The Core: Jeff Austin
Six months after parting ways with Yonder Mountain String Band, the mandolinist returns with a new Jeff Austin Band and his solo debut, The Simple Truth.
Parting ways with Yonder was a whole different thing from [this album], which was something I really wanted to do. I had always played shows on my
own. It goes along with the way that I write music. I got a piece of advice years ago: “Never try to constrain yourself when you write. You might start writing
something and go, ‘Well, this doesn’t sound like a Yonder Mountain song. I should stop.’ Don’t do that—write it.”
And lo and behold, a lot of those songs ended up on this record. I started working on some of these songs a number of years ago and started recording
last year, before the whole Yonder thing happened. I worked with a number of co-writers, like Brendan Bayliss and Todd Snider. When I was conceptualizing this record, Todd told me, “You need to come out and make whatever record you need to make to show people what you’re trying to say.” It didn’t matter if it was more rocking or hipper sounding. I’ve found myself, as a 40-year-old father of two, suddenly on a hip label—Yep Roc.
Friends and Family Deals
We recorded the majority of the album live with the core band of Danny Barnes (banjo, guitar, vocals), Ross Martin (guitar), Eric Thorin (bass, vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums, percussion, electric washboard) at eTown in Boulder, Colo. I didn’t grow up with a dad and eTown’s Nick Forster has been something of a father to me. He has what I like to call “the magic closet,” and in the magic closet is this incredible collection of instruments that we used in the studio. Jennifer Hartswick recorded her parts in Nashville, Tenn., and Brendan added his parts in Chicago. Then, John Keane mixed it in Athens, Ga. I’m an old Uncle Tupelo guy, and as soon his name was mentioned, I got goosebumps. I try to put the album in the texture or flow of a movie. That’s something [Foo Fighters/Beck/Yonder producer] Tom Rothrock taught me. I would just sit and watch him do these overdubs and edit. I’ve really tried to make it a point, at this point in my life, to learn as much as I can and to seek out those lessons.
I’ve learned what it means to have a clear vision. Regardless of what was happening or what was to be with Yonder, nothing changed in terms of this record and what I wanted to make—and that I had the freedom to make. Any changes that were made [after splitting with Yonder] were made to serve
the song. I spent a lot of time making records where I was afraid to let the studio be a little playground where you can go and kind of make shit up.
I didn’t worry if a song was bluegrass enough. Little did I know that I really wasn’t gonna be tied to anything so, whereas nothing changed as far as the
mix or sonically, more freedom came unexpectedly. I was able to look at the record and go, “It’s not this guy from this band making a record.” Now it is just,
“This guy’s making a record.” I would love to be able to play a show where you have a four-piece acoustic band playing the hell out of one song and the
next song you get a horn section up with a drummer, going through the natural evolutionary progress of moving forward.
I would say [parting ways with Yonder] was sudden. I believe things happen at certain times for a lot of reasons and now that I’m about six months
removed from this, I’m able to look at it in a different way. It was so quick when it all first happened—there was a tour, there was a show, there was a
meeting and it was a decision. I got an amazing piece of advice from my manager. He said, in the most loving way you can imagine, “Shut ya fuckin’
mouth.” I was a person that had desperately worked hard at changing, who knee-jerk reacted to a lot of stuff, and all I wanted was to knee-jerk react. I turned off my email—you can’t process almost 17 years in the course of a week or even a month. I’m so glad I took that advice because it made me look at what’s important. What’s important is being beyond grateful for the time that I had with that group of guys and being able to do what we did.
Nitpicking every little detail of what happened doesn’t serve anybody. It doesn’t serve those guys—who I was able to spend that time with and change the
way people think about what a four-piece acoustic band can do—and it doesn’t serve the fans. If you’re in a tour bus and complaining, people say, “Don’t bitch on the yacht.” I spent too much of my life being negative and steering things the wrong way and trying to sabotage everything. I had this amazing awakening a couple of years ago—giving up a lot of things that were not helping my life and having a child and being married and being quiet and shutting up for a minute. Being able to spend these six months with that reflection has allowed me to see what’s important and what is fleeting. Especially with being on Yep Roc, it is exciting that things are wide open and my new album can be whatever it needs to be.