in at the same time.

Alex: We’re gonna work on a new record this summer.
Molly: Experimentation!
Amelia: Amazing adventures!
Alex: Travel!
Amelia: Farmers markets.
Molly: We’re gonna go somewhere special.
Amelia: Good food!
Alex: Very nice people! Very good hot dogs.
Amelia: Yeah, exactly.
Molly: That’s what’s next.
Amelia: Maybe instruments.  Maybe not.
Alex: Elves.
Amelia: Elves!  And, uh, Startrek.
Alex: Little slippers.
Amelia: Yeah.

Matt Revers

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