Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Head for the Hills Raps on a New EP

Head for the HillsEXPAND
Head for the Hills
Marc Leverette
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Head for the Hills drops its new EP, Say Your Mind, this week (listen below) and celebrates with a show at eTown Hall in Boulder this Friday. The group's latest effort was recorded at Swingfingers Recording Studio in Fort Collins and incorporates a variety of new musical flavors, along with the band's bedrock bluegrass influence. HFTH, which comprises core members Matt Loewen on bass, Adam Kinghorn on guitar and Joe Lessard on fiddle, has a few Colorado guests joining them on the release, including Darren Garvey (Elephant Revival) on drums and percussion; Todd Livingston (Henhouse Prowlers) on dobro and lap steel; Kim Dawson (Pimps of Joytime) on vocals; Mike Tallman (Euforquestra) on electric guitar; James Thomas on keys; and horn sections arranged by Paul Maley.

Westword spoke with bassist, vocalist and founding member Loewen to get the latest on what the Colorado-bred outfit that got its start in the dorms of CSU is up to as the group nears its fifteenth anniversary.

Westword: I noticed you've worked in a little rap/spoken word on your latest record?

Matt Loewen/Head for the Hills: Yeah [laughs], we've got all of that. It is kind of an eclectic group of sounds on these four songs. It reflects where we're all at musically.

How long has the band been rolling now?

Just about fifteen years.

Are you still playing a lot of traditional bluegrass or would you call yourself progressive bluegrass at this point?

Well, there are so many different connotations that come with certain words, and I'm not sure I'd call us a progressive bluegrass band. I have always thought of us as more progressively oriented bluegrass, and that's still somewhat the case, though we're kind of shifting into more of a bluegrass-Americana-indie kind of mixed bag. We have drums now, which opens up a whole other set of songs and rhythmic places to begin and all that stuff. We definitely still play bluegrass, but we're figuring out some cool places to take the bluegrass and still be true to what we're doing and maybe be a little different than what we were before. But bluegrass is still a big part of our heart as a band, and you can hear that in some of these songs on the EP.

The title track, "Say Your Mind," is really cool...

Thanks. That's Adam [Kinghorn's] fatherhood song. He had a kid recently, and he came up with the tune, and I think it's one of the best songs he's brought to the band. It hits a certain note, and we hadn't really gone to that place before. I feel like it connects with people.

Who is in the band?

Adam, Joe and myself have been the core. We started out with Mike Chappell on mandolin, and then Sam Parks on mandolin. But yeah, the core has been the three of us, and we have added a drummer and a dobro player as well, which is cool and different. We don't have a mandolin player now, but it's really rewarding to get some new sounds in there.

Do you know when the dobro became part of the bluegrass sound?

I'm not the best bluegrass historian, but I think it was around when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs decided to do their own thing [with the Foggy Mountain Boys] that the dobro came into the picture. It's not one of the original bluegrass instruments, so Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys didn't start with dobro, but it was a pretty quick convert thereafter. There's an awesome band called the The Earls of Leicester that does bluegrass in the tradition of Flatt and Scruggs that includes the dobro in that early-sounding way. 

Are you still living in Fort Collins?

Yeah, Joe and I live here. Adam lives in Arvada.

Are you still liking FoCo?

It's great. Over the past couple years, there has been a lot of cool development in the arts and music infrastructure here. Our resident benefactor, Pat Stryker, runs a nonprofit organization [The Bohemian Foundation] that puts on the Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest, among other things, and it has really helped to provide resources for local musicians up here. It's been a cool thing for the music industry here in town. And there are a bunch of great restaurants that have opened as well.

Have you been touring a lot?

We cut the touring back in 2018 and worked on recording and some other things, but now we're back and the touring mechanism has started up again. We were just out in the Pacific Northwest last week and had a great time. We're headed to Salt Lake and Montana briefly, and in April we start touring the East and Midwest a bit. So yeah, it's all picking back up now.

Are you excited to get back to it?

Yeah, it's been fun, refreshing and re-engaging to have this new sound. It's not wildly different than what we were before, but it's cool to have drums, and it seems to make sense, too. It's a natural extension of the kind of songs that we had been making. So, it's been really rewarding and fun, and it makes it that much more exciting to get back out there.

When did the drums come in?

We started it last year at the Mish [Mishawaka] as part of our season opener that we typically do. We brought a big band out for that and did a one-off show where we played some soul tunes and some honky-tonk stuff, kind of a mixed bag thing as we tend to do, and we had a horn section. Since then we've started touring exclusively with the drummer. 

You tend to mix it up with a lot of great local talent.

Yeah, we like to make the best of the musical resources available to us and tap into the incredible talent here. On the new EP, we have Darren Garvey from Elephant Revival recording with us on drums and percussion. He's an incredible musician. We try to bring the best that we can to our sound.

Head for the Hills Say Your Mind EP release show (with 300 Days), 7 p.m. March 22, eTown Hall, Boulder, $20 - $25.

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