Robert Greer (guitar) and Jesse Langlais formed Town Mountain in Asheville, North Carolina more than 15 years ago. As time passed, Greer and Landlais added Phil Barker (mandolin) Bobby Britt (fiddle), and Zach Smith (bass) to the band. Together, the five-piece band released six studio albums. Each album saw the band’s sound evolving slowly. For their latest release, Lines in the Levee, the band took that evolution a step further. They officially added drummer Miles Miller to the band. With his percussion setting the tempo, the former five-piece string band leaned hard into the honky tonk attitude and alt-country rebellion that have colored their sound since their early years.
Ahead of the release of Lines in the Levee, banjoist and founding member of Town Mountain Jesse Langlais sat down with Outsider to talk about the new sound, adding Miller to the mix, and signing with New West Records.
The Evolved Sound of Lines in the Levee
Jesse Langlais (Town Mountain): I think elements of that sound have always been entwined in Town Mountain’s music. But, pre-New Freedom Blues, we were certainly trying to maintain that five-person bluegrass band – exclusively a string band – still bearing the torch of traditional string band music to a certain degree. . But, we’ve always toyed around with drums as far back as our second album with some snare kind of buried in a couple of tracks. Then, it kind of evolved into a full kit on New Freedom Blues.
We just knew that as soon as drums were placed in the band, it would free up a lot and create space for songwriters to branch out of the more traditional sound. It was always evolving. We knew one day we’d get here.
Miles Miller Joins Town Mountain
Jesse Langlais (Town Mountain): We had been working our repertoire over the years in a couple of different ways – one with a five-piece string band and one with drums. Miles [Miller] did some tours with us here and there, but it was never a full-time thing. That transition happened over a period of time when drums weren’t part of Town Mountain from the bigger perspective. But, we were always working on that sound.
It felt natural. We already had a rapport with Miles and he knew the repertoire. We had it all worked out. It was just a natural movement for us.
A Timely Album
Jesse Langlais (Town Mountain): It’s funny because there’s often never a pre-game prior to an album with Town Mountain. Usually, the way it’s worked out is that we would kind of drip in songs here in there on tour. We’d play them on stage and get to some of those songs being 18 months or a year old and we’d go, “Okay let’s compile those songs and go record an album.”
This album was not like that. We weren’t touring so nobody was sharing music with each other on that level. We showed up to the session and it took me a little while to put it all together but I came to the conclusion that the songs were very timely. I started analyzing Bill’s songs against my songs, just kind of lyrical content and where the songs were coming from. There are uncanny similarities.
We’re all just kind of experiencing shit together. We’re talking about some issues that people are going through. Some of the things we’re talking about are real issues – self-doubt, climate change, just real-life issues not train songs. It was cool to see that.
Nobody said “Hey, I’m really writing from the heart and from the times. Where are you coming from?” It just happened. I think it’s just a sign of the times and where people are at.
Town Mountain Signs with New West Records
Jesse Langlais (Town Mountain): There was some pre-COVID hanging and talking. We were getting to know some of the staff [at New West] and they had come to some Station Inn shows and we just kind of developed a relationship. Then, we were told that they loved the band and if we wanted to put a project together to present to them, that they’d be interested in that conversation. So, we just threw them Lines in the Levee and said, “Here, what do y’all think?”
It made sense. We could tell that they fostered relationships with bands because they like their sound and wanted the bands to continue that. That’s not always the model for a label. So, folks can maintain artistic integrity and maintain a positive business relationship. It was a no-brainer for us.