‘Throwing Down’ With Nick Dunbar of Mountain Standard Time

By EVAN CLARK, for MakeItMissoula.com  Photos by TOBIN VOGGESSER.

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It’s sort of exhausting to make an attempt at categorizing Mountain Standard Time’s sound. The Nederland, Colorado five piece consisting of Nick Dunbar (Mandolin, guitar), Stanton Sutton (Mandolin, guitar), Otis Lande (Bass), Ryan Ebarb (Keyboard) and Zack Scott (Drums) have been labeled everything from bluegrass, prog-rock, to the dubiously phrased “jam band”. Mountain Standard Time prefers their own coined term “Free Grass”, a genre rooted with influences, but with no constraint on style.

2013 has seen the band release a 7-song EP optimistically titled, “Sunny”, as well as performances from big festivals (Wakarusa, Horning’s Hideout) to Thai restaurants. Mountain Standard Time will be performing at the Top Hat Lounge on August 14th in Missoula, and Nick Dunbar is confident that Missoulians will be prepared to, “Throw down” and “Get rowdy” when they roll on through.

I chatted with Nick on the phone, discussing everything from their improvisational live performances, receiving homemade alcohol infused bread from a dedicated fan, and most importantly, surviving the summer packed in a stinky van.

Q: You guys have been all over the place touring this year, from Arkansas, Texas, Oregon, and finally Missoula. How has the tour been going so far? What have been some memorable experiences from this summer?

Mountain Standard Time.  Photo by tobin voggesser

A: Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon was definitely monumental. It was incredible to be up there playing to all those people, kicking things off on the main stage. Colorado was in full representation that night, for sure. I’ve been there when I was younger, and it was great to see how its evolved. We also played this summer with Kyle (Hollingsworth) from The String Cheese Incident in Austin, which also rocked.

Q: How do five guys in a progressive, bluegrass, rock and roll jam band pass the time on tour? Do you ever get sick of one another? Does someone always stink up the tour van?

A: (Laughs) How’d you guess? It’s inevitable, musicians are their own breed. Other people don’t just tour and go out on the road for a living. There’s definitely a lot of personality in the group, and that adds to our fire. Everyone takes their own role to the road, you do what you do to keep the business and the band going. The van stinks, that’s for sure. We try to keep it clean, we’re a pretty well oiled machine most the time.

Q: You guys have played everywhere from big festivals to smaller venues, even casinos. Where’s the strangest place you’ve performed a concert?

A: Oh goodness, there’s all sorts of crazy places we’ve played. Right after Horning’s, the next night we took off and went to Richland, Washington and played at a Thai restaurant. We wound up even staying at the owners house that night. It’s a roller coaster man; going from the big stage to the smaller places puts a lot of things into perspective.

Q: Do you feel that your music sort of geographically blends with the northwest regions of America?

A: Yeah, you know, that’s where we’ve been mostly in our lives. The ‘jammy’ music does resonate better in the northwest, but we’re pretty diverse as well. We do progressive stuff, bluegrass, and all sorts of things, so the Midwest, southeast, anywhere, they love it too. We can change our sound and really play to the crowd and areas we go.

'Throwin Down' ith Nick DunbarQ: What essentially is ‘Free Grass’ music, for those of us not yet enlightened?

A: People are constantly trying to label us, give us a genre and all that. We’re really all over the place and we definitely go in all sorts of directions. The ‘free grass’ thing started when someone after a show came up to us and asked us to define our genre, and we just responded with ‘free grass’. Our roots is the American music, the jazz, the country and rock and roll, and we just do all sorts of things in those different realms.

Q: What were the late night jam sessions like when you guys first started playing together in Nederland? How were you guys able to become more comfortable musically together and progress over time?

A: We just always dug hanging out listening to music, it’s always been our jobs and our lifestyle. We’d just sit around, drink whiskey, and play till the sun comes up, then go out and do it again the next night. We always wanna play and everywhere we go, we’re the party. And everyone wants to party, so sometimes, it’s hard to go back to the hotel and get some sleep. Always easier said than done.

Q: You guys released your new EP this year called “Sunny”. How were you guys able to capture the live free flowing vibe of your concerts in the studio?

A: With ‘Sunny’, we went on a hiatus before recording. We got some new members in, took some time off, so we were pretty fresh when we did that CD. We’d only been playing together for three months while we recorded that, and now listening to it, we’ve definitely come a long way. We pretty much played the whole thing live, punching in some vocals and solos here and there. The vibe was great and we really connected together. The last time we recorded stuff, we played to a metronome, recorded our own tracks individually, and it came out seeming pretty stiff. So this time, it was about capturing the energy we play those songs with live.

Q:  Take us through the process of improvisation with music. Are there ever moments of hesitation or do you just have to go wherever the music takes you?

A: We do exercises and practices where someone leads with an improv thing and we’ll all add layers here and there. We work on these things ahead of time, in terms of all out free style jamming, there’s not a ton of that. A lot of it is our drummer and bass player start laying it down, and it goes from there. Our drummer is an animal, he’s been playing with a sprained ankle for the past two weeks. It’s the size of a softball and he hasn’t missed a beat. But we try to never get stale. One second it’s bluegrass, one second its disco, but no matter what, I always have big grin on my face.

Picture30Q: Who would be your all-time favorite person to jam with, alive or dead?

A: Oh goodness, that’s a tough one… You know, Tim O Brien is one of my heroes. I’m really into the bluegrassy stuff, and I love his layers, vocals and arrangements.

Q: What’s the most interesting display of affection you’ve received from an audience member?

A: Our audiences are always awesome. They’ll jump up on stage, start dancing and screaming with us. The other day, we played this show and this guy was a total super-fan. He made us some homemade penny loaves of bread, that had a bunch of great ingredients, and a ton of different types of alcohol infused in there too. He gave it to us for the road. It was such a nice and really cool thing.

Q: You guys are repping Colorado to the fullest. Not sure if you guys are football fans, but are you excited to be playing in the hometown of Broncos legend and Missoula native John Elway?

A: Oh wow, I didn’t even know that. We’ll have to give him a shout out. I don’t think we’ll go to the hospital where Elway was born though; we’ll probably go for a hike in the mountains instead.

Q: What can Missoulians expect at the Top Hat Lounge on August 14th?

A: We know Missoula can throw down. We know you guys like to party and get rowdy, and I know they’re gonna bring it, so we’re gonna bring it even harder. We’ll be loose and ready to go amongst a ton of friends and family.


Evan ClarkEvan Clark is an Iowa native and current Chicago resident. An avid karaoke performer, (His staples include Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack” or Prince’s “When Doves Cry” when he’s feeling sensual) he fell in love with music journalism while writing for The Daily Iowan in Iowa City. It was there he realized if he’s going to write about rock and roll, he might as well get free concert tickets out of it. The first album Evan ever bought was Van Halen’s “1984” and the last album he downloaded was Killer Mike & El-P’s “Run the Jewels”.

Evan’s favorite concert he attended was Rage Against the Machine at Alpine Valley for reasons he legally cannot divulge. In his spare time, Evan writes rap songs under the moniker EZEC, searches Craig’s List for anyone sharing his passion to create a Pavement cover band called, “Desert Mouths”, and actively explores the internet for the new artist he will obsess over. Oh yeah, sorry Chicago, Go Packers.