Interview: Pert Near Sandstone

pert near

Since recording their first album nearly ten years ago in a Minneapolis basement, Pert’ Near Sandstone have gone on to record seven full length albums and tour extensively, earning prestigious spots at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and on A Prairie Home Companion. Their most recent work, Discovery of Honey was released in 2016, and has been lauded for its “voracious musical appetite and disregard for the structures of genre.”  We spoke with Pert Near Sandstone’s mandolin and fiddle player Nate Sipe in advance of their annual Winter String Band Gathering about the profound impact of the Minneapolis musical community on their work, their special guests for the Gathering, and their current inspirations.

Pert’ Near Sandstone return to The Cedar this month for their annual Winter String Band Gathering with special guests The Lil’ Smokies and Fruition. The shows will be Friday February 17th and Saturday February 18th. Tickets are $17 in advance/$20 at the door and can be found here.


 

Q: Pert’ Near Sandstone have been doing the Winter Spring Band Gathering for many years now at The Cedar. What can fans expect this time around?

A: With our new album having been released in October, we haven’t had much chance to play the new songs in Minnesota yet. This album is progressive for Pert’ Near Sandstone, having styled ourselves after an old time string band for over a decade, many of these new songs verge into an Americana  realm. This is somewhat due to our working with Ryan Young as a co-producer and recoding engineer at his studio. His great musicality and tasteful inclusion of auxiliary instrumentation adds a really nice layer to the sound of this album.

Ryan has been joining us on tour for the past several months, which has been refreshing. It has also given us an opportunity to dust off some of the earlier songs that we used to play, giving them new arrangements and developing them to mesh with out current repertoire. I expect that the several eras of Pert’ Near will be well represented throughout the weekend, but the brand new and some of the oldest songs are what we are excited to jam on. I also heard there were going to be some Wild Goose Chase Cloggers in attendance, so we may have the opportunity to feature them on one of the nights.

 

Q: You have two exciting national bluegrass groups joining you for the Gathering, The Lil’ Smokies from Missoula and Fruition from Portland. How do you go about choosing your special guests?

A: This is the ninth year of our Winter String Band Gathering. We have always treated it as a venue to either meet and gain camaraderie with other groups, or hang with friends that we have met around the country. It is a perfect chance to introduce our audience to performers they may not be familiar with. Hopefully also introducing the band to a new audience in Minneapolis, which is such a supportive and thriving musical community. These Winter Spring Band Gatherings are what gave us the taste for curating multi- day, multi- band events that led to our eventual involvement with the annual Blue Ox Music Festival that we now help produce. Sometimes, however, the groups we book are the only ones foolish enough to agree to come to the great frozen north in January or February.

 

Q: You all have been making music together for a decade now. How have you seen the local music scene, and specifically the local bluegrass scene, evolve in time?

A: It has been interesting to watch as groups that were just starting out or newly feeling their way through the cafe and club scenes a decade ago now thrive like veterans. We were just kids discovering the historical West Bank folk scene and the stewards that still played the music around town. It was a revelation. Happily, we found others who were enthusiastically trying to replicate the roots music that we were unearthing like a secret treasure, playing together and genuinely excited about what each was doing musically. We had no idea what a swell of bands we would encounter as we struck out on tour around the country and even right in Minnesota. I think that bluegrass and related genres of music have truly become a familiar, household variety of music, certainly more than ever before outside of the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast area. I believe it has worked into the fabric of the Minneapolis sound. For Pert Near Sandstone to bring this very old-time informed music to rock clubs, theaters, and variety of different festivals and audiences, all with a resounding approval, and each week being recommended to check out many more groups than we can even meet– there must be something happening to popular music. We would be playing this music regardless, but it’s very enriching to be a part of a big and ever growing community here in MN and around the country.

 

Q: What was the recording process for Discovery of Honey like? Has it influenced your live shows?

A: This album was unique for us in a couple ways. All the tunes were mostly written beforehand by our four songwriters in the band, but not shared with each other until we found ourselves with a free evening in a Chicago hotel. After a session of show and tell, arranging and charting, we had more than enough material to fill a new album. The recording time was subsequently planned and we found ourselves in the comfortable and familiar studio of Ryan Young, who was a founding member of the group and actually recorded our first two albums at the time in his first home studio. Picking which songs to be included on the album was a pretty easy process, as a thematic concept was created with a discarded song title that became the album title, Discovery of Honey. Ryan did a great job of mixing the songs and blending tracks to make our various songwriting styles meld well, maybe better than any previous album other than Out On A Spree, which was a traditional old-time concept album.

 

Q: What has been inspiring you lately?

A: The resurgence of American country music and honky tonk has been entering our music, creeping in slowly. For example, we have arranged recorded works to include piano and pedal steel guitar. I think the Pert Near approach to bluegrass and roots music lends itself well to the western swing and country rags that have been a long time part of the local Minneapolis folk music scene, done with the Pert Near spin on it, which is for the most part an organically created sound from our many musical backgrounds.

Through the epochs of Pert Near Sandstone’s rotating bass players, there have been heavy influences that we absorbed from them. Adam Kiesling brought an extremely deep repertoire of folk songs, as well as a penchant for Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. For the last few years, our now full time bass player, Justin Bruhn, has brought his musical aesthetic into the project, including a love for the clever songwriting with a country slant, such a Roger Miller and The Band.

In general, we are always heavily influenced by other local musicians. For example: Charlie Parr, Spider John Koerner, Dakota Dave Hull, Peter Ostroushko, Front Porch Swingin’ Liquor Pigs, and nearly all the bands that came up at the came time as us in Minneapolis and many bands we have met traveling. There is a solid community of acoustic and roots musicians that we’ve communed with across the country, but never felt that any is as welcoming or supportive of each other musically as Minneapolis. Public and community radio has been very instrumental in this also. We feel privileged to be based here and have such great venues to play, such as the unique acoustic listening theater, The Cedar Cultural Center. Several of my favorites have graced that stage and it is a pleasure every time. It is honestly my favorite place to play.


 

– Brenna Tierney
Spring Marketing Intern