Bay Area’s Montana Slim to fill Cafe Coda with newgrass sound

Published 2008-03-25T00:00:00Z”/>


Rebecca Rosa

Any music that makes men in red, sequined jumpsuits dance like crazy certainly isn’t mama’s old-school bluegrass.

“Newgrass” band Montana Slim is responsible for the upbeat sound that made a jumpsuit-clad man do the splits on the dance floor at a show in San Francisco.

With its edgy twist on the classic bluegrass sound, Montana Slim hopes to continue making people dance on its upcoming tour through California, Oregon, and Washington.

Montana Slim will be at Cafe Coda Thursday, performing in Chico for the second time in two years.

Though the San Francisco-based band officially gathered all its members around four months ago, they are already making waves on the bluegrass circuit.

One of these waves has reached the shores of the music industry. Tim Bluhm, of bluegrass band the Mother Hips, helped Montana Slim record four songs in 2006.

Bluhm put Montana Slim in the studio for the first time, and from there it has been on a slope to success.

Though Bluhm’s influence was greatly appreciated, Montana Slim has grown as a band since recording the songs with him, said guitarist and vocalist Jesse Dunn. He sees a big difference since its first songs.

“Now when we listen to them, they sound like crap,” Dunn said.

The band started out playing songs by the likes of the Grateful Dead and Old Crow Medicine Show.

It played mostly covers of traditional bluegrass in the early days, but Montana Slim members are now writing their own songs and finishing a 12-track album.

Utilizing non-traditional bluegrass techniques like dual electric guitars and adding a country twist, Montana Slim brings a new style to a long-established genre, Dunn said.

“Our sound has more of an edge because we use a lot of minor chords and Sean (Duerr) incorporates some good guitar noises,” Dunn said.

The band’s distinct sound has prompted others to label them as “newgrass,” but it’s hard to categorize Montana Slim’s music, Dunn said.

Its music has evolved into a more refined sound throughout the years, Dunn said. The three original members, Dunn, guitarist and vocalist Duerr, and mandolinist, vocalist, and Chico State alumnus Brent McClain, began jamming together in July 2006.

Through a help-wanted ad the band gathered the last two members, upright bassist Max Fox and fiddler Turi Hoiseth, and became a five-piece string band.

Hoiseth, who holds a master’s degree in violin performance, is an invaluable addition to Montana Slim, McClain said.

With so many members, each person brings a different style, Dunn said.

“Brent likes the hard-driving bluegrass stuff, and I like the country music-esque stuff,” Dunn said.

Different styles make for a diverse play list. Songs such as “Kinda Country,” reflect Dunn’s approach. Others are more traditional, incorporating multiple fiddles and mandolin, Dunn said.

Recently a topic of controversy, the name Montana Slim was decided upon based on a character from Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

When the name was chosen, band members were unaware of another musician of the same name, Dunn said.

“I guess we didn’t Google it enough, because there’s some old country folk-yodeler named Montana Slim,” he said.

The band is considering adding “String Band” to the end of the name to differentiate it from the yodeler, McClain said. For now, they’ll just keep the name as it is.

Despite the name trouble, the band has been successful in bringing a positive sound to audiences.

“People can relate to our music, and hopefully it can help them take themselves where they aren’t now,” Dunn said.

Last year, Montana Slim played at LaSalles during Thursday Night Market, Dunn said. Ever since then, they’ve wanted to come back.

McClain, having lived in Chico while pursuing his bachelor’s in business, is interested in seeing how the town has changed.

“I’m excited to go back to Chico,” McClain said. “I lived right down the street from where Cafe Coda now is.”

The band’s stop in Chico will be one of 12 on their tour, Dunn said.

Rebecca Rosa can be reached at<a href= “[email protected]”>[email protected]</a>