For a touring musician, taking on the local color often involves a needed stop for toiletries. It is fitting that one of David Johnston’s fonder memories of State College involved an impromptu quest to freshen his underarms.
“I remember pulling up to the gig and I realized I was out of deodorant,” recalled Johnston, who plays banjo for Nederland, Colorado’s popular Yonder Mountain String Band.
“There was sort of a fancy men’s store that had a lot of good-smelling stuff, so I went in there and bought a bottle of real manly smelling cologne. I don’t know if anyone else liked it, but I felt like it did the trick. Also, I think I picked up a nice pair of socks.”
There’s no guarantee Johnston will be tastefully perfumed at Yonder Mountain String Band’s upcoming gig at The State Theatre to commence the band’s “Winter Tour 2018,” but expect to hear sweet sounds from the quartet, which tours in support of its recent release “Love. Ain’t Love.”
The record, which dropped in July, finds the group — Johnston, guitarist Adam Aijala, bassist Ben Kaufmann, fiddle player Allie Kral and mandolinist Jacob Joliff — expanding its musical palate while staying reverent to its bluegrass and folk roots.
“Love. Ain’t Love” sees country-rock, blues, and modern pop sensibilities seamlessly worked into the band’s acoustic-based sound. A cover of the King Harvest ’70s roller skate classic “Dancing in the Moonlight” takes a moody, noir turn. Elsewhere, “Groovin’ Away” rides a warm reggae lilt. Interplay between the fleet-fingered Joliff and Kral is highlighted on the instrumental reel “Eat In — Go Deaf, Eat Out — Go Broke” (named for an ultimatum Joliff frequently faced when preparing dinner, where his smoke detector and a restaurant bill vied to be the lesser of two evils).
Song composition is a democratic process within Yonder Mountain. Any of the members can present a song idea to the group, and anyone who wants to take a stab at singing lead can do so. It is, in fact, Johnston’s voice you hear first on the “Love’s” opener, “Alison.”
“We definitely like to give everyone a chance to get in the mix,” he said.
It is primarily an organic extension of what we think a band should be, what they can accomplish if there are enough opportunities for everyone.”
A further attempt to push the Yonder Mountain String style into new territories yielded a recent online contest for producers, musicians and DJs to submit remixed versions of the aforementioned “Alison.”
“As far as I know this is the first remix contest we’ve ever done,” Johnston said.
“Basically, we’re looking for fresh and creative interpretations of the song in a DJ context.”
“Love. Ain’t Love” was well-received upon its initial release, with band and listeners alike declaring it Yonder Mountain’s best offering yet. Is that still the consensus over half a year later?
“It’s still a really enjoyable album for me to listen to,” Johnston affirmed. “Feels like that’s still the consensus.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Yonder Mountain String Band
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
- Info: www.thestatetheatre.org