TAS In Session: Mountain Man
The sweetly harmonizing trio of Mountain Man - Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Randall Meath - began singing together in dorm rooms at Bennington College in Vermont.
Flash forward a few years and the friends not only have a debut album, Made the Harbor, but they've also been opening for The Decemberists who begin their winter tour tonight, February 7, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Back when they played New York, opening for The Decemberists in, well, December, the ladies of Mountain Man trekked to the Bronx on a particuarly cold day to talk to WFUV's Rita Houston and sing four songs, including the quirky "Dog Song," the simple track that inspired them to take a chance and form a group.
Rita Houston: Your harmonies are fantastic - it’s Amelia, Alex and Molly. Where did you all meet?
Molly Erin Sarle: In college in Vermont. Alexandra: At Bennington College.
Amelia Randall Meath: Alex and I have known each other since we first started four years ago and then Molly came in.
Molly: A couple years later. So between two and four years.
Rita: Things are really starting to move fast for you guys. You’ve just had a couple of shows in the New York, your record is just out on Partisan Records and you’re touring with The Decemberists. A little like 0 to 60 mph.
Molly: Yes, we just finished a tour with Jónsi and that felt like 60. That was like, wham!
Rita: Where was that, in Europe?
Amelia: We were with them in the UK for two weeks and then in the US for a month.
Rita: That was definitely one of the big shows of the year.
Molly: They’re all really, really wonderful people.
Alexandra Sauser-Monnig: The last show of their tour was in Iceland, but we had Thanksgivings to attend to! Eat turkey.
Rita: How did the record come together? I know you guys have been singing for a while. Was there a turning point?
Amelia: We started singing together almost two years ago and I think on our third or fourth band practice we started talking about a tour. Then everything happened very quickly. We got off of our West Coast tour and Alex and I bombed across the United States of America in my now-deceased car Dolores.
Alex: Oh, poor Dolores.
Amelia: We drove cross-country in three days to Philly and did Made the Harbor in about a day and a half and then had to run back to school.
Rita: So you had the songs already and the songs were what you were singing?
Amelia: Yep. Rita: The first song you’re doing is “Holy Father” which isn’t on the record. Is it newer than the record? Didn’t make the record?
Alex: Older than the record, but it’s not a song that we wrote.
Amelia: It’s a song that our friend Tooth Ache wrote. You should check her out.
Rita: Clearly, watching you guys, you’re in your zone. What’s your backgrounds? Theater, music, choir? Not just anyone can pull this off.
Molly: Church choir.
Amelia: I grew up in a singing family.
Alex: Me too.
Molly: I sang a lot with my mom in the car and I had a little maroon tape player that I carried everywhere with me when I was little and listened to Celine Dion and Mariah Carey.
Rita: But you chose not to go down that road.
Molly: I haven’t shut that road off (laughs).
Rita: Who are the vocal groups that you all hold in high regard?
Alex: I’ve been listening to Bulgarian choir music.
Molly: Oh yeah!
Amelia: Mind-blowing. Also the back-up vocals on the Kate Bush record, The Sensual World.
Alex: Just chorale music in general. Like Fauré’s Requiem. Amelia and I were in a choir together and we sang that.
Rita: How about The Roches? You’re not sisters, but any of that figure in the picture/ Alex: I’ve only hear two or three Roches songs.
Molly: I haven’t really listened to The Roches.
Alex: But I can see the similarity; I’ve watched a few YouTube videos.
Molly: My dad loves them. Rita: Who came up with the name for the group?
Alex: I think I did. We were sort of throwing things around, hanging out in Amelia’s bedroom and Mountain Man kind of stuck.
Amelia: ["Dog Song"] started Mountain Man because I heard Molly singing it and I ran down to the room where she was singing and brought her to my room and made her teach it to me!
Molly: She was like, “Oh! You wrote a song about being a woman!”
Rita: And where do you all live?
Amelia: I just moved to Red Hook!
Alex: She’s already tearing up the town.
Amelia: It’s just in shreds. Alex: I live in Minnesota. In the Twin Cities. And I just moved back there a week ago.
Molly: And I just returned from Woodstock, recording with five boys in a band called Bobby. So when I’m not messing around with that, I’m living in Santa Cruz, California where I was born.
Rita: Three different geographies!
Amelia: Fairly complicated.
Alex: We cover the entire United States of America!
Rita: What’s the back story on “Loon Song?”
Alex: I was canoeing with my boyfriend in a lake at sunset in northern Minnesota and listening to loons. Standing on a sand bar in the middle of the water. It was very beautiful.
Rita: Are you guys ready for the pop quiz? Dumb silly questions. Aside from gear, instruments or your band, you don’t go out on the road without ….?
Alex: That’s not true. We didn’t have sauerkraut the entire time we were on tour.
Amelia: I always have a copy of Richard Brautigan’s The Pill Versus The Springhill Mine Disaster.
Molly: Do you? I never knew that. I should get one.
Alex: My essential oils (laughs).
Amelia: I always bring a comb.
Alex: I need to use it.
Rita: What song do you wish you’d written and why?
Alex: There’s so many songs! Dire Straits … no. I’ve been listening to “Wild West End” over and over because it’s the most amazing song ever, but I don’t wish I’d written it. I’m happy to experience it.
Rita: Do you cook and what’s your signature dish?
Alex: I cook all of the time. I just love to fry potatoes. Fried potatoes of any kind. Fried potatoes with cheese. Fried potatoes with bacon and cheese. Fried potatoes with turnip greens. With kale. Amelia: I make biscuits and gravy.
Molly: The best. Rita: What’s the secret to a good biscuit?
Amelia: When you’re putting the butter into the flour, you have to act like the butter is really hot. So you have to crumble it. A very light touch so that they’re fluffy and delicious.
Molly: I like juicing. I like making smoothies. I’ve gotten very good at making omelets so that none of the egg sticks to the pan, so I don’t have to clean the pan afterwards. Julia Child explains how to do this in depth in one of her cookbooks.
Amelia: So all together, we make a very good breakfast!
Mountain Man's Tour with The Decemberists:
2.07.11 Uptown Theatre, Kansas City, MO,
2.09.11 Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO
2.10.11 Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO
2.12.11 The Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA
2.13.11 House Of Blues, San Diego, CA
2.14.11 Fox Theater, Oakland, CA
2.15.11 Hotel Cafe, Los Angeles, CA (without The Decemberists)
2.16.11 Luigi’s, Sacramento, CA (without The Decemberists)
2.18.11 Paramount Ballroom, Seattle, WA
2.19.11 Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR