Mountain Man's "Magic Ship"
all photos by Brooke Hamilton
Mountain Man joined us last week at the Luck Mansion in Nashville, TN for one of their first shows in the past year - leading up to the release of their new record, Magic Ship, available everywhere now. As Amelia Meath, Alex Sauser-Monnig, and Molly Erin Sarle took the makeshift stage in the Mansion’s converted living room for a completely unplugged set, guests piled into the room; leaning against door frames, sitting on the floor, and even spilling into the carpeted performance space. The trio’s other-worldly voices echoed throughout the room as the heat climbed and sweat-drenched audience members took in the intimate and spiritual performance.
Silence washed over the Mansion until Mountain Man sliced through the stillness with the sweet caress of their fine-tuned harmonies. Their humor and honesty kept each soul enchanted, never breaking their focus on the music. When it was all over, it felt as if we had all been cleansed in a truly communal experience of meditation or prayer; all concentrated on honoring songs, stories, laughter, and a simple spot to share them.
Luck: How did you guys get started?
Amelia: We met in college.
Alex: In rural Vermont. Bennington, VT.
Amelia: We began a band, we were actively a band for about 3 years
Alex: Yeah! 2009 to about 2012.
Amelia: And then we took a band nap.
Alex: Yeah we took a looooong nap.
Amelia: Like mini bears. And now, it’s springtime!
Molly: Or, Or! Amelia heard me singing, downstairs in this house, this like hippie lady house in college. Lots of armpit hair and lace.
Amelia: Darn tootin’.
Molly: [The house was] called Dewey at Bennington College campus and [Amelia] came down and started singing the song with me…I taught it to her, and she then taught it to Alex, and we all sang it together and felt the magic.
Amelia: We felt the good vibes.
Luck: After your long hibernation - what was the spark that made you get back together?
Alex: We all moved to the same place. For a while we were living in different zones. I was living in the mountains in NC; Amelia was in Durham; Molly was at a Zen center in California and scootin’ around. We all ended up in NC like two or three years ago. At that time we started to hang out all together again and then gradually [started] singing a little bit together. We played together at Eaux Claires festival last year and that was the sort of feeling out of the band waters. It felt really good, so we decided to give it more attention.
Luck: Can you tell me about your writing process?
Amelia: It’s the most fun writing process of all time. In that we all hang out alone and get tiny songs and then we bring them to each other. Usually it either becomes a Mountain Man song or we’re all like, “Hm, that’s an interesting song,” [laughs] and we don’t sing it together. But usually one of us starts singing and then pretty immediately the others find our parts and it becomes a song.
Molly: I think we all have separate writing processes, but the way Mountain Man writes is usually pretty consistent.
Amelia: Oddly it still works that they all hold hands in smalls ways.
Luck: Are you able to tell if it’s one of you that brought the initial snippet, whose it is after it’s finished? Like, “Oh this is Amelia’s, this is Molly’s, etc”?
Molly: Usually we come with a pretty fully formed skeleton.
Alex: To my ear and to your ears, and probably to our close friends’ ears, it’s obvious who wrote what song
Amelia: Yeah it’s usually lyrics and melody at least…if not guitar parts.
As shown to us at the Luck Mansion, one of Mountain Man’s greatest strengths is the ability to transition from songs that feel so sacred to humorous comments on everyday life. Amelia introduced their song “Underwear” saying that her husband is constantly on the search for the perfect pair of undies. Listen to “Underwear” live from the Luck Mansion below.
Luck: Do you guys have a recent song that is a favorite to play?
Amelia: You know, I think tonight might be the third time we’ve played in a year?
[all laugh and agree] One show was just to a pond.
Alex: A scum pond.
Luck: What a lucky scum pond.
Amelia: The scum pond was really fun. Many frogs in it.
Molly: And a pair of geese that were nesting, they were lucky too.
Amelia: And a sad dying fountain.
Molly: And possibly a dead deer.
Amelia: There was once a dead deer.
Molly: In the pond.
Amelia: Now it has become the pond…But I really like “Boat”.
Alex: I really like “Boat” too.
Molly: Yeah...just all of them.
Amelia: and “Boat” is on our new record! (listen here)
Mountain Man wasn’t just sleeping during their long band nap, they were busy singing background vocals for Feist and Hiss Golden Messenger, and touring with the likes of the Decemberists and Jónsi as each took on different musical paths. Both Amelia and Molly were in another Bennington-formed band BOBBY; Alex most recently released a 7” called “Fantasy Boyfriend” through her solo project ASM; and Amelia has been hard at work as one half of the duo Sylvan Esso.
Luck: Can you talk about how singing for other bands has influenced you now as a collective artist?
Molly: I think if anything, singing with other bands has just made me notice, or see more clearly, the strength that already exists in this band. It’s always been so easy to make music together. Going into playing with other people or singing backup for other people made me realize that that’s not always the case.
Amelia: Mountain Man has always been a really intimate self-portrait of ourselves and of each other. This new iteration of it just feels like a self-portrait with a lot more self-knowledge.
Luck: With everything that’s on the horizon is there anything we should be looking out for?
Amelia: We have a tour in October…the end of October. We’re so excited, we haven’t toured in a long time. We have a record coming out Sept. 21st. It’s called “Magic Ship”.
It might seem intuitive that “Magic Ship” would be about magic, and though it certainly is full of musical mysticism, the direct title comes from Molly’s beloved cat of the same name.
Molly: She’s incredible.
Amelia: She is. Truly the sexiest cat I’ve ever seen. It’s real.
When asked about the over-arching theme of their first record in almost ten years, Mountain Man responded in a half-whisper, quickly but clearly: “Spells".
Molly: Every song feels transformative to me in a certain way. You feel a certain way when you begin to listen to it and you feel another way once the song is over.
Luck: so I would guess that making this record is very transformative?
Amelia: Yeah it was very chill-ly transformative. It was kind of one of those nice whirlwind record-makings where it wasn’t like where you go into the studio and everything’s so hard...you just feel like trash until you’re done.
Molly: And your tonsils get all pus-y.
Amelia: That’s the worst. This one was pretty chill. It was kind of like a spell, in that we all got together and we were like, “Oh we got it, we made it!”. Yeah. Chillest birth of all time.