Well over a decade and several albums in, Town Mountain are a band that is still going strong.
Crafting blue-collar bluegrass and country anthems that have resonated with a devout contingent of followers, the collective of Robert Greer (guitar), Phil Barker (mandolin), Jesse Langlais (banjo), Bobby Britt (fiddle), Zack Smith (bass) and Miles Miller (drums) have caught the eye of acclaimed indie label New West Records.
Earlier this year, the band signed to the label ahead of the release of their forthcoming album Lines In The Levee, due out October 7th. According to Langlais, the band’s latest project is one the group has long envisioned making; one that is elevated by percussion and tasteful string arrangements as it blurs the lines between country and bluegrass.
“The first half of Town Mountain was done with the intention of being a bluegrass band,” says Langlais. “That being said, some of it was more hard driving than others, but it was all five-piece bluegrass stuff. We had some drums on our last album New Freedom Blues, and we’ve been wanting to push those boundaries further ever since”.
With every band member contributing in some form to the group’s catalog as songwriters, a bevvy of themes are always present in Town Mountain’s music. Lines In the Levee is no exception, with references to global warming, redemption, being stuck at a crossroads, unsung heroes and more. In the case of Langlais, his cuts on the new album are deeply associated with empathy and preserving what we have for those who will live beyond us.
The latter is central to both ‘Season’s Don’t Change’ and ‘Distant Line’, the first of which uses tongue-in-cheek humor to cast a light-hearted glow on the all too urgent issue of global warming.
“There’s a line in there about ‘wearing short pants on Valentines Day’ that helped to inspire the song,” says Langlais. “It’s my way of taking a light-hearted approach to a very serious matter. It’s easy to preach with your music, but the brilliance of some of my favorite songwriters to weave humor inside of something serious inspired me to take a similar approach with this song”.
With ‘Distant Line’, Langlais swaps out global warming for general preservation of future attractions and resources, something he’s grown an entirely new appreciation for in recent years since beginning to build a family of his own. “It’s been something constantly on my mind with everything that’s happened these last few years, especially since I have kids now," says Langlais. “I want them to be able to see, do and experience everything I’ve been able to and more.”
That same empathetic perspective also shines through on ‘Unsung Heroes’, a song Laglais wrote early on in the pandemic that gives thanks to the often-overlooked heroes that keep our society running smoothly; from frontline healthcare workers, police and firefighters to retail workers, janitors and more. No matter how glamorous (or not) the job is, we all have a role to play and deserve respect.
“I wanted to bring attention to people not often in the spotlight that help to make our world go round,” he says.
Sitting down in his Asheville home during a break from touring, Langlais and Greer spoke over the phone about their go-to spots in the bustling and artsy mountain town, in the latest instalment of Holler’s Home Sweet Home.
What is your favorite bar in Asheville to grab a drink?
Jesse Langlais: With having the kids, I’m not able to get out as much as I used to, but I’ve always enjoyed grabbing a drink and catching a show at The Grey Eagle. I’ve spent so much time in that place over the past 20 years I’ve lived here. It’s quintessential Asheville and a guaranteed spot to always find great live music.
Robert Greer: We love The Grey Eagle. It’s the first place in Asheville that Town Mountain played together at. The Eagle has long been the cornerstone of the music scene here in Asheville and is perennially listed on Rolling Stone magazine's top 500 clubs in America.
Being tucked into the Smoky Mountains, Asheville sure has a lot of scenic outdoor attractions as well. Do you have a favorite?
Langlais: There’s a really cool stretch of land on the west side of town called Hominy Creek Greenway. It’s a short trail, maybe a mile and a half long, along Hominy Creek that has been completely cleaned up and maintained by the community. Just outside town are several more great trails to explore, including a similar spot on the campus of Warren Wilson College in nearby Swannanoa.
One of my favorite parts of Asheville, aside from the music, is all of its art galleries and installations. Is there one that stands out to you most?
Greer: The Fresco, by my good friend Christopher Holt, at the Haywood Street Congregation is my favorite art installation in Asheville. The Fresco features many of the Congregation members. Go to the Haywood Street Congregation if you wanna get involved. They are for the people and take action on the streets like caring, involved warriors. They ain’t posers!
What’s your top spot to grab a bite to eat in town?
Langlais: There’s a spot across the street from The Grey Eagle called All Souls Pizza that makes a delicious pie. I’m not a pineapple on pizza guy, so nine times out of ten I’m ordering a standard pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms and pepperoni. That being said, I do like out-of-the-box pizzas like ones with a white sauce, garlic, green peppers and parsley as well. It all depends on what kind of mood I’m in.
Asheville’s downtown also has many cool shops selling everything from vintage clothes to local honey and more. Do you have a preferred shop or local business that you like to hit up when you’re in the area?
Greer: Old Europe Pastries; it's the longest-running café in town. It has long been a staple for those in search of top notch coffee and desserts. Their scratch-made pastries and cakes are absolutely fantastic!
Y’all spend a lot of time out on the road, but what’s your favorite local festival in or around Asheville?
Greer: The Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) happens twice a year in the spring and fall. It focuses on the visual and performing arts, with each “LEAF” emphasizing a different world music. This year’s fall gathering, the 50th in total, will celebrate the “Legends of Africa” from October 20-23, with musical guests Rising Appalachia, Donna The Buffalo, and Angelique Kidjo of Benin, among others.
What’s the first place in Asheville you’d recommend to tourists that are new to town?
Langlais: One place that everyone loves is the Biltmore Estate. It was built for George Washington Vanderbilt II in the late 1800s, and is the largest privately owned home in the United States. There’s so much cool architecture, craftsmanship and history to be discovered throughout its sprawling property. It’s truly mind-blowing.
Town Mountain's 2022 album Lines In The Levee is released October 7th via New West Records. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below: