Nearly all musicians disdain their art being categorized. But Head for the Hills mandolin player Michael Chappell is cool with a few descriptions.
Modern acoustic, to be sure. Bluegrass, definitely. Iron Maiden cover band, sure (we’ll explain later).
Then there’s this tease of an upcoming album (“Blue Ruin,” July 9) from the band’s website: “Meta-fictional sea shanties. Pop-infused newgrass murder ballads and urbane lyricism. Twang and punch.”
“The new album is a little bit of a departure from the old albums,” Chappell said by telephone Monday from a bluegrass festival in Ramona, Calif. “Our first was straight ahead. The second more loose, more jammy. This one is more concise. It’s less verse-chorus-solo, which is your standard bluegrass kind of song. This has more flavors on it. But that quote has pretty accurately described what I am trying to get at.”
Friends since childhood, Chappell and Adam Kinghorn attended Colorado State University in Fort Collins where they met fiddle player Joe Lessard and bassist Matt Loewen. By 2006 the quartet was touring and playing the fashionable music of the Rocky Mountains: bluegrass.
“The (bands) that made me aware of it were String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band,” Chappell said. “Being in Colorado in high school, all my friends went to those shows.”
Chappell liked Led Zeppelin and played punk rock guitar. When the bluegrass bug bit, he tried a few instruments before settling on mandolin.
Since rock was the first love for the members of Head for the Hills, it shouldn’t be a surprise it covers Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills.” But it is for some.
“That throws people off a bit but were no stranger to throwing people off,” Chappell said. “A lot of times were playing more rock music. We use bluegrass style instrumentation to take it to other places. I always like the idea of bluegrass fusion. It’s definitely fun. High energy.”
While the first two albums by Head for the Hills were produced in weeks, “Blue Ruin” was put together over eight months. Chappell said they added guests as they came up with 12 original songs. Contributors include Andy Hall of the Infamous Stringdusters, Kathleen Starr (cello), James Thomas (piano), Gabe Mervine (trumpet), Erin Youngberg (vocals) and Aaron Youngberg, who played pedal steel and, moreover, engineered the CD. It was mastered by David Glasser, who lists a Grammy Award on his credits. It was recorded at Swingfingers Studios in Fort Collins.
The album’s artwork was made by Timothy Doyle, who Loewen and Lessard met at the South-By-Southwest Festival. Doyle has worked for various bands as well as NASA, Lucas Films and the Campaign to Re-Elect Barack Obama. His “sea shanties” comic book style cover has clues to various songs on the record, which is already available on vinyl: Head for the Hills
Head for the Hills on Saturday, May 11 comes to Crystal Bay, which has property values that eliminate the notion to call it a sea shanty, to perform in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room.
Listen to the first single to be released, “Time Will Tell,” off the upcoming album “Blue Ruin“:
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Head for the Hills
When: 10 p.m. Saturday, May 11
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room