Interviewed by Fatima Hasan; Written by Sydney Mudd & Fatima Hasan
The Big Weekend: Leftover Salmon & Amy Helm at Park West in Chicago on 10/6
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Back in 1989, some of Vince Herman’s band members in Salmon Heads were unable to make a New Year’s Eve gig at the Eldorado Cafe in Crested Butte, Colorado. This is when Herman decided to call his friend and fellow musician, Drew Emmitt, to help fill out the lineup for the evening with his band, the Left Hand String Band. As the night unraveled, it was obvious that the musicians’ combined energy on stage was remarkable. Herman and Emmitt soon realized it was time to create a new band together: Leftover Salmon.
For the past quarter-century, Colorado’s Leftover Salmon has established itself as an influential group that has been a pioneer of American music, digging deep into the genres in which they are influenced: rock ‘n’ roll, folk, bluegrass, Cajun, soul, zydeco, jazz, and blues. Leftover Salmon, without question, holds an integral role in the long lineage of bands that defy rigid and simple categorization.
Throughout the band’s 25+ years, they’ve headlined countless shows and festivals across the entire country. While maintaining their vibrant, relevant, and dominant voice in the music industry, they’ve released nine albums that have stayed true to the roots and intentions of the band’s founding members while also evolving continuously by experimenting with new sounds and techniques.
We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Vince Herman, the band’s co-founder, to catch up regarding The Big Weekend in Chicago. Herman moved to Boulder, Colorado from Morgantown, West Virginia, where the attended West Virginia University in 1985. During his first night in Colorado, he ended up checking out a show featuring a performance by the Left Hand String Band. This is where he ended up meeting his future bandmate: Drew Emmitt.
Fatima: “We’re pleased to be here with Vince Herman, guitarist and singer/songwriter from Leftover Salmon! We are talking about The Big Weekend in Chicago, and the band is scheduled to perform at Park West with support from Amy Helm on October 6th. Have you ever been to Chicago before? If so, what are your thoughts on the city?”
Vince: “Oh man, we love Chicago! We’ve been going there since probably around 1993. Chicago is always willing to have a good time. You know, I’ve had some amazing times in that city. The Grateful Dead 50 shows were certainly one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in Chicago.
Fatima: “Where did all of the bands’ members meet and how did you come up with your stage name, Leftover Salmon?”
Vince: “We all met around Colorado. At Telluride Bluegrass Festival, we met Mark Vann, who was our banjo player at the beginning and so it kind of evolved from that. Yeah, it was mostly Colorado guys. Now there are two guys from Brooklyn. I live in Oregon so we’re kind of scattered around the country. It was originally going to be a one show thing that was combining a band called ‘The Left Hand String Band’ with my band called ‘The Salmon Heads’. We went through combinations of the two and came up with ‘Leftover Salmon’ having no idea it would last 28, going on 29 years now.”
Fatima: “Wow. So, does it ever become difficult to coordinate and plan when you guys are going to meet up and work together and get some material done?”
Vince: “Yeah, you know, we get a lot done during sound checks and all that stuff. We utilize that time rather than sitting around in the dressing room. When we get together to write for a record or something, we’ll block out a couple days to hang out and do that. It sort of becomes a ‘writing camp’ kind of thing. For the most part, it’s just getting to the show and working on anything we need to do there during sound check. Since we’re 28 years in, we don’t necessarily need to involve a lot of rehearsal time.”
Fatima: “What are some obstacles you’ve had to overcome working almost three decades in the music industry?”
Vince: “Wow, man, they’ve all changed. The early years, trying to travel with a pocket full of quarters and find a payphone to call home every once in a while was the challenge. And, you know, eating… things like that. It’s never been a great big money proposition for us. So, those are the challenges. And, you know, maintaining a home life while you’re out there doing this crazy, crazy job; that’s certainly one of the biggest. You know, these days it’s kind of hard to figure out why to make a record because they don’t financially make sense anymore with everything being, kind of, tossed around for free. It seems as though vinyl is making a little bit of a come back so that’s been helping. There’s always challenges out there, that’s for sure.”
Fatima: “You kind of touched on this a little bit, but how else has technology influenced the way you produce music? Do you have a specific way you guys create music? Or, at this point does it all flow together off the top of your head and you create in that moment?”
Vince: “We enter a lot of that moment of flow. I like to improvise a lot; so, improvisation is a great way for me to write. You know, kind of just set something up and go for it. Stop the mind and just let it go; it’s a great thing to aim for. Sometimes the writing process isn’t quite like that but sometimes it is; that’s how I like it best.”
Fatima: “What do you enjoy about the culture that surrounds the bluegrass/jam type scenes?”
Vince: “You know, it’s all a variation of the Grateful Dead. That created a social scene around the music that was, kind of, ‘other’ than mainstream society. Bluegrass, as a niche kind of music, is definitely ‘other’ from the mainstream of society but it’s got mainstream values – good family stuff, kids love it. You can play it for all ages. It’s, uh, respectful. It’s rooted in a tradition and its fun for all ages. So, while it is a sort of niche thing, it’s definitely all-inclusive. That’s what’s cool about how the scene has evolved – jam, grass, and all influences are in these days. You don’t have to worry about having drums at a bluegrass festival anymore.”
Fatima: “Is there anything else that you guys are working on that you would like to share? What else do you have in store for the rest of 2018 besides your tour?”
Vince: “We are really trying to get to Europe in the next year; we really want that to happen. You know, just doing most festival stuff and then we will be starting to write for another record pretty soon. Just evolving the ever-evolving Leftover Salmon! We’ve never had much of a plan. We just let it all conspire with itself, see where it goes.”
Fatima: “Absolutely! What can fans expect as your ‘Something Higher’ fall tour winds down here in Chicago?”
Vince: “Well, we’ll definitely be playing stuff from the new record and digging in to a really large catalogue of tunes…Trying to pay a bunch of stuff we haven’t played in a while – which is always possible. Being 28 years in, there is always material that falls by the wayside.”
Fatima: “What do you do to rejuvenate your creativity? Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy while you are not making music, touring, or performing?”
Vince: “Uh, I like producing! haha… I got dogs. I got kids; I love playing music with my kids. I was a farmer for quite a few years – that was fun. I’ve moved to town these days. I love getting out in the woods; they are a great, kind of, sense-maker for me.”
Fatima: “What were you farming?”
Vince: “Medicinal marijuana.”
Fatima: “You guys also released a playlist recently which includes tracks from your Nightgrass Experience at Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2018. Can fans expect more of this live recording release type/style?”
Vince: “Yeah, we are trying to figure out what to do with our archives. We are recording all of the shows these days and have been for a while. Of course, it’s all on ‘nugs.net’ and ‘archive.org’ – you can dig in and find most of our live shows. Some of ‘em we’ll maybe clean up the mixes a little more and do official releases so-to-speak.”
Fatima: “What would you say you like most about these types of live releases compared to other releases that are just in the studio?”
Vince: “Well, it makes more economic sense. And, you know, live music is a pretty cool experience, if you’re there it’s great, but it also has a bit of a ‘boogie-woogie’ left in it when you just listen to a recording of it.”
Fatima: “How do you prepare for performances?”
Vince: “We usually get a bit of a set list together before the show. We don’t often follow them. We have some kind of plan when we get out there. It’s mostly about just listening in the moment and seeing where we can make an unexpected turn in things to amuse both ourselves and our audience.”
Fatima: “Anything else you’d like to add regarding The Big Weekend?!”
Vince: “We are so psyched to have a full weekend in Chicago! Having some big fun with a bunch of friends, and I imagine there will probably be some collaborations… pretty fired up to come to the Big Windy and get at it!”
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