Interview: Pert Near Sandstone

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Long winters spent cozied up indoors lend themselves to fruitful periods of creativity in the Land of 10,000 Lakes; in the last fifteen years, there have been a plethora of phenomenal string bands born in Minnesota. “I think it’s called the ‘O Brother Effect’,” says mandolin player Nate Sipe of Minneapolis-based newgrass collective Pert Near Sandstone, a band on the forefront of the Midwestern roots revival. “That movie inspired a string band trend around the country. Minneapolis was unique in that it’s somewhat isolated from the big music scene, a lot of bands don’t tour through here. It inspires people to do their own thing, and it didn’t take a lot of encouragement for us to play banjos and fiddles. There’s a large roots community here—from jug bands to folk to western swing, it’s been happening here for a long time.”

This group of old friends who played garage rock together in high school, went separate ways, picked up acoustic instruments, and got back together after college to make their own brand of music. “I’d spent time hitchhiking around the country hopping freight trains with my mandolin, because it’s light and portable, and I learned fiddle tunes and folk music. I developed a passion for traditional American music—bluegrass, roots, and blues,” Sipe recalls. “We write all of our music in that vein.”

Pert Near Sandstone will release its newest album, Discovery of Honey, on November 4th; after several years apart from founding bandmate Ryan Young, who has been making music with fellow uniquely-named Minnesota grass outfit Trampled By Turtles, the band celebrated a reunion with Young to make Discovery Of Honey. “Ryan had purchased this interesting house which has a bomb shelter in the basement—a cement-walled labyrinth of rooms he wired up to create a studio, which he named Neon Brown Studios,” Sipe says with a laugh. “He played on the album, engineered, and produced it. Our first albums were made with him in a basement, so it was like a homecoming of sorts.”

“The album is entirely original music; the strain that runs through the songs expresses the idea of renewal, that we’re looking back at our experiences and recalling where we’re from, and where we’re headed,” he continues. The album features twelve jangly tracks and the band’s resident clogger. “There’s a troupe in Minnesota called The Wild Goose Chase Cloggers, and there’s a whole string band scene built around it, musicians and dancers alike. It’s a big part of the bluegrass scene here; one of our members was a member of the troupe, so we incorporated him clogging into the band, it really adds a fun percussive element and ties everything together. When we don’t have a clogger now, the crowds get angry,” laughs Sipe.

“We’re so lucky to be a part of this incredible DIY roots scene here; there’s some really great music coming from Minnesota,” he adds. “We do it because we love the music and love to perform, and we’re grateful that people are enjoying it.”

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Susan Hubbard

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