Interview: Molly Erin Sarle of Mountain Man

words by Hanna Rose
| Thursday, August 12th, 2010

“Folk music” is a term used loosely these days; hard to differentiate as something feasibly unique to its own genre — “folk” pertains to a broad spectrum of separate cultures and their own unique qualities, stylized by “roots” or “Americana,” yet continually evolving from its traditional roots.

The traditional formation of folk music was a bare bones style, easily shared within a community. From that humble beginning it’s hard to understand how we got to the full-powered, pumped up, radio-ready folk music of today. However, the vast majority of true followers are traditionalists still planted firmly behind the old ways.  The backcountry blues and the melodies that ride on rolling hills are singing through the untrained voices of their inhabitants. The sights ands sounds of beatnik Greenwich Village are kept pure and alive in the rough picking of steel strings.

These are the rural sounds being made by the strategically named formation of Mountain Man, a group of harmonizing, unique, and breathtaking songsmiths. They are not men (nor “mountainous” in their appearance and manner), but rather a trio of women who have revived the idea that music doesn’t have to be created on a mixing board and distorted to inhuman levels — that just a little bit of good ol’ singing can convey emotion just as complex and powerful. Their newest LP, Made The Harbor, is a creative work reminiscent of a simpler time, and with its chiming, practiced vocals, and subtle guitar work, it satisfies even the most selective of folk purists. The overall effect is nothing short of bliss.

The story of Mountain Man is a humble one, but told modestly and true from the perspective of one-third of the group. Amelia and Alex had prior commitments, but Molly was willing to take a minute or two to answer a few questions. Sometimes her answers are cheeky, sometimes philosophical, but mostly insightful. It only goes to show the whimsy of Mountain Man seems to flow freely from its creative minds without a second thought.

You were all three students at Bennington College at one point in time — how did you meet and come together to do music?
There is the answer which I have been giving a lot lately which is more securely based in a shared reality, but right now I feel like saying at some point, the wind took a green string, looped it in and around our ribs and lungs, and slowly pulled us together until we breathed out at the same time.

Who are some of your influences on your harmonious, traditional, backcountry sound?

I used to spend all day listening to Mariah Carey and Celine Dion on my maroon Walkman, jumping back and forth in between my bed and my sister’s bed singing. My mom also has a beautiful voice and I think she taught me to recognize the creation of harmonies just by making up her own while we drove around California in the car.

You’ve been called by various organizations as “the female Fleet Foxes” — what do you think of that? Do you see the comparison yourselves?
The Fleet Foxes are definitely awesome dudes, and I see the comparison, but I think it is a pretty uninspired and lazy comparison, perhaps because it is such an easy one to make.

What was the inspiration or motivation for the name Mountain Man?

Gender: bend it!

You all share songwriting responsibilities — how do you think this affects your collaboration as a group? Is there a system that you follow, or is it just whoever gets an idea, you go for it kind of thing?
We each write our own songs and then come together to make the song… It is very exciting to take something as personal as Alex’s or Amelia’s song and to relate to it though my instincts and my voice.

You’ve been hand-picked by Wilco to play at the Solid Sound Festival in August. How does that make you feel?
Yay, bread and puppet!

Where would you like to see yourselves in five years?

I have no idea — fish and chips, koalas, uncertainty, love, friendship! On a farm near the coast with a sexy boy who I can make music with and also, lots of strawberries. And I want the farm to be sort of like a farm/environmental/rock camp for girls where we hang out and go swimming and teach each other music and make food. And Alex and Amelia and I would run the whole thing with all of our friends, and we would have a recording studio! And we would go on tour sometimes while our friends took care of the farm.

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