ENOSBURG FALLS — Sometimes in old cartoons, there is a character that climbs a mountain. It has a question whose answer can only be found on the top. On the peak sits a guru with the answer. The answer is no.
The Mountain Says No, a rock band based in Enosburg Falls, practices in the basement of The Flying Disc on Main Street, a music store owned by Ben Maddox.
Maddox and Jedd Kettler, former members of the band Farm, joined with bassist Andrew Frappier and drummer Justus Gaston to form a new sound.
Their first album, JV, came out last year to much acclaim, regarded by the Seven Days as one of the best Vermont albums of 2015.
Nowadays, The Mountain Says No develops new songs and jams once a week to gear up for a second album. They hope to produce it within the year.
They are performing at Big Jay Tavern in Montgomery Saturday night at 10 p.m.
I dropped in on a few band practices to get a feel for their style and see what they were currently working on.
Q. How did Farm transition into The Mountain Says No?
“So, Ben and I were in Farm with Joshua Givens,” Kettler, one of the guitarists, said. “We played six or seven years. We didn’t break up so much as stop playing because Joshua had different stuff going on in his life.
“Then Andy and Ben starting working on an instrumental project,” he continued. “Lots of looping and saxophone.”
Looping means laying down different tracks of rhythms and instruments on top of each other to create one song.
“It was difficult and unwieldy,” Frappier said.
“And unpopular. A fantastic project.” Maddox said, laughing.
“It was intermittently interesting and not interesting,” Frappier added.
“When Joshua stepped out of Farm, Ben and I were still bouncing around playing music down here,” Kettler said, “kinda messing around trying to figure out what we wanted to do because we still wanted to play together.”
Frappier said, “We got together and then went on the search for a drummer.”
“We were happy when we found Justus to be able to just play, turn on your guitar amp and just do it,” Maddox said. “It wasn’t a technical challenge every time you try and do something.”
Q. Other than the new members, how are the two bands different?
“Farm was unwieldy in its own way,” Kettler said. “There were three of us and throughout the whole band, we were all switching instruments from song to song.”
“It was a completely morphing thing as it went through,” he continued. “One minute, Ben would be on drums, I’d be on keyboard and Joshua would be on acoustic. Then the next song, Ben is on acoustic, I’m on guitar, Joshua is on base and trumpet.”
“It was a lot of planning and a lot of weird practices,” Maddox said. He explained that instead of playing one instrument, everyone had to get practice time in on each instrument.
So when the band transitioned, Kettler and Maddox wanted to try something new.
“Hey, what if you played guitar and I played guitar and we had a base player and a drummer?” Kettler said. “You know, like a rock band! Where we could all settle into one place.”
“Sometimes, I think there was a little bit of fear that we would get bored doing just one thing, but it’s fun to just do it and explore,” Kettler said, about the change in instrumentation.
“It keeps songs going much faster because, ‘A,’ you don’t have to decide who’s going to play what,” Maddox said.
“The Mountain Says No is definitely more rock because of that,” he continued. “There’s always drums playing, there’s always base playing, there’s always two electric guitars. Where as Farm, it could be one keyboard and a base drum and an acoustic.”
“Farm was more eclectic,” Kettler agreed. He explained that it was like musical chairs: everyone knew how to play all the instruments. During a performance, when they got up and switched, the guitar sound would changed because a new person was plucking the strings. Each person had a unique style.
“It was generally mellower, a little folky, maybe a little more Americana,” Kettler said. “It still had heavy rock stuff in it to and some pretty experimental stuff in it, too, at times.”
Q. What is The Mountain Says No’s sound?
“This is much more straightforward rock,” Kettler said.
“You know, we definitely don’t want to be playing the same song over and over again,” Maddox said. “It’d be boring. We don’t want to be like, we sound like 70’s rock band and all we do is focus on this genre.”
“If this song emerges, lets play it so it’s the best it can be,” he continued. “Let’s not play it like we’re a gypsy jazz band and everything we do is gypsy jazz.”
Kettler said we try to ask, what does the song want? What does the song need?
“It’s about doing it justice by adapting ourselves to what it needs,” Maddox said.
Frappier said the comment they like the least is, ‘You know what you sound like?’
Q. What’s the most popular song off your first album?
Maddox and Kettler agreed on “The Bomb” being the crowd favorite at live performances.
“Cause it’s loud and it stops abruptly and starts again abruptly,” Frappier said.
“I think that’s the one that just rocks in a really satisfying way,” Kettler explained. “I don’t think we’re bored playing it.”
“It’s one we all wrote together,” Maddox said. Over the course of one night, members of the band would chime in ideas for rhythm, lyrics or beats until they had a finished piece.
Q. Do you make money, making music?
“We make money off of gigs and stuff, but we definitely don’t see it as a personal income,” Maddox said. “If we make any money, we use it to buy drum heads or get some new microphone cables. Just stuff that allows us to do what we do without losing any money.”
“I borrowed $10,000 from my grandma, so we could rock!” Maddox said, laughing. “That’s not what we’re trying to do.”
“Occasionally we’ll pay for gas and go out for Denny’s after a show,” Kettler said.
“But it frees us up also,” Maddox continued. “If you’re trying to make a living off of music, then inevitably you’re going to be playing things that you think are going to get you gigs to make money, like gypsy jazz.”
Maddox said it can stifle your creativity, if every time you come up with a song, you have to wonder if it’s going to make you money.
Q. What are you currently working on?
“We have at least three or four (songs) that we now play out,” Frappier said. Then, there’s “chunks of things” and “rifts” that we work on, with all of the ideas listed on a white board.
“There’s always 52 ideas in the wings,” Maddox said.
Some of the preliminary song titles for their new album are “Gazerbeam,” “Be Like Ryan,” and “I know, right?”
Kettler said Gazerbeam has got some heavy riffs and hard rock, but it also has some pretty dreamy dissident melodies too.
Kettler said, “The thread in a lot of our music is heavyish—“
“Yeah, because of our instrumentation,” Maddox cut in.
Kettler said they’re hoping to record soon, but they have to finish up some ideas and get all the songs together.