Writer Of The Week: Mountain Man

Mountain Man are neither men nor mountains. Instead, they’re three women who sing beguiling indie-folk songs, often a capella. Their debut LP, Made The Harbor, has wowed critics and landed them an invite to perform at Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival. We talked to Mountain Man member Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, the one who’s into Fleetwood Mac and Ke$ha.

How did the group form, and how’d you settle on the name?

We got together in college in Vermont. We were just throwing out names and came up with Mountain Man.

Mountain Man’s sound has been described as ghostly or ethereal. How intentional is that?

I wouldn’t call it intentional. I read an interview with Hemingway a little while ago in which he described his “style” and the “style” of other writers as their own awkward and singular way of writing. His “style” was the best way he could write what he wrote. I think that applies here too. If our music is perceived as ghostly or ethereal, that is an interpretation. Our sound is the expression of our abilities and imaginations working in cahoots, and I don’t think we could do anything other than that.

How’d you end up getting signed to your label?

We met with Tim Putnam of Partisan in NY, and spent the evening at a irish pub/hiphop dance club, and got along very well.

Do the three of you split songwriting duties?

I wouldn’t call it a duty, but we do all write songs and present them to one another when we feel like they are ready for input from others.

Your music doesn’t use a lot of instrumentation; how does that factor into the songwriting process?

It’s really as simple as whether or not a song was written on the guitar. Acapella songs stay that way, and usually songs written on the guitar remain that way as well.

Many of the songs on Made The Harbor relate to nature, are there are specific places you were thinking of?

Certainly. Molly and I especially tend to write songs with specific places in mind, almost always places where we have lived–Minnesota, Vermont, California, New Orleans. But it is often the human connections we have had IN those places that makes them particularly worthy of digesting or revisiting in song.

The term “Appalachian Folk” comes up a lot with reference to Mountain Man, what was your exposure to Appalachian Folk before the band?

“Appalachian folk” is a misnomer, in my opinion. None of us are from Appalachia, and I think I am the only one of us who listens to any kind of country music. Amelia listens to a lot of electronic music like Animal Collective and Crystal Castles, and Molly listens Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and lots of contemporary music. We pump up the Fleetwood Mac and Foreigner and Ke$ha in the car. I only started listening to a lot of country music in the last four years.

Made The Harbor was recorded in an old ice cream parlor, how did that happen?

While it is indeed an old ice cream parlor, it is also the apartment of the friend of ours who recorded us.

How have your gigs been going? Is it harder or easier to grab people’s attention singing acapella?

Our shows have been good. We just got off of a tour with Twin Sister and Bear in Heaven, two bands whose sounds and energy levels couldn’t get much farther from ours, but even in the bar-where-people-are-waiting-for-synthed-out-rock setting, people were listening and quiet and respectful. It was extremely fun.

How did you get to be a part of the Solid Sound Festival? Are you excited?

We are excited. We just received an email inviting us to be a part of the festival. We are all familiar with MassMOCA, and know it is going to be a lot of fun.

Is there a lyric you’re particularly proud of on the album?

I wrote “Sewee Sewee,” and am proud of the lines “From a rocky stand, I watched your bare feet running over salty land. When the light grew dim, I said, “now it’s time for you to come in.”” I like that it verges more on narrative than poetry, and that the words reflect movement rather than navel gazing.