Louisville, Colorado-based Many Mountains, the folk-rock duo of KR Nelson and Dustin Moran, toured Texas and made it as far as Louisiana when the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns struck. The two packed up their gear and began the long trek back home, feeling uncertain about their future.
The Nation of Texas Tour, as they called it, became a strange journey home, right at the beginning of a strange year.
“We were just in our car with intermittent cell service through those states,” Nelsons recalls. "Everyone in the music community was saying, ‘This is the end of music as we know it.' It was such a weird, Twilight Zone kind of way to start the process.”
She remembers feeling a sense of grief because she and Moran play music full-time and all of their scheduled shows began to be canceled, one after the other, like dominoes. It kind of seemed like the end of the world at the time.
During the return trip, Moran started seeing what he described as psychedelic visuals out of one of his eyes. He wasn’t having a religious experience or hallucinating. It turns out his retina had peeled off the back of his eye like a piece of wallpaper.
“It was scary,” he says. “It was my first medical ‘take a step back and assess that your health can be a fleeting thing.’”
He recouped over several months, but it added another layer of weird to the weird and terrible Year of Our Lord 2020. For the record, his eye is better now.
“It was a very kind of bizarre, transitory year as far as me having to take stock of the simple things like being able to see,” he says. “As far as the music, it gave me a chance to reflect on our songs and decide how we truly felt about the songs.”
Nelson adds that the medical scare and canceled shows gave her pause, as well.
“That April and May was really kind of just reassessing things,” she says. “Not in a ‘What are we going to do now?’ kind of way, because we are compelled to make music regardless of what is going on. But it kind of forced us to pause and look around.”
They spent much of the year recording the songs that appear on their second full-length record, Endless Time. Most of the songs on Endless Time existed before 2020, but the year gave them a chance to polish them more than those on their debut album, Never Looking Back.
“We wanted to put a little more flesh on the skeleton,” Moran says. “Our first record was pretty acoustic, bare-bones.”
The songs beckon an emotional response from a listener. "Chasing Down the Line," in particular, wouldn't seem out of place in a video montage of people bearing pensive expressions as they take stock of the first week of 2021.
Moran and Nelson take sonic inspiration from partnerships of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris as well as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. The Louisville musicians both write their own songs and take them to one another to flesh out, so neither can claim the mantle of primary songwriter.
Many Mountains started off in 2013 with more members, but Moran and Nelson eventually decided to make it work as a duo. Their recorded music has extra percussion and instrumentation, but in a live scenario, they play two guitars on stage, electric and acoustic.
“It’s kind of a dueling-guitars kind of thing,” Moran says. “It’s the two of us, but we try to bring the whole sound and try to bring the emotive vibe as much as we can. There’s a lot of emotion in the songs, and we try to evoke that in a proper way.”
Though live music largely shut down in 2020 as it became unsafe to pack into venues, Many Mountains was one of the fortunate groups to get the opportunity to play some outdoor gigs last summer. With COVID vaccines making the rounds, Moran and Nelson hope to return to performing three or four shows a week as soon as it's safe. Doing so is in their blood. They're taking it one day at a time, however, which is understandable, given how uncertain everything feels right now.
“We're focusing on honoring this music,” Moran says. "We are trying to get it to as many people [as possible] for the first time. The first one was a palette cleanser, and we kind of just hit the bars and coffee shops. … This one, we wanted to take some of the different avenues to let people know about it.”
Nelson hopes to continue writing and recording, but she really wants to return to the stage.
“Playing live is really what we like to do the most,” she says. “Before the pandemic and the shutdowns, we were playing three or four nights a week, anywhere we could, you know, places like the Larimer Lounge or breweries or house shows, things like that. We just love to play music for people.”
Endless Time includes album art by Alan Forbes, who created the logo for the Black Crowes, which depicts two cat-like creatures staring each other down. It’s very psychedelic. He also designed a T-shirt. Moran and Nelson are huge Black Crowes fans, so they were overjoyed when Forbes responded to a message on Instagram asking if he would contribute cover art.
“The album cover was sort of his interpretation of an eclipse or imagery surrounding that metaphor of an eclipse,” Nelson says. “It suits some of the cosmic imagery and themes in some of the songs on the new record.”
Check out manymountainsmusic.com for more information and to stream Endless Time and Never Looking Back.