Adam Aijala, guitar and vocals for Yonder Mountain String Band, said he doesn’t have a template for his songs, but he gets on kicks of writing about relationships or “the dude,” a fictitious character he and banjo player Dave Johnston created on which to foist the ups and downs of life.
“A lot of the lyrics we write, you can pinpoint to this one person, this guy who’s a nomadic dude and he doesn’t have any direction and he’s had some bad stuff happen to him,” Aijala said. “I don’t know who it represents — we’re trying to come up with imagery and it’s about that dude again, that poor soul.”
Yonder Mountain String Band will bring “the dude” and the rest of its musical repertoire to Breckenridge for a free show at the base of Peak 8 on Friday, April 18, as part of the Spring Fever festival.
Nod to Nederland
Yonder was born in the jungles of Nederland in 1998, and Aijala lived there for almost 10 years before moving to Boulder in 2008. People have a fascination with Nederland, a town Aijala described as “eccentric” and “politically a little weird.” He said the town was really welcoming when he was first starting out, with very little attitude at the local “picks,” jam sessions where local musicians of any level could get together and play.
“There were all ages of different acoustic musicians,” he said. “There were picks going on at a minimum of three or four a week of open picks where anyone could come and bring their instruments — just in Nederland, then one in Boulder, one in Ward — you could find a place to go play music with folks in a community setting, in a bar, almost every night of the week.
“When I first started going, I didn’t know any bluegrass songs, and everyone was cool to me, so I felt like I’d want to return that vibe to newer people who came in years later. There’s a lot of cool people there, and obviously that’s where I met the entire band and a bunch of other musicians I am still friends with now.”
What’s in the words
Aijala said when he’s writing songs he pays a lot of attention to what is being said, the overuse of clichés and things, even in common speech. And when it comes to a particular song, he said he doesn’t have an ego or a need to protect every note and syllable in an effort to make it his and only his, only a desire to make a song as good as it can possibly be.
“I’m not using big words or looking through a thesaurus, but trying to say something, even if it’s been said a thousand times, you say it in a way that you haven’t,” he said. “More people looking at your stuff is going to make for a better song. More people saying I like this but I don’t like that, this line is a little bit cheesy — I like that.”
Sometimes a song like “Left Me in a Hole” will come along, written in 1994 when Aijala was in college and a girl broke up with him, but for the most part, the now happily married songwriter said he doesn’t compose many personal songs.
“It seems easier to write about stuff like that because everyone has experiences with relationships and those are times where a lot of your emotions are extreme emotions, so you’re really happy or you’re really sad,” he said. “It’s easy to write those feelings, even if you aren’t in the mode, in the moment.
“If I could speak personally about my own writing, the way that I’ve evolved is that I’m more open, I’m not so set and hell bent on an idea. I try to incorporate anything new I learn with all of the old ways that I’ve learned, too.”
Aijala pointed to a song that he came up with two years ago and thought was great, something he felt really good about. He cranked out some scratch lyrics and had all of the music laid out and then shelved it for a while before putting fresh ears on it.
“The next time I worked on it, I was like, I don’t know if I like this anymore; it never became anything,” he said. “Other times, you come back to it and you think, this is cool and it changes.”
Aijala said he and Johnston live only about a mile apart, so when they’re home they try to get together once a week and write something, riffing off each other and coming up with different musical ideas based on a proposed line or verse. As far as new material is concerned, nothing specific is in the can for Yonder Mountain String Band at the moment, Aijala said, but there’s stuff in the works.
“Dave started this one recently that we’ve been messing with that’s almost done,” he said. “It could be about that same guy — it doesn’t have to be, but it could be. It’s a similar vein, the repeat — “I’m lost, what am I going to do, I’m lost and I’m coming home to you” — could come up once at the beginning once at the end or a tag chorus.
“We have a lot of cool musical ideas with some scratch lyrics. We both finished a song and started playing a new one that I started and a new one that he started and we both helped finish it.”
Aijala said he and Johnston are trying to figure out how this particular song will be sung.
“In a lower key, it works for Dave, but it sounds better in the higher key,” he said. “Dave came up with most of the lyrics and I kind of want him to sing it, but it sounds better in the higher key, so maybe we should just have Ben (Kaufmann) sing it. We have tons of old material that’s not on any record, stuff we’ve been playing live for five or 10 years but not on any record.”
Regardless of whether Yonder is playing songs off its first album or trying out new material, Aijala said he loves the whole idea of making music for a living with people he enjoys being with.
“We’re really fortunate and we never take it for granted,” he said. “We like to be able to play music and make money — we’ve all bought houses from playing bluegrass, which is comical. … We’re lucky as hell, and I enjoy that. I enjoy the fact that lately we’ve had more creativity than in the few years prior, speaking for when Dave and I are working together. I feel like we are coming up with more ideas that normal.”