Reporting Sara Pelissero
It seems like a simple enough inquiry — how would you describe your sound? But for the six-member acoustic group, Mountain Heart, the answer is not exactly cut and dry.
“That’s always the hardest question. I’m going to spend the rest of the interview answering that,” said co-founder/fiddle player Jim VanCleve with a laugh. “We don’t know what we can call it. Everyone wants a nice, quick tagline. … It’s a hybrid between rock and roll and jazz and funk and bluegrass and old time, pop music, there are so many different places it goes.”
VanCleve said they’re not all that concerned with titles — and perhaps it’s better without one. That way, it ensures there’s something for everyone.
“Our band kind of is a lot of things at one time because we have so many influences and strong suits,” he said. “As a musician, I think it’s an awesome place to be because it’s never boring, it’s never dull.”
Take one listen to any song off their latest CD, That Just Happened, and you’ll quickly see what he means. While the sound doesn’t have a nice, easy label, it’s certainly catchy and can’t help but get your toes-a-tappin’.
“We’ve not been relegated to play one style of venue or to play to one style of crowd and that also has made us more versatile and more diverse in our selection of material,” he said. “A lot of times we’ll get on stage with not much of a set list and just cater to the crowd we’re in front of.”
Depending on how the night goes, they could be using that same technique this weekend when they perform at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis — a show Mountain Heart is certainly looking forward to.
The group, which has been together since 1999, has grown and transformed their sound since their early days, VanCleve said, noting that in the beginning they were a bit more bluegrass focused.
“When the band started 12 years ago, it was decidedly more of a traditional music approach,” he said.
Since then, they’ve brought the music to new levels, in a way, letting it dictate where it wants to go. Without a lot of parameters, they’re able to freely explore and let the musicianship take over.
The name Mountain Heart came from the fact that the members of the group consider the Appalachian Mountain area to be where their roots reside and, since some still have family in that vicinity, that’s where their hearts will always be.
The band has created quite a name for itself, sharing the stage with big-time acts like Brad Paisley, Merle Haggard, LeAnn Rimes and others. For VanCleve and the rest of the crew, that’s something they never quite get used to — and it always makes for great surprises on the road.
“I can honestly say most of them have surprised us at one level or another, whether it was their kindness or dragging us on stage to play with them,” he said.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, for example, a show with the Marshall Tucker Band turned out to be beyond flattering.
“When we came off stage, they wanted copies of our album and they wanted us to sign them,” VanCleve said. “You can’t help but blush in those situations.”
Coming off a recent stop this week to perform at the Laughing Waters Festival in Minneapolis, the boys of Mountain Heart will be back to take over the Dakota Jazz Club stage at 9 p.m. Friday.
VanCleve said the previous stop was really more of a tease for the upcoming performance but at the very least, it allowed them the time to experience the Mall of America.
“We had to have nice clothes to play at the Dakota, right?” he joked.
Mountain Heart hopes the show will get people on their feet and provide some good ol’ southern entertainment.
“Expect the unexpected, but don’t expect to stay in your seat,” he said.
Tickets are still available for the show. For information on the show or to get tickets, click here. To learn more about Mountain Heart and see a list of its upcoming performances, check out their website.