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Eats And Beats: Living The ‘Brand New Good Old Days’ With Jamgrass Pioneers Leftover Salmon

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John-Ryan Lockman
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The band Leftover Salmon is often credited with inventing the genre of jamgrass – a melding of up-tempo roots music combined with improvised, often unpredictable explorations. And their frenzied live shows over the last three decades have made them an institution in Americana music. They return to Flagstaff this weekend to headline the Pickin’ in the Pines festival, which took a hiatus last year amid the pandemic. In the latest installment of KNAU’s series Eats and Beats, we caught up with Drew Emmitt, one of the founders of the Colorado-based band and a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He talked about Leftover Salmon’s newest album, “Brand New Good Old Days,” which opens with a surprising version of a Soundgarden classic.

  

  

Leftover Salmon performs on the main stage at Pickin' in the Pines Sat, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Drew Emmitt: It came on the radio and I just thought, wow, what a cool cover this would be to do and turning a grunge tune, basically, into a bluegrass tune.

It is kind of pertinent to this whole time that we’re going through. It’s a good metaphor for being hopeful about things getting better – “won’t you come wash away the rain” – something come and make things better kind of thing. And it’s also a very, very fun song to play live. I love watching people’s faces when we go into it, like, oh my God, what the hell?

In Salmon fashion, it’s just kind of is a happy accident, I think. We just kind of got in the studio and let it fly. We are not the most organized band when it comes to recording and somehow we just sort of lucked out with this one that it just came together the way it did and became so pertinent to the times. The tunes that everybody brought just really kind of made sense and kind of came together in kind of a cohesive way considering we really didn’t have a plan. I think that it definitely sort of follows a theme, you know: the Brand New Good Old Days.

Getting a break from the road has been really great. I think it’s probably added years to everybody’s life in this band. Kind of just getting back to what is basic about living and getting back in touch with just everyday life. It’s kind of a godsend having this big of a break from the road was really awesome. And now we have a much fresher outlook on performing and we’re really enjoying ourselves. We’re not playing as much and when we do get out and play we have a great time. So, I think it’s just done a lot of good for the band in general.

We really bring the audience into the music. It’s not like we’re just the band and then there’s the audience out there. It’s a collective, it’s like this whole thing that happens. When people walk out of a show they definitely remember the vibe and the fun and the friends and everything, but also I think it’s the songs ultimately that really stick with people and that’s kind of what we’ve always tried to do is put songs out there that people can relate to. And I think all those things together have made people want to stay with us, and we’re really fortunate to have the kind of following that we have. I feel like we have just the best fans in the world and we’re just super lucky.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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