Kind Country is quickly gaining steam on the local Americana scene. They’ve played the First Avenue Main Room four times and have shared the stage with Pert Near Sandstone, Trampled by Turtles, and more.
They are celebrating the release of their third album, Hard Times, on Friday at the Main Room.
Max Graham, mandolin player for Kind Country, was kind enough to sit down with Music in Minnesota and discuss their new album, their influences, and more.
MiM: On your website, Kind Country is described as Gram Parsons-penned “Cosmic American Music.” What does that entail, both as far as your sound and your approach?
Max: We try to take a broad approach to music. At its core, our instrumentation isn’t inherently bound to any one genre. So whether we point ourselves in the direction of rock, folk, country, bluegrass, or funk, we try to smelt it all into one, cohesive sound.
As we’ve grown, we have been embraced by the world of progressive bluegrass more and more. It’s been great, but still just one dimension of our sound. Last time we played First Ave, we did a Stevie Wonder tune with me on electric guitar, and things like that basically write us off as being a ‘bluegrass’ band. We also draw a lot of our material from the American songbook.
When searching for words to describe what we do, I feel that a lot of it resonates with the vision of Gram Parsons. Genre-bending and pushing ourselves and instrumentation to the limit is a big part of how we get off lol.
MiM: Who are your biggest songwriting influences?
Max: When I started out, there was a lot of experimenting going on. In school I was making hip hop, indie rock, metal and electronic music, and can only assume that still trickles into my process.
Once I circled back to my American roots, a lot of my early musical inspiration came from the initial psychedelic/folk wave of the 60s. Robert Hunter, Bob Dylan, Stephen Stills, and the like. And those guys were heavily inspired by the original recording artists: the Carter Family, Leadbelly, and on to Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers.
Channeling older themes, melodically and lyrically, is a fine ambition for any songwriter, and I try to follow suit.
MiM: How does songwriting work in Kind Country? Does one person write the songs or is it more collaborative?
Max: We get our songs however we can lol. Bran(don Johnson, guitarist) will show us a riff and will cook up a song on the spot, or I’ll write a song at home and bring it to the band.
But it’s usually best to take half-baked ideas, bring them to the band, and let everyone else get their hands on it. That way the finished product can reflect the strengths of the players.
I like to write melody and harmony and then work out the grooves/jams with the band. Once that structure is complete, I can meditate on the lyrics for a while.
MiM: What kinds of songs do you cover? What approach do you take to covers?
Max: I’ve always felt that you can express yourself with a cover song just as much as with an original tune. Giving people a look at your influences is a great way to connect with your audience. We spent a lot of time in the bluegrass/Grateful Dead paradigm, but now are branching out. We stay away from doing covers because they are popular/trendy and try to do things from the heart.
MiM: Hard Times is your third album, correct? How is it an evolution from your previous work?
Max: This record can be mostly described as a live record. We all tracked live in the same room, on the heels of our summer tour, and were really able to capture that energy. Previous records were written and recorded when we had a lot more downtime, and a lot of those ideas didn’t transfer the way we wanted them to because of that. Playing professionally all the time is such a refining process, and it has been a big change for us. We were able to really reflect that change on this record and feel like this is the tightest, most mature studio effort that we have created.
MiM: What are some of your favorite gigs that you’ve played locally?
Max: Playing First Ave is always so special and unforgettable. Our release party will be our fifth time in the Main Room and the excitement never subsides. The energy exchange is unreal.
MiM: What local bands are you listening to right now?
Max: We are so very fortunate to meet and work with many local artists. Frogleg is always in my rotation, our grassy friends Barbaro & Armchair Boogie are doing great work. I do tend to stick to the classics though: Big Wu, Pert Near, and the ultimate MN-Grass record Lemming by San Souci. It is stylistically perfect.