Interview w/ Vince Herman & Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon
October 14th, 2012
By Jeremy Lach
Last week Leftover Salmon made their triumphant return to Boston, MA for the first time in nearly 10 years. They brought with them their signature blend of poly-ethnic cajun slamgrass that can’t help but make you smile and forget about life’s troubles. I spoke with founding members, Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman before their show about the history of the band, their special relationship with The String Cheese Incident, and a bit about their latest album, Aquatic Hitchhiker. Leftover Salmon is on tour now, with new years eve shows scheduled for Chicago, IL. If you consider yourself a cheesehead but haven’t heard or seen Leftover Salmon, I urge you to pick up a copy of their new album and go see them live as soon as possible. You won’t regret it.
10/4/12, Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA
I: Zombie Jamboree, Gulf of Mexico, Kentucky Skies*, Bird Call*, The Other Side*, Dance on Your Head*, Morning Sun*, Stop All Your Worrying*, Sing Up to the Moon, Gold Hill Line, Euphoria
II: Here Comes the Night, Liza, Aquatic Hitchhiker*, Light Behind the Rain*, Breakin’ Thru*, Keep Drivin’*, Doin’ My Time*, Stay Away Monday*, Down in the Hollow*, Boo Boo*, River’s Risin’*
How does it feel to be back on the road after an eight year hiatus?
Drew Emmit: Well, we kind of eased into it. When we first got back together we were just doing summer festivals and one offs. It took a little while for us to decide to actually get back on the bus together. We weren’t really sure if we wanted to but it became apparent that we needed to push things a little harder and get things cracking again. So, starting about a year go we did our first bus tour in some mountain ski towns and then we did a tour last fall up here in the northeast for about five shows. That was our first actual tour back on the road. Then this past April we did a pretty lengthy tour around the southeast. It’s awesome to get back together and it feels better than ever.
Do you remember the last time you played in Boston?
Drew: Hmm it’s been a long while.
Vince Herman: It was probably here (at the Paradise)
Drew: This is the first time we’ve played in Boston since we’ve been back together. So it’s been many, many years.
Who’s currently in the band?
Drew: We have the same lineup we had when we stopped, other than our new banjo player, Andy Thorn. We have Greg Garrison on bass, Jose Martinez on drums, and of course Vince Herman and I.
Andy’s from the Emmitt Nershi band?
Drew: Yea, Andy started with the Emmitt Nershi Band and he just seemed to fit in to the whole scene so well that we decided to recruit him to this band.
Vince: He’s really given us a big blast of new energy. He’s in his twenties?
Drew: Yea this is his last month of being in his twenties, he’s turning thirty right after the tour ends.
How did you and Drew Emmitt meet?
Vince: I came to Boulder, Colorado in 1985 from Morgantown, West Virginia. I parked my car in front of a club in Boulder that said “Bluegrass Tonight”. The Left Hand String Band was playing when I walked in and there was Drew on stage pickin’ his mandolin. We’ve been pickin’ tunes ever since.
So Drew predates you on the Colorado bluegrass scene?
Vince: Yea he grew up there. Well, Nashville and then Boulder.
Drew: Yea I’ve been in Colorado since 1973. I went to junior high and high school in Boulder. Then I started playing with this band, The Left Hand String Band in the early eighties. We played festivals and bars.
Was that also a bluegrass jam band?
Drew: Well, yea it was. It was kinda before the jam movement, so we just called it progressive bluegrass like Newgrass Revival or Hot Rize. We saw ourselves in that kind of genre.
Who are some of your musical heros?
Vince: I moved from West Virginia to Colorado chasing the Hot Rize scene. Tim Obrien, Charles Sawtelle was an absolute guitar god for me, right up there with Clarence White and Tony Rice and all that on the guitar. So Hot Rize was really instrumental for me in coming to Colorado. I’d have to rank them up there with Newgrass Revival of course. I also dug the Dirt Band, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Drew: Along with our bluegrass influences we have a lot of roots and Americana influences- a lot of New Orleans in this band. A lot of inspiration comes from New Orleans. You know, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, The Meters, on and on, Professor Longhair. The “Cajun” in the “Poly-ethnic Cajun Slamgrass” comes from that. Early on we spent some time going down to New Orleans. It brought that flavor to the band.
Vince: I was lucky enough to get to play with Dewey Balfa before he passed. Dewey Balfa was kinda the Bill Monroe of Cajun music in that he really brought traditional Cajun musical consciousness to the rest of the country. Through the Smithsonian and the Festival International de Lafayette. He was instrumental in getting Cajun music on soap commercials now. [Laughs]. I mean really, you can’t see a soap commercial without seeing someone hanging up sheets on the lawn with some Cajun music.
What gets you guys excited to play or tour?
Drew: It’s fun!
Vince: It’s the tunes man! You know we’ve been doing this for a lot of years and there’s a pile of repertoire to dive into. I love deviating from the set list while onstage and watching the grin come over people’s faces in the band when we pull out a tune we haven’t done in a long time and somehow hopefully remember it [laughs]. Plus there’s the new material we have on our record. It’s a really fun time to be touring.
Can you describe Leftover Salmon in five words or less?
Drew: Poly-ethnic Cajun Slamgrass
Well that was easy… I’ll take it. How did you meet Bill Nershi and what was your first impression of him?
Drew: Well Billy used to sit in with us in Telluride, years ago when he was living there and working at the Flora Dora. He’d play opre-ski, you know, and he’d come sit in and get all crazy with us, way before String Cheese.
Vince: He and Liza Oxnard from Zuba had a duo.
Drew: Yup, and we knew Liza because she and Vince played some music together as well…which is another interesting connection. So we knew Billy from way back when.
We did some shows together when String Cheese were first getting it going. We have many connections with the Cheese boys. They’re definitely our brothers. We’ve had similar paths that’s for sure.
Do you think there could have been a String Cheese without a Leftover Salmon?
Vince: Sure. It was Colorado, you know. Tunes were erupting there all the time.
Drew: I like to think we helped. And it’s really great to see what they became. They took it a whole different direction but the thing is we really all came from the same culture and we all had similar influences. After playing with Billy for a while and doing the Emmitt Nershi Band I really realized we were all doing the same kind of things back then. I think we’re all products of the Colorado bluegrass scene. It’s really great to see what they’ve done and that they’re still together. Whenever we all play together it just feels really natural. The times I’ve been on stage with String Cheese it feels like I’m on stage with Leftover Salmon. It feels that comfortable. It’s the same vibe, it really is.
You guys just released a new album at the beginning of the summer titled “Aquatic Hitchhiker”. How was the recording process different for this album than previous albums?
Vince: We got together a bunch before going into the studio to have some writing sessions. Then we spent a couple days at my house up in Nederland with Steve Berlin, the producer. We really worked on the arrangements and even wrote a couple tunes a couple days before going into recording. It was a really collaborative process. We’ve all made a few records now and I think we’re all just more comfortable with the recording process after doing all that.
Are you releasing it yourself?
Vince: We’ve had a little help from Rainmaker, which is the Del McCoury Band family and it’s great because those guys are definitely family to us. They’re helping with the distribution and some of the promotional stuff.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Vince: Todd Snider is god.
Drew: I just want to say that over the years its been great being on the same path, literally as String Cheese. I started the Emmitt Nershi Band with Billy and that’s been a really cool way to sort of bring the two camps together. We’re doing a similar thing by taking bluegrass to another level. It’s really cool to be on String Cheese Radio because we’re all part of the same family.
Vince: We’re not making fun of bluegrass, we’re making fun with Bluegrass.