North Carolina (by way of many places) band Mountain Man have a sweet way of describing the eight year hiatus they took between their debut album and their new release, the spectacular Magic Ship.
“We like to say that Mountain Man ‘took a nap,’” says member Molly Sarlé. “We all moved to different parts of the country, so it took quite some time for us to end up in North Carolina again.”
After reuniting to participate in Eaux Claires, the festival curated by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, the trio made up of Sarlé, Amelia Meath and Alexandra Sauser-Monning decided to “take it one step at a time” and create Magic Ship together.
The result is a beautiful and emotional collection of vocal-forward folk. Sarlé walked us through their creative process, the album’s themes and more leading up to their stop at The Barns at Wolf Trap this week.
OT: How did being away from each other, creatively and physically, affect this album?
Molly Sarlé: I think it played into it in the sense that we all drew from our experiences – and had very different experiences, both musically while working on other projects and in our lives in general, that shaped the songwriting on this record. Although, some of the songs were around before we took our hiatus, we just hadn’t recorded them yet. It was gratifying to be able to record those.
OT: Can you talk me through the themes and ideas throughout Magic Ship, musically and lyrically?
MS: We weren’t thinking of any particular themes while we wrote it, although I think overall something that stands out to me is that – like on the song “Guilt,” the last song on the record – is kind of about getting a bit older, because we kind of wrote the first album in our early 20s, and the second in our late 20s and early 30s. It’s about just getting to a place in life where you know yourself a little bit better and accepting yourself for who you are.
OT: I am curious about the song “Underwear,” specifically. This is just my interpretation, but I recently moved and it’s crazy to me how I feel that in my early 20s I needed a lot of stuff to be happy, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve felt that life is a lot more simple, and I know the things I actually need. That’s just how it resonated to me, and It’s one of my favorites on the album.
MS: Amelia wrote that song, but I can tell you that my interpretation of it definitely relates to what you said – but I think more in an emotional landscape context. The older you get, all you need is in a particular kind of closeness or intimacy.
OT: Was there anything different in the writing or recording process of Magic Ship?
MS: The recording process was definitely different. We recorded it in Durham [North Carolina] at Nick [Sanborn of Sylvan Esso] and Amelia’s studio, with Nick, and last time we recorded the record in our friend’s attic in Philadelphia over two days. This time it was spread out over a few months. And the writing process was pretty similar in that we usually just get together and bring the songs we’ve worked on individually to each other, then write our own parts and see if they work for Mountain Man or not.
OT: You’ve all known each other for a long time now – how has that relationship changed?
MS: We’ve all grown up a lot, so I think the roles have changed in that we all take a little bit more equal responsibility spread across all three members.
OT: I would imagine being part of any band is a very intimate experience but even more so in a band like Mountain Man where your primary instruments are your own voices. Can you tell me more about the connection you have to your bandmates?
MS: We call each other our wives. It’s almost like we’re married to each other, just because of how much we shape each other’s lives through making music together, but also through our friendship. It’s wonderful and pretty intense. It’s like those friendships where the people you’re working with know you so well that you can’t hide anything from them.
OT: There are a few cover songs on this album – “Bright Morning Stars” and “Baby Where You Are” – why did you decided to not only cover them but put them on the album?
MS: “Bright Morning Stars” was a song we used to sing a lot before we took a hiatus, and was taught to us by a really wonderful vocal coach at Bennington College, where we all met. “Baby Where You Are” is a cover that Amelia suggested from a record that had been in heavy rotation at a house that she and I once lived in at Durham called The Hughes.
OT: I’m curious about the llama and alpaca imagery on the album art – why did you go with that?
MS: They’re alpacas! One is named Dorota, I can’t remember the other one’s name, but they’re friends. They live at a healing animal farm, so they’re healing alpacas. We decided to do a photoshoot with them because our manager Martin actually had a dream in which we were taking pictures of alpacas in a bar. We were really sweetly presented to it – he said “I don’t want to step over any boundaries but I had this dream,” and we were all like “oh, 100%, let’s make this happen.”
OT: You’ve also been busy with some solo work. Can you talk more about that?
MS: I have a solo album that’s coming out on Partisan Records this summer. This is the same record label that we released our first album as Mountain Man on, and my record is produced by Sam Evian. We recorded at a church that’s also a recording studio called Dreamland in Woodstock, NY about a year ago.
Mountain Man play The Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday, March 29. Show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $25-$30. For more on Mountain Man, visit www.wearemountainman.com.
The Barns at Wolf Trap: 1635 Trap Rd., Vienna, VA; 1-877-WOLFTRAP; www.wolftrap.org