By Eric Wendt
When was the last time you lost your shit over a bluegrass band? I’m willing to go out on a limb and say the answer is never. While roots music has a long and storied American history, it’s not competing with Nicki Minaj to rule the pop charts. Which is why Head for the Hills — comprised of Mike Chappell (mandolin), Adam Kinghorn (guitar), Joe Lessard (fiddle) and Matt Loewen (bass) — is so extraordinary. The band has managed to take a niche Americana sound and create a devoted following across the country. Garnering critical praise and sold-out shows wherever they play, Head for the Hills are posed to take bluegrass to the big time. Synthesis had the chance to talk with fiddler Joe Lessard.
I feel like bluegrass/roots music is associated with a niche market, a sort of old-timey throwback sound. What is it that drew you guys to it?
I think one of the attractive things about this kind of music is that it’s never really been rampantly commercialized. We’re not the most old-timey band at all, so we make an effort to continue those traditions in a way that feels appropriate for us.
When your band is associated with a certain genre, in this case bluegrass, are there times where you feel boxed in by people’s expectations for your music. I mean, things might get crazy if you busted out some metal riffs on your next record….
It’s funny you ask, because we just got done mixing a live record that features an Iron Maiden song! So no, we’ve never felt particularly boxed in by the bluegrass instrumentation. None of us are trained in bluegrass or are tied to playing it the way Bill Monroe did, so we feel pretty free to explore the limits of fiddle, mandolin, guitar and upright bass.
The band has shared the stage with some huge names. What are some performances that really stick out for you?
Being on stage with Del McCoury at last year’s Delfest sure was an honor and a thrill for all of us. I got to sit in with the Emmitt-Nershi Band recently with Anders Beck from Greensky Bluegrass. We’re just really lucky to have such a supportive group of peers and influences.
Could you tell me more about the band’s connection with Conscience Alliance?
We’ve partnered with them for years now. It’s a great organization that provides food to those in need through music, art and sporting events — plus they always provide us with a great poster to help promote our band and their cause together.
After two releases and non-stop touring, what’s next for Head for the Hills?
We’ll be releasing a live album very soon — after that it’s back in the studio to record all the new songs we’ve been playing all over the country. I hate to use the word “indie” to describe any band’s sound, but I’ll say this next studio album will be our least bluegrassy endeavor yet.