Vermont trio Mountain Man has found the spotlight by going back to the basics. The band's rustic folk harmonies, typically accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar, have a timeless feel.
Not that the members of the band — Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Randall Meath — came together with the goal of conjuring up the past. The three met by happenstance in 2009 while studying at Vermont's Bennington College.
Their debut record, Made The Harbor, captured in a creaking ice cream parlor in upstate New York, has the feel of a field recording, with background noise prominent in the mix — every exhale and sigh, every creak of the parlor's timeworn floorboard.
Following the release of their first live album, Live at the Wiltern, earlier this month, Mountain Man began hitting folk festivals and clubs across the heartland. The tour, which stops at Radio Radio Saturday (9 p.m., $10 door, with Cheyenne Marie Mize), will wind up with their debut at the Newport Folk Festival.
Earlier this week, NUVO caught up with one-third of Mountain Man, Amelia Meath, as the band snaked through Colorado between Denver to Telluride.
NUVO: So, about that name of yours...
Amelia Meath: Quite honestly, we decided that it was a good idea and that we would try it out and it stuck. We like how it sounds, and it bothers people, which is interesting.
NUVO: Why do you think it bothers people?
Meath: Because people like to have gender defined I think. And I think the fact that we are three women that refer to ourselves as one man is kind of like, um, when your tongue is itchy… I think our music is really just the extension of who we are. So it may be feminine,and it may be feminist, but there isn’t not a conscious decision to make it flowery.
NUVO: Tell me about how you met.
Meath: [Molly] was singing in a living room in my house. I heard her upstairs, so I ran downstairs and I got her to teach me the song she was singing, which is the “Dog Song” — which is on our album. And then I taught it to Alex, and then Alex and I went to Molly and we sang it to her.
NUVO: Did you know right away you were on to something?
Meath: Yeah. But we had absolutely no intention of being a band or of having this be our job at all. It just kind of took off. We had a two-week tour that I booked in June of 2009.And then Alex moved to Virginia and Molly and I went back to school. But people really started getting excited about our music because it spread on the Internet. All of the sudden, we weren’t working or doing anything and we just kept getting more attention.
NUVO: What were you trying to convey on the first record?
Meath: I really don’t think we were actually trying to convey anything very particular, other than those were the songs that we had written and they fit together very well. I suppose really what we are talking about in Made The Harbor is our experiences so far being human.I think that nature has a large role in all of our lives, and love naturally does too.
NUVO: You covered the Appalachian folk song “Oh Come All Yee” on Live at the Wiltern. What is it about traditional folk that moves you?
Meath: You know I’m really trying to come to terms with that. Quite honestly, we never set out to make a folk band, at all. It’s just how we sound. We naturally sing together in the way that we do, which sounds folkie and old-timey. But in reality, the reason we sound folkie and old-timey is it is the natural thing that humans do, they sing that way. Do you know what I mean? We never said, ‘Let’s make a folk band and sing three part harmonies.’ That wasn’t what we were planning. We just wanted to make music together. So, folk music has had a great influence on me, I suppose, but I never grew up around it. I grew up on rock n’roll.
NUVO: Which rock n’ roll artists are inspiring you now?
Meath: Lots of Steve Miller Band on the road — and Prince, I’m listening to so much Prince! Anda lot of '80s new wave.
NUVO: You’ve been previously dubbed the female Fleet Foxes. Your thoughts on the comparison?
Meath: I think that that’s kind. I like their music. I think it’s easy to say we are the female Fleet Foxes, because we harmonize. I appreciate the comparison but I don’t think that it’s necessarily founded in anything other than the idea that we are founded in similar instrumentation. But we also don’t really use similar instrumentation.
NUVO: Would you ever consider using a full band on one of your albums?
Meath: Yeah, sometimes we think about that! Sometimes we do when we are practicing, sometimes we don’t. I don’t know, it might happen, it might not. Really the reason Made the Harbor sounds like it does is because we were practicing after class and we were working with what we had. Which is not to say we will never have a new band. We probably will.
NUVO: Any new recordings we can look forward to hearing?
Meath: Hopefully! There is something floating in the ether with whiskers coming from the clouds (laughs).
NUVO: What are the biggest challenges of being an folk group in a age defined by four-piece rock bands?
Meath: Quite honestly, there is absolutely no challenge, because everyone is so, like, surprised that we sing without lots of amplification. When you sing with harmony, people tend to shut up, because it’s not quite what they are used to. When you are in a club, it’s not something you are used to, to have to not speak when you hear music. So it’s kind of awesome.
NUVO: Let’s talk about your live performances. Is this your first time playing Indianapolis?
Meath: Have we played Indianapolis before? (Amelia clarifies with Molly, who is in the front seat) No, we haven’t!
NUVO: Well, then, what can we expect?
Meath: Major, major family time, hanging out, talking about things (laughs). I think in our live performances what we really try to do is be as honest as possible, be ourselves as much as possible, and share our music with people.
Hear: two tracks from Made the Harbor, "Animal Tracks" and "Soft Skin"