Ahead of releasing Dance Me Down Easy: The Woodstock Sessions EP, Town Mountain’s Phil Barker sat down with Holler to discuss the project, the band's evolution following founding member Jesse Langlais’ withdrawal from the group last year and more.
On Dance Me Down Easy, Town Mountain put a fresh spin on six of their favorite covers, ranging from The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sweet Virginia’ to The Kinks’ ‘Strangers’ and the traditional bluegrass number ‘Flannery’s Reprise’, paying homage to each artist in the process.
However, that spin sounds a little different this time around compared to recent trips to the studio, due to it being the band’s first recordings since banjo player and founding member Jesse Langlais left at the start of 2023. After he and guitarist Robert Greer founded Town Mountain on a ridge overlooking Asheville, North Carolina in 2005, Langlais went on to pen some of the band’s most iconic tunes like ‘Life and Debt’, ‘Season’s Don’t Change’ and ‘Down Low’, the latter a co-write with Tyler Childers.
“This was the first recording we’d ever done without [Jesse], so it was a very unique experience in that regard,” describes Barker, “It definitely changed things in the studio, but overall it felt like a pretty natural transition given the direction of our last record (Lines In The Levee) into this one. This was the first time we’ve gotten to record with so much pedal steel as well, which lent itself well to these songs.”
Despite the void left by Langlais, it’s far from the first change to hit the band in recent years. In addition to the aforementioned Childers collaboration, New Freedom Blues also saw the band bring drums into the fold with Miles Miller, who joined the 2013 IBMA Momentum Awards’ Band of the Year for a stint after previously manning the kit for Sturgill Simpson. Other drummers have since come and gone, with pedal steel being the latest alteration as the group continues to evolve from a hard-driving bluegrass troupe into a twangy country-rock collective.
“We’ve decided to move more into the electric realm, but we’re still open to playing with a banjo in the future,” explains Barker, “We just wanted to use this opportunity to explore the sonic landscape with a pedal steel or another nice legato instrument, as opposed to something big like another mandolin or guitar. It’s been a nice change that’s allowed us to stretch things out a bit further than we did before”.
In addition to taking a deep dive into Dance Me Down Easy, Phil Barker touched on Town Mountain's next studio album, what fans can expect from their 2024 shows and more:
“We’ve always enjoyed playing covers...We also did it so we’d have something to put out before our next record, which we’re not quite ready to do yet. New West has been super supportive of the idea...The timing worked out perfectly where we were touring in the Northeast and got to play a show at [Levon Helm Studios]. Then at the end of our run we were able to have a few days back there to record”.
“Our hope is to get into the studio again sometime this year, but we’re still just in the writing and idea-gathering process. I’m not sure where we’ll go when we do, but we did enjoy going somewhere to record that wasn’t in our hometown. It really helped to build the vibe of the recording, so I’d be interested in doing something similar again”.
“Levon and The Band are such a big influence not only for us, but any band playing rock ‘n’ roll, country or bluegrass. The music they produced is quintessential Americana. I didn’t start to lean into some of Levon’s solo stuff until around his passing, but when I did, American Son was the record I dug into most. What I love about [‘Dance Me Down Easy’] is its danceable, country-funk feel. It fit the direction of some of the live stuff we’d been playing, so it was really easy to integrate in that regard.
It was very powerful getting to play a Levon song in that room. We also played it during our live show there before the recording and the energy doubled; you just knew the spirit of Levon was all over that building and it felt so good. Once you find the groove in it, you can let the song play itself. It was really special for me thinking of all the music he made in that room and [to know] I was able to be part of it in some small way”.
“For me personally, it's ‘Strangers.’ I’ve always felt that song was super powerful and unique with a great flow to it. I’m able to connect with the lyrics and really tap into the emotion of the song when I’m singing it. As a band, ‘So Far Away’ lends itself well to country. We’ve always loved Dire Straits and that one flowed nicely in the studio”.
“We’ve been off since just before Thanksgiving, which we typically do every year. We’ve had a few rehearsals these past few weeks and everything’s feeling good, so we’re excited to get back at it. We’re looking forward to playing these new songs too. We made a conscious effort to hold these songs back [from our setlist] until folks had a chance to listen to the EP and familiarize themselves with our takes on these tunes. They’ll all be in rotation for our sets moving forward though”.
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