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Indie Bluegrass Band Fruition Is Raising Money for California Fire Victims

Fruition Photo by Jason Charme
Indie bluegrass group Fruition released its fifth full-length, Watching It All Fall Apart, in February and recently dropped an EP titled Fire. Online merch sales associated with the release are going to help raise funds for victims of the recent California wildfires. Fruition comprises Jay Cobb Anderson (vocals, lead guitar and harmonica), Kellen Asebroek (vocals, rhythm guitar and keys), Mimi Naja (vocals, mandolin and electric and acoustic guitars), Jeff Leonard (bass) and Tyler Thompson (drums and banjo).

With sharper songwriting than ever and performance chops finely tuned over the past decade, the group will roll in to Boulder for its first shows at the Boulder Theater. The popular folk-inspired ensemble will play two nights — Friday, December 28, and Saturday, December 29 — to mark the event. Westword caught up with Jay Anderson to chat about how the band got its start and its current outlook.

Westword: Hi. Am I getting you in Portland?

Jay Cobb Anderson: Actually, I'm in Lakewood, where I'm moving to live with my girlfriend.

Is the whole band moving to Colorado?

No, It's funny, it all kind of all happened at once, but Mimi moved to just outside of Asheville and our drummer Tyler just moved to Pittsburgh to be near his girlfriend. Our bassist, Jeff, now lives in Tacoma, and I apparently have just moved to Denver. So there's only one bandmember left in Portland.

I applaud your choice of new home. The weather is a little better here than in Pittsburgh...

Well, I've been noticing that. Holy shit, it's nice to be in the sun. It's certainly different than Portland.

I read that you all met in Portland when you were busking, but is that where you are all from originally?

No. I'm from Idaho. So is our drummer, Tyler; he and I grew up together there. Mimi is from Atlanta. Kellen is from Southern California, near San Diego, and Jeff is from Montana, so we're all spread out in terms of our early geographical origins. I was in Portland for almost eleven years, and Mimi was there longer. My girlfriend lives and works in Denver, so I just moved here to be with her.

How old are you all?

I'm 35. Jeff is our oldest member, at 37. We're all in our thirties.

What took everyone to Portland?

Well, I was living in Idaho writing songs and playing music, and there was only so much I could do there, so I moved to Portland for the opportunity it provided to take my music to the next level. Right when I moved there, I happened to go to a show where I saw Mimi playing, and I said, I'm going to play music with this person. We wound up doing just that. She had a connection to Kellen, and then I talked to Tyler and convinced him to move to Portland and join us. Jeff fell in later. He's been in the band for about four years now.

How long has Fruition been around?

For ten years now. It will be eleven years in February or March.

So it's safe to say that the group emerged from Oregon?

Yeah, that's where it all kind of started. We were playing on the street for beer money. When it first started, we all moved into a house together, along with our old bass player, Keith Simon. It was Keith, myself, Mimi and Kellen; we were a four-piece. We all split rent for a one-room place. We slept on the couches and would rotate as to who got to sleep in the bed.

Is the rent too damned high in Portland?

It is now, for sure. But ten years ago it wasn't too bad. It's definitely getting more and more expensive there. It's one of the reasons I decided to move. But, you know, everyone is moving to the more desirable cities now, so it's like that everywhere, it seems. The more people moving to a place, the higher the rent goes. I suppose you could move to Detroit and maybe get a house for cheap.

Did you start out as more of a bluegrass-influenced string band, or what, exactly, was the sound at first?

We were never really fully bluegrass. I was interested in the Americana and folk stuff that was happening ten years ago, such as Old Crow Medicine Show and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Gillian and David have been huge influences on our music. We can sit down and play just about any Gil and Dave song. We were always just kind of folky. We did play some traditional bluegrassy songs, but most traditional bluegrass songs come from folk music. We were doing Woody Guthrie and Gillian songs, but we'd also slip in, like, a String Cheese cover, some of that stuff, too. We used to play "Round the Wheel" a lot. And Railroad Earth, too. We used to play "Bird in a House."

I think I've seen some photos of you all playing with Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, as well.

Oh, yeah, we call him Papa Vince. He's helped us so much along the way. We've gotten so much help from Leftover and other bands including Greensky Bluegrass. We've opened for Greensky more than any other band. I think we've done more than a hundred shows with them.

Do you borrow any of your sound from bands like Greensky?

Well, I've always been more of a rock-and-roll guy. Mimi exposed me to all the folkier stuff like Railroad Earth and String Cheese. We're all into very different kinds of music, but we're similar in that we all like really good music. For us, it all comes down to the song. We call ourselves a song band more than anything. We are interested more in song content. We're not so much a jam band, though we do jam here and there. In the last couple years, we've been going down more the road of the indie rock-folk kinda thing. We love Doctor Dog and Bahamas, which is more like rocky-folky type of stuff. Bahamas is kind of rocky soul stuff. We also focus on our singing, and we like to do three-part vocal harmonies.

I hear that you all enjoy reading literature.

Yeah, I've been obsessed with Kurt Vonnegut recently, and I love Steinbeck. I read mostly classic stuff. Mimi is up on the newer literature, and so is Kellen. We all like to read.

Are you celebrating anything with these upcoming Boulder gigs?

Not really, we're just doing two nights at the Boulder Theater. We're always stoked to play in Colorado; it's our best market. Everyone loves us here, so it's great to be back playing in the state. We haven't played the Boulder Theater before, so I can't wait.

You released a full-length album in February, right?

Yeah, and we also released an EP a couple months ago called Fire. The last tour we did was supporting the EP. Now we're going to sell all our Fire merchandise to raise funds for the victims of the recent California fires. It's a good opportunity to try and help out the people who suffered there.

That's great. Anything else on the horizon?

We're working on demos now to try and get some new EPs out there and then maybe release some vinyls, with one side being one EP and the other side being another. I've also been trying to write a song a day for a whole year. I'm going for it. It's challenging and really great.

Will there be any fun sit-ins in Boulder?

Yeah, we do that a lot, but we haven't really decided who, exactly, is going to join us yet, so people will just have to show up and see.

Fruition, with Daniel Rodriguez of Elephant Revival, 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 28, and Saturday, December 29, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street, Boulder, $25-45.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct dates of the show. We regret the error.
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Nick Hutchinson writes about music for Westword and enjoys playing his guitar when not on deadline.
Contact: Nick Hutchinson