Having spent their entire overheated lives beneath the blistering Arizona sun, Jared Kolesar and his talented bandmates know a thing or two about dealing with sizzling temperatures. But after listening to Jared & The Mill’s soon-to-be-released debut album “Western Expansion” – and the overwhelming response to the band’s live shows – things are about to about to get a whole lot hotter for the six-member indie-folk outfit.
The fiery sextet honed their craft over the past two years while playing with the likes of Youngblood Hawke, Flogging Molly, and The Killers at legendary venues such as Los Angeles’ Roxy Theater, Albuquerque’s Isleta Amphitheater and Phoenix’ Comerica Theater.
And now Kolesar (vocals/guitar), Michael Carter (banjo/mandolin), Chuck Morriss III (bass), Gabe Hall-Rodrigues (accordion/keys), Larry Gast III (lead guitar) and Josh Morin (drums) are ready to take their powerful blend of folk, bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll on an extensive tour of the western states in support of the Sep. 17 release.
Kolesar took the time to chat with me recently about the band’s plans as they prepared for the album’s release. The anxiety and anticipation of a debut record can make for the best of times – and worst of times – for an emerging artist. But Kolesar and the band seemed remarkably unfazed by it all.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of time to think about it. This has all really happened so fast. But I like to say this is a band of gentlemen who have our personal lives sorted out as well as our professional lives.”
“We have a very strong core structure as a band and individually we’re all close with our families. A lot of us have girlfriends or fiancés and it allows us to be able to control our temperament in a way that anyone would be able to and it’s really a blessing. I have an awesome girlfriend who is able to calm me down and make me feel that everything’s going to be okay if I ever have any anxiety or frustration with the process of debuting an album.”
And there’s something else about a freshman release that can give a band fits. They generally have a backlog of material from years of creative blood, sweat, and tears. But choosing just a few gems from that inspired chest of treasures can be quite a daunting task.
“We had been a band two years by the time we recorded this album in the studio,” professed Kolesar, “so we had an entire catalogue to pick and choose from. Two years of writing music, you have a really broad spectrum of songs that you play. So it gave us a really tasteful diversity of who we are as a band. It gave people an opportunity to really see where we’re coming from as a band and where we’re going.”
You can count the exceptional folk/bluegrass bands to come out the Grand Canyon State on one hand. Come to think of it, you can probably count them on one finger. Kolesar confessed that the band’s musical progression was inescapable.
“When we first got started, we actually were a pop ensemble and I wrote a lot of music like Jason Mraz wrote or John Mayer – those were the artists that I pulled from. I started really listening to folk music and started really loving the genre because of how honest it is.”
“You want to be in a folk song that you can relate to. There’s ambiguity in the lyrics that allow you to relate to almost every single folk song – a story. And I think that the reason we play so well together is because we’re all from the west. Everyone is born and bred in Arizona. Every one of us has listened to western folk music or country music. Or the new wave folk movement has impacted us in some way because it’s done so well on the west coast.”
“That said, it kind of fell into place. Everyone had a diverse background in music but we all fell on folk to be the music we love playing as a band. And honestly, it’s the music I love writing as a songwriter. So I would say that it chose us rather than we chose it.”
That insightful acoustic music “chose” Jared & The Mill is not surprising when one considers the all-star roster of tunesmiths that the insightful Kolesar credits for his inspiration. “As far as major influences, I look to the great songwriters. A lot of people say the same kind of people. But the reason is because they are the masters of their craft.”
“So I say Bob Dylan has a huge influence on my writing. I would say that Jason Mraz is more of a modern artist; I really look up to him as a songwriter. John Mayer stayed with me as far as songwriting goes. He has a great, colorful diction and I respect that about his writing.”
“Because I've had such a wide variety of genres that I've gone through as an artist, it’s hard to pick and choose what artist I really draw from. It’s some things that have come and gone. My iPod reflects absolutely everything because it’s songs I've listened to my entire life.”
“You’ve got everything from classic rock to heavy metal to folk music to jazz. I know it’s incredibly cliché to say, but I would say that everything that touches my ears is really what impacts my writing and our music as a band.”
Given the sextet’s spirited set at this year’s SXSW Music and Media Conference – and the equally spirited reaction from the fans – let’s just hope that Kolesar stays under the influence of those songwriting masters.
Notwithstanding the band’s remarkable reception outside of Arizona, gaining the same respect locally can be a surprising challenge. To paraphrase the old adage, it seems that “no band is welcome in their hometown.” Grand Canyon State native Kolesar shared his sensible perspective on the less than sensible phenomenon.
“There are reasons why it’s more difficult to gain respect in your home town. And that’s because when you are a local band people see you at the beginning at whatever point you happen to be at the time.”
“But when you’re traveling and you’re going from town to town, people don’t look at you as ‘This is a band that started here.’ They just look at you as an artist that is on the road. And you’re at the point where you’re touring, so you must be a big deal.”
“I guess what I'm trying to say is there’s a lot less expectation in a funny way, because people just assume that the position you’re in, you’ve gotten there for a reason. But that’s not necessarily the case when you’re at home because it’s a place where you play most often. Your name comes up all the time and people see that as a sign of, ‘They’re the local boys doing their thing.’”
“But the people who came out to South by Southwest was really inspiring for us because there’s a lot of fans with folk influences. But I wouldn’t say there were bands that were able to take to the street and busk as a full band because they had electric guitars or they only play full drum set as far as percussion.”
“And the six of us are able to go out there and play our instruments for anybody who’s passing by. We don’t have to have an amp or a P.A. system or any of those things. People really enjoyed the rudiments of our band. So that was really cool.”
“And seeing so many people who are true appreciators of music is always an incredible sight to see. It’s just really cool to be in that atmosphere and know that everybody in the town for the most part is there to listen to good music. If they give you their attention, you’re doing something right.”
After the release of the band’s exceptionally crafted debut, you can expect the legions of people paying attention to Jared & The Mill to grow exponentially. And what they’re doing right is playing brilliantly intricate acoustic music – which is remarkable when one considers that they’ve only been playing together for two years.
“A lot of people have commented on how tight we sound as a band. I almost completely attribute that to the background of us as a band. The drummer, the accordion key and electric guitarist are all derivatives of the A.S.U. school of music and school of jazz. In fact, our accordion keyboard player has his masters in jazz performance. So the three of them working as a unit, they’re just well trained and were educated specifically in their craft. That’s really amazing to have.”
“And our bass player’s been playing for his entire life. He’s a third generation musician and was raised in an atmosphere where you had to play music. So the background of our band is really what keeps us as we are. Everyone is a dedicated musician and it’s something that we all really want.”
If you ask this music fan, Kolesar and his band of musical men are bound for glory. But much like a debut album, success is sure to present the band with a few yins and a few yangs. “Staying grounded is a big challenge in a performer’s career,” agreed Kolesar, “because it’s really easy to have this mindset where you’re ‘the one on the stage and everyone’s watching you for a reason.’”
“But the consensus within the band is that we’re so incredibly appreciative of our fan base and our support system. We know that we wouldn’t be doing what we’re able to do if it weren’t for that support system and fan base.”
“It just comes down to a personality thing where everyone in the band is fairly humble. And we don’t really concern ourselves with talking about how big of a deal we are or what we’re owed. It’s all about gratitude that we able to lead a slice of the life that we dream of living one day. It’s all incredibly surreal and I think we’re all just more appreciative than anything.”
“I think that it’s really important that we just stay grounded and stay who we are. We just plan to hold true to our music, not change who we are as artists or as a band to what people expect from us.”
“It’s not necessarily that we don’t want to accommodate the listeners. But it’s more of how we want to maintain who we are because that’s who we’re best at being. By the end of our careers, I want to be satisfied with my life as an artist. And I want to be able to say that I'm proud of what I've done.”
If “Western Expansion” is any indication, Jared & The Mill are going to have plenty to be satisfied with 20 years from now…
Here are the band’s upcoming tour dates:
Sep. 19 – * CD RELEASE SHOW: Phoenix, Ariz. – Sail Inn
Sep. 24 – Tucson, Ariz. – Club Congress
Sep. 25 – Tucson, Ariz. – U of A campus
Sep. 26 – Albuquerque, N.M. – Low Spirits
Sep. 27 – Austin, Texas – 512 on 6th
Sep. 28 – Dallas, Texas – The Prophet Bar
Sep. 29 – Oklahoma City, Okla. – The Blue Note
Sep. 30 – Denver, Colo. – Cervantes Masterpiece
Oct. 2 – Fort Collins, Colo. – Hodi’s Half Note
Oct. 4 – Boise, Idaho – Red Room
Oct. 5 – Seattle, Wash. – Seamonster’s Lounge
Oct. 6 – Portland, Ore. – The White Eagle
Oct. 7 – Eugene, Ore. – Cozmic Pizza
Oct. 9 – San Francisco, Calif. – Café Du Nord
Oct. 11 – Los Angeles, Calif. – Hotel Cafe
Oct. 12 – Cottonwood, Ariz. – Rhythm & Ribs Festival