Eight Dollar Mountain is a Oregon-based bluegrass band. They played the 2014 4 Peaks Music Festival. Bassist Peter Koelsch recently discussed how Eight Dollar Mountain got started and the impact of bluegrass on his life. For more info on Eight Dollar Mountain, check out http://eightdollarmountain.net
Did you come from a musical family? Were your parents musical?
I grew up in the bluegrass hills of Salt Lake City Utah. My dad owned a popular independent record store. Each summer our familywould head to Telluride, Colorado for the summer bluegrass festival, where I’d listen from, an early age, to the high lonesomesounds of Peter Rowan, Hot Rize, New Grass Revival, Tony Rice and John Hartford. It’s a place that I hold near and dear as itintroduced me to this uniquely American music, and I’ve had bluegrass in my veins ever since. Many of the musicians in the band come from an early and long-standing appreciation for the music. Mark’s Grandfather would playthe early greats like Flatt & Scruggs as he enjoyed the beauty of Missouri’s Ozark Mountains. Stuart coming from the mountain frontier of Montana, developed his own claw hammer techniques and style while listening to everything from Tim O’brien to Steep Canyon Rangers. Darren would frequent the mountain ski towns of Crested Butte and Telluride while jamming out to any blues and rock that had a jammy feel a and a funky beat, even attending the Telluride Festival during its peak in the late 1980s. Phil, hailingfrom Austin, Texas, developed his eon love for the music while listening to American greats like Pete Seeger, Willie Nelson, JohnnyCash, and many other country greats, while developing his own Monroe-esque rhythms and melodic breaks on his 1970s Ibanez mandolin.
What first got you interested in bluegrass?
I came into it as a form of a fun family summer vacation. My mom was a school teacher so she was able to take summers off whichwas great for staying close and going on amazing trips around the inter-mountain west. I remember I was very young one day whilewalking around in downtown telluride. She I ran into a young Sam bush, a mandolin god and the official patron saint of Telluride’sannual festival. With his long red floppy hair, he welcomed me and was very inviting to a little kid like I was at the time. That will be alasting memory of the music and the community it propagates. Bluegrass from its very beginning has always been about inclusionand a sincere feeling of being a part of a big bit intimate family get-together. Since the early days of the music to now, that feelingand passion continues to this day. You can’t help but to listen, smile and shake your hips to this amazing American music.
How did Eight Dollar Mountain come together?
Mark, Phil and Peter were playing off and on in various bands and jams around the Ashland area. Mark was running a monthly jam up in the hills outside of town. We all came to jam up there one winter month and the end result was pretty instant. Our love for themusic and rapport with one another made the creation of the band as smooth and natural as anything we’d ever been a part ofbefore. Each member brings a very unique element to the mix. Mark’s howling dobro fills and rich, southern-infused lead vocals,Darren’s lightning-fast and mind-bending guitar licks and phrases, Stuart’s haunting, smoky vocals, distinguished banjo rolls, andillustrative song-writing prowess, and Phil’s hard-driving mandolin chops and decorative fills, along with a deep but sweet baritonevoice. I play bass, so I get off light and easy.
How does your creative process work when writing songs?
There’s no real rhyme or reason, but we’re all of the mind that original songs are what separates us from other groups. We are inspired and accomplished songwriters and we usually approach the songwriting effort with a lot of openness, but we’re also verycritical and vocal with each other about what we like and what we don’t like with each other’s works. We want it to sound great and have a unique Eight Dollar Mountain sound, which is hard to pin down, but we know it when we hear it. Stu is probably our main songwriter, as his stories are illustrative and emotionally driven sound masterpieces. You know you’ve got something good on yourhands when you find yourself singing it out loud by yourself or in the shower. Stuart’s songs get me like that every time! Phil and Darren also provide a wide spectrum of songwriting styles. Phil’s songs are more of the family-oriented and love songs, while Darren is a bit of a wild card, though even that characterization would be underselling both of their tremendous songs.
You are playing the 4 Peaks Festival in Oregon this year. What do you enjoy most about the music scene in Oregon?
The music scene in Oregon is very expansive and supportive. The last time we came through Bend, the Silver Moon was packedwall to wall! That doesn’t happen often for an out of town outfit. But it happens for us in Bend and we love the support you give us.The talent is as diverse as the people of the state. You can find not only a good show on an average night of the week but with alittle bit of effort you can find a community of like minded musicians and advocates for the music that speaks to you.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?
Probably accommodating all the great opportunities to spread our Southern Oregon Bluegrass sound far and wide! We are allaccomplished musicians in our own right, but we’re also family guys, self-employed business owners, and farmers. While it’s greatto be on the road, it’s important to be close to home every now and then. Finding the balance between work and play never ends,and is always a struggle we look at. Sometimes you have to strike when the iron’s hot, and right now our irons are firey red!
What advice would you give to musicians just starting out?
Remember what you’re playing the music for. For us, it’s about having a good time with best friends. The music is the mostimportant thing, and the other accolades and appreciation will always come when you truly enjoy doing what you do. It gets hairy from time to time with playing and recording, and getting yourself out there, but when you remember that you’re doing it for the funand playing the music you love, the rest of the stuff kind of falls into place. Even in our busiest times, all we need to do is pick up ourinstruments and play. You can’t help from smiling when you’re having this much fun!