As summer fades away and the other-worldly colors of fall begin to creep into view, the cool breezes that bring a peaceful calm among the valleys and mountains of our area commence to blowing and sounds of music fill the air. Gone are the dog days of summer heat with its complimentary hazy, unclear vistas from our majestic mountaintops. Fall is that perfect season from almost any view, and now it’s nothing but miles and miles of skyline.
One of Asheville, N.C.’s, favorite indie-rock bands, Uncle Mountain has weathered the months that it took to create a delightful new album, one that builds upon the strengths of all three members and goes in a direction that is remarkably distinctive with their sweet harmonies, creative arrangements, and stellar songwriting. “Miles of Skyline” avoids the prophetic sophomore slump and pushes the band that’s known for its exhilarating live performances to record an album that manages to capture that elusive intrinsic energy on tape.
The three diverse songwriters that complete Uncle Mountain—Dan Shearin, Ryan Lassiter, and Ryan Furstenberg—have all been playing music for a long time. “Ryan and I have been playing music since we were quite young, maybe six years old or so,” says Shearin, “Furstenberg has been playing since middle school I believe.”
It’s obvious these guys are talented, the musicianship on “Miles of Skyline” is flawless, from the inspired jam on “False Alarm” to the Afro-pop percussion on the title track, to banjo-laden stomp of “Hot Sun,” Uncle Mountain brings a breezy calmness to each song while maintaining composure and poise that’s extremely charming. Each track on the new album is filled with the band’s greatest strength, one exclusively practiced—their harmonies. Smooth, sweet, and airy, the mellow vibes from their perfectly atoned voices create a sound reminiscent of a Brian Wilson meets Crosby, Stills and Nash on a back porch on an Appalachian fall afternoon. “Vocals are something we are always working on,” Shearin explains, “We have a lot of vocal practices and are singing sets of music each night.”
The hard work has paid off for Uncle Mountain. Recorded in their own make-shift home studio, mostly live with minimal overdubs, “Miles of Skyline” is sure to gain this talented young band national attention and hopefully record labels. “We’d like to be playing together for as long as possible,” Shearin laments. “From a year from now to five years from now, if we’d be sharing our music with more and more people, that’d be a great feeling.”
An interview with Uncle Mountain
SML: How was the recording & writing process different from Salt Sweet and Memory Feet vs. Miles of Skyline?
Dan Shearin: The biggest difference in the recording process from one album to the other is that we recorded a lot of the basic tracks of Miles of Skyline playing live together. SSMF was recorded bit by bit, each instrument's part written as we recorded it. We started MOS with the same approach but weren't getting the same energy we get from playing the songs at our live shows. Now that we are more of a live band, we decided to use a different method and get the equipment needed to record the basic tracks of the record together. Then we got an opportunity to house-sit at a friend's cabin in Swannanoa for 5 days and struck a deal with them to use that time and their wood-paneled, spacious living room as our temporary recording studio. That's where/when we recorded a good chunk of the record.
That brings me to another difference which is that this album was all home-recorded. We recorded SSMF in a studio at Appalachian State.
The actual writing process of MOS has been pretty similar to SSMF. One of us will bring either a song, a chunk of a song, or just a very small idea for a song to the rest of the guys and we'll work the rest out together. Sometimes we'll spontaneously come up with the basis for a song in a little jam session or practice session. A lot of the arranging is done via recording demos and getting a lot of ideas down, then sifting through all the clutter simply by playing the songs and finding the most important parts of the song. You can get a good idea of what is working when you play them in front of a crowd.
SML: This sophomore album is very strong, the melodies lines and harmonies are so smooth, do y'all have to work on the vocals or does this come naturally?
Shearin: Vocals are something we are always working on. We have a lot of vocal practices and are singing sets of music each night. Our voices have matured a lot since the last record, so the recording of the vocals was easier than it was for SSMF. I personally like to sing 3 passes of a lead vocal track, then pick from the best parts of all three. Usually after 3 takes, you start to lose a bit of the spontaneous and relaxed feeling that you get before you start thinking about singing too much.
SML: The musicianship is incredible, how long has everyone been playing music?
Shearin: Thanks! Ryan Lassiter (the drummer) and I have been playing music since we were quite young, maybe 6 years old or so. Furstenberg has been playing since middle school I believe.
SML: Where do you see "Uncle Mountain" a year from now? 5 years from now?
Shearin: We'd like to be playing together for as long as possible. From a year from now to 5 years from now, if we'd be sharing our music with more and more people, that'd be a great feeling.
SML: Have any record labels started knocking on your door? Is that a goal within the band?
Shearin: We'd love to hear from record labels. We will be sending the CD out to labels and agencies and such in the near future. Our main goal with the band is to be able to continue playing and creating music. This, of course, requires some sort of financial success which can be achieved in a number of ways. We'll take all the help we can get, including help from the right record label. I say the right record label because many times a label can turn out to be bad news for a band if they are not what each party is looking for.
SML: How has Western NC or Asheville in particular influenced your music?
Shearin: We've met a lot of friends and fellow musicians in Asheville that have really pushed us in the right direction. Before we came to Asheville, we were really excited about writing music and playing music but had no real compass as to how to do this effectively enough to be a touring band. After moving here, we really got a few kicks in the rear and saw so many really good bands and then became friends with a lot of them. Now You See Them, for example, was a band we became friends with who gave us a lot of advice and got us going in the right direction. Now Jason (their percussionist) is our booking agent, a pretty huge part of how we are playing as many shows as we are. This is just one example of many dear friends in many different circles that we have become close with.
SML: The music\arts community in WNC is extremely vibrant and active, how does it feel to be a part of it?
Shearin: It feels great. When I first moved here a lot of people told me that Asheville is a hard scene to break into, but once you do, it's extremely supportive. This has proven to be nothing but the complete truth. It took a while for us to get a foot-hold in the Asheville scene, but now that we've gotten a start, it's been getting better and better. Everything from the local publications, to the venues, to the recording studios, to the musicians and artists, to the art managers, to the patrons are extremely supportive of one another and have made the Asheville scene a great place to belong.