It was on a long, spaced out, evening commute home last fall when Sirius JamOn did something they don’t always do: played a song by band outside of their typically tight rotation. I was in a bluegrass mood, so I let its strings help calm a bit of road rage. Then, in a sudden rush, I did a double take and snapped back into reality thanks to the hook of the chorus. Isn't technology wonderful? I was able to replay this tune again and again during the remainder of my commute. I had stumbled on one of those songs that finds an immediate home in my general playlist shuffle. "Mountain Annie" by Fruition.
Six years ago, Fruition started gaining notoriety as street musicians in Portland’s music scene. More recently, they secured $20,000 to fund their latest project largely via friends and family. A lot can be gleaned from following their process of transitioning from nomadic musicians to band, and it comes from a blending the band's strong voicing and channeling support from their community.
Despite frequently getting lumped in with jam and bluegrass acts (they've toured with the likes of Greensky Bluegrass and ALO), they are really anything but either. Peel back the instrumentation a bit and you'll find that they are one of the more refreshing sounding acoustic-based live acts, with no one genre overpowering their sets. While Mimi Naja (mandolin, guitar and vocals) and Kellen Asebroek (guitar, keyboards and vocals) inject plenty of the bluegrass overtones, Fruition is counterbalanced just as much by rock and blues especially since adding drums (Tyler Thompson). Jay Cobb Anderson (guitar and vocals) and Keith Simon (bass) round out the 5 piece band to complete a sound that comes off as polished as any much more established groups.
Whether it be new/bluegrass, folk, jam, Americana, rockabilly, soul, or southern rock, they seem to touch all of these musical spaces with equal ease. With three distinct, experienced songwriters who combine for some beautiful vocal harmonies (Anderson, Naja and Arsebroek), Fruition’s breadth of originals and covers is large and impressive. Considering their wide range of appeal and undeniable musical chops, Fruition seems destined for some real big things in the near future. It’s amazing to catch a band like this when they’re momentum seems to be having them on the verge of major national attention.
The band is currently putting the final touches on a project with Grant Farm due out this fall and is starting the process for their next album, a follow up on the success of 2013’s Just One of Them Nights. I had the chance to interview Jay Cobb Anderson from the road in Omaha a few days in advance of Fruition’s swing through the Chicago area. They appear at the venerable Shoe Fest on Sunday and will find their way to Chicago's City Winery for a unique event on Labor Day, September 1st. Leave the BBQ to the folks at the Winery, and even come away with a bottle of champagne included. Check this out... as we're giving away a few free passes for this new annual tradition (click here for more info).
In the meantime, check out our chat with Jay Cobb Anderson...
The Barn: I came across you guys on Sirius about a year ago, and it was nice to have this opportunity to rekindle that initial feeling I had when I first heard "Mountain Annie"...that “HOLD ON, who is this?" type of moment when you hear one of THOSE songs. I’ve done quite a bit or archive.org listening in the past few weeks and last week introduced my 6 and 4 year old daughters to Just One of Them Nights. It has such a great flow and is a tremendous album to complement your live act, which I am really excited to witness and see this weekend.
JCA: Alright! Cool. Thank you so much!
The Barn: So give me some history of Fruition for our readers, you guys are Portland based?
JCA: We all come from different spots in the country, three of us are from Lewiston, ID, and our guitar and keyboard player Kellen is from California. Then Mimi Naja our mandolin, guitar player, singer is from Georgia.
We met and I moved to Portland about 6 and a half years ago with the bass player Keith Simon, and we met Mimi , she introduced us to Kellen Asebroek...and later about 3 years into the band we got our drummer, his name is Tyler Thompson. It all happened there in Portland…
The Barn: Well the more I listen to your live stuff the more my perceptions have mutated and gravitated away from that bluegrass moniker I initially had you pegged as, or maybe because of the double bills you played…
JCA: Portland definitely has quite a large music scene, and we’re not exactly the popular stuff, we’re kind of the underground scene: slightly bluegrassy, kinda folky...with some rock and roll in there...we’ve been adding a lot more rock to our sound the last few years. It’s funny though because the scene there is so much stuff, and what’s popular like from a promotion in the weekly papers is not our style of music. But what’s great about it is we still sell out venues and have a huge fanbase there. We’re not the hipster scene, not electronic-y...I guess we’re not Fugazi-y enough.
The Barn: I love hearing about grassroots efforts by a band, believing in what they are playing, and believing in what you are dedicating your lifestyle for, this cause...this community. Then the community can champion the cause of helping a band thrive, that has to be so rewarding to allow you to focus on what it was that generated your desire to be a musician in the first place. Which is where your story gets interesting, because you relied on Kickstarter to allow friends and family to pledge $20K to help fund Just One of Them Nights.
JCA: Yeah...that’s funny you talk about that, because we get grouped into that bluegrass/newgrass, which we’re totally NOT. We’re definitely influenced by it, but we’re a string band. What’s been great is that we get billed in all these bluegrass festivals and these jam festivals and we’re not really either one of those types of bands. But it’s great because first of all, the fanbase for that type of stuff is really dedicated and will resonate your band name all over the country, which they’ve been doing.
Second of all, playing one of those festivals, all of those musicians that play at them, are willing to sit in and help each other out. There’s not as much competition as like rock and roll festivals. There is more community. We did fund our last album with Kickstarter, which was absolutely amazing...but there was A LOT of work too, we didn’t realize there was going to be that much...but it turned out to be fantastic. And we couldn’t have done it without our fans.
The Barn: I have to imagine getting that sort of response, that that has to reward you for the hours you put into practicing, touring, and committing your lifestyle to something you believe in.
JCA: Completely, 100%
The Barn: So you have this 6 years of history, how did you gravitate to the style and genre, or maybe lack of genre you wanted to focus on what Fruition would be? Because more than even folk or bluegrass, I hear this rockabilly element in Fruition…which just makes you guys really unique…
JCA: Well, we’ve evolved a lot from where we started. When I first moved to Portland, I was just trying folky singer/songwriter type of music you know. But, in all my earlier bands I was playing rock and roll, hardly ever playing acoustic guitar, it was always electric. I played in classic rock bands, blues bands, reggae jam bands, that were all rock and roll based, or based out of the blues. So one of the things when we first formed Fruition, we were just kind of a folk band, and we played on the street a lot. And that is how we started coming up...and after a while of doing that where we could actually play some shows, while still playing on the street, which we did for the first 4-5 years, which I kind of miss, we added the drums.
And what’s funny about the drums, I was playing in two other bands at the time for the first four years that Fruition existed, and one of them was a rock and roll band that was kind of garage-y, kind of punk rock-y, rock and roll. And I was writing all the songs for them. It was like my baby and was my outlet for my rock and roll persona.
And I had this other band that our drummer Tyler Thompson was in called the Bell Boys, that was kind of my Americana type band, and then there was Fruition. We started doing tours, all three of these bands which was pretty easy because the garage band was with bassist Keith Simon, who also played bass in the Bell Boys and Fruition. It was this big incestuous formation of a show that we’d drive around doing.
Then after a while the Bell Boys split up, I wanted to focus on Fruition more and we talked Tyler into playing drums for us, so everything kind of shifted. We all started focusing on the one band, and things really started taking off for us I think. The sound started changing too because part of it was, I didn’t get the chance to rock as much as I wanted, plus everyone in the band was totally open to it, and wanting to get a little more edgier.
So it just just kind of shifted into the sound that it is today, which is a mixture of everybody’s influences. Some of it sounds like soul music, some of it sounds like you were saying -- rockabilly -- some of it sounds a little folky, maybe a little southern rocky. If anything we try to go song by song and just want each song to shine in its own way rather than try to encompass some sort of genre.
The Barn: Is there there a counterpoint to the rock style you bring, maybe in how Mimi’s mandolin might influence the sound of a song?
JCA: Yeah, I think it’s specific the songwriter, there’s three of us in the band, I’m one, Mimi is one, and Kellen is, too. And all of our styles are slightly similar, but they are different too. I think that’s a lot of the reason you can’t really peg us down to one specific genre. But what’s funny is that someone will write a song, and we’ll be like that’s kind of cool, yeah, let’s do that...it ends up working.
I think it has to do with us willing to experiment and see where we can take it. But more than anything I think what draws it all together is the vocals. We do a lot of three part harmonies. It is specific to each particular song writer, but when it really comes down to it, if we can all jive on one song, we’ll try it.
The Barn: Your harmonies are so soulful, it’s hard to believe they fall into place so naturally and sound like you’ve been touring or recording together for so much longer considering that being one element that is not a strength of many of the bands that you either play with or may be billed with you.
JCA: It’s definitely been our biggest appeal for people and our greatest strength, other than songwriting. When we first came together, it was on the street. We just decided to go out and sing, and we just naturally fell into harmony, and that is really rare!
We’d get done singing and just begin laughing because at how natural is was, it was so good! And there are still times when we’re up on stage and we just nail a harmony, and it just makes me smile! We just got lucky we found one another because all of our voices just work well together.
The Barn: I know if you feel it on stage, it hits the audience too when you do something like that. One of the shows I’ve been listening to was your performance at Horning’s Hideout in July which has a few more covers than I was used to seeing in some of your other live shows, like Cake, Bruce, Stevie Wonder…how do you work in covers and moreso, practice them?
JCA: If we have time on the road, anyone that wants to do a new cover or even a new original song and they are really gung-ho about it, then usually the rest of the band will get on board with it, if it’s something we feel we should do, then we find that time. In our downtime, in a hotel on the road, of we’re staying at a friends house, at soundcheck, we’ll be like let’s go over that one we haven’t done in a while…
The Barn: I read in another interview you personally had around 200 songs that you started with for Just One of Them Nights that were eventually whittled down to 11…
JCA: Well, I think between the 3 songwriters in the band, I think we had something like 30-some songs...40-some songs, and then we whittled them down, but if you are talking about me personally, yeah, I’ve written a bunch of songs that we haven’t played...but we all just keep writing. So there is always a pretty big pool of songs we can always draw from. We’ll find time where I’ll go through and just present all the current stuff I’ve been writing and go, “Is there anything that you think pops out or you think would work?”. And all of us do that. So we’re in the process of recording a new album right now…
The Barn: Is this the Grant Farm project thing…
JCA: That is already done, that’s our EP that we’re not quite releasing it quite yet, we’re working on the artwork for it right now, that’s been recorded, mixed and mastered. It’ll be out really soon.
But I’m talking about another full length Fruition album, we have the same problem, where we’ve got like 40 songs, and that doesn’t even include the ones we whittled down from the last time we did Just One of Them Nights. That’s what's great about our band. A lot of it’s about experimenting. Someone is pumped about a song, and we’ll give it a try. If it doesn’t work, it’s not that difficult because we have so much material, new fresh material.
The Barn: So who takes the creative lead in that process with three songwriters deciding the eleven tunes that make the cut and will be on the album?
JCA: It’s always a group effort. It’s one of those things where we’ll start with a list of 35 songs or something. We try them out, and everyone is puts their vote on what they think works. And usually you’ll have a list of about 20, give or take, then we start filtering those down.
It’s not really edited by anyone in particular, it’s all kind of open. There will be one or two that one person in the band really really wants to do, and we’ll give it a shot. It’s definitely a big group effort.
I write a lot of songs, so I usually have a lot of songs left on the table for a new album. I sort of throw out all my material. We don’t want it to be the Jay Cobb album or the Kellen or Mimi album...we want it to be a Fruition album, so we really like to balance out each writer’s input.
The Barn: Off Just One of Those Nights, "Mountain Annie "is about heartbreak, there’s "Whippoorwill", "Portland Bound"...there are songs that evoke a lot of emotion, kind of a theme throughout the album. Did I happen to pick ones that you did or do Mimi and Kellen also draw from some of the same experiences that settle on similar themes in the songs?
JCA: I think so. It’s pretty easy for it to all mesh together because we’re constantly around one another, getting a lot of the same experiences. It’s funny we’ll be on the road and someone will say, “I wrote a song about New York” and someone will say “I wrote a song about Santa Fe”, so it’s pretty easy to bring it all together because we’re all so close all the time.I think most of the the band has gravitated towards sad songs, you know being away from friends or family. Or heartbreak.