Meet Joe Lessard, of Head for the Hills
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Head for the Hills is known for their fresh, invigorating sound, relevant material and an ever-evolving genre blending. Featuring Adam Kinghorn on guitar, Joe Lessard on violin and Matt Loewen on bass, the Fort Collins-based band has made a name for itself in its 15 years together. It’s been awarded Best Bluegrass in Colorado four times by Denver’s Westword Magazine, has been featured on NPR Ideastream and eTown and has jammed at festivals across the country.
Explore Steamboat chatted with Lessard to learn more about the band ahead of its show at 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, at the Old Town Pub, 600 Lincoln Ave.
Explore Steamboat: How did you guys first come together as a band?
Joe Lessard: We met here in Fort Collins at Colorado State University when we were all freshmen in 2003, which is crazy to think about. We started playing casually, mostly in the dorm rooms, then from there, we managed to play in Golden, which is two of the bandmates’ hometown. They were humble shows and house parties; the cops would usually show up at the house parties. From there, we started touring in the Midwest.
ES: How has your music evolved over the past 15 years?
JL: Even over the last year and a half, it’s notably changed. I was looking back at something from just a year ago, when we were playing a more traditional bluegrass set up. This last EP we released has drums and dobro, which we haven’t had before. We’ve been through a few mandolin players in the past few years and decided to go in a different direction with it — bringing in drums and dobro as a five-person touring set up. We’ve really been enjoying it. We also have been playing with a horn section, sometimes. We’ve been having a lot of fun seeing where new sound goes, and letting it evolve naturally.
ES: How does it feel to be in that new musical territory?
JL: It’s been interesting to try to communicate what the changes have been, to buyers at festivals and venues. We surprised some people at a festival recently — people thought they’d be getting bluegrass, but we brought the full band. We’ll get all the flavors in there this weekend.
ES: When people listen to your music, what influences will they pick out?
JL: We’re coming from a lot of different backgrounds musically, and our interests are all over the place. You’ll hear a wide range of influences — we don’t shy away from hip-hop influence, especially my writing, so that works its way into our bluegrass-informed stuff. Our heroes in the nontraditional bluegrass are people like Tony Rice and David Grisman, these people who changed the game for bluegrass in the ’70s and ’80s and changed our minds about what bluegrass can be. Also, we love new music — rock, pop to jazz stuff, gypsy jazz and a funky-soulful influence with this horn section. Dome covers that are both country and soul world. We’re embracing our love of a lot of different music.
ES: If someone has one takeaway from listening to your music, what would you hope that is?
JL: I think with a lot of this socially centered stuff that we’ve tried to tackle, it’s a hard balance there to say what we feel and to say what we think is important to be talking about, but not be polarizing, is something we wrestle with. Obviously, people are going to have varying reactions to anytime you’re tackling something serious in subject matter. We’re trying to start a conversation. We’re not trying to push people away or add to the heated, confrontational way that the world seems to be right now, but we want to shed light on all those things, and it’s started some pretty great conversations with audience members and with pour collaborators in the studio. It’s been a cool experience tackling that subject matter — speaking our truth and acknowledging our privilege. We’re trying to navigate that; the other side is not just being morose and downtrodden by the whole thing. That’s also been a discussion. When we play, it’s still a show and party to some extent, so there’s gotta be some reprieve and escapism, songs that talk about how good it is to be alive. That’s a balance we’re constantly trying to make work.
What: Head for the Hills
When: 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23
Where: Old Town Pub, 600 Lincoln Ave.
ES: If someone has never heard your music before, what are three songs you’d have them listen to to get a feel for what you guys do?
JL: 1. Our whole new EP, “Say Your Mind.” “Say Your Mind,” “Darkness Meets the Day,” “I Am the Problem,” and “Can’t Stay This Way for Long.”
ES: What’s coming up that you guys are excited about?
JL: We’re doing some Front Range stuff — a Denver festival in September, with a bunch of our other awesome bands; Left Hand Brewing Company’s OktoberFest with Yonder and Drunken Hearts; heading out on a few mini tours in between, in the Pacific Northwest for a few days in early October; then some Durango and other action in mid-October. We’re staying pretty busy for the remainder of the year but also trying to make our way back into the studio.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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