Mile Twelve makes some tasty bluegrass music. Nothing is more joyous than seeing people doing what they are meant to be doing and that’s the case with this band. Mile Twelve consists of some of the most outstanding and versatile pickers and players around: Evan Murphy (guitar), Nate Sabat (bass), BB Bowness (banjo). Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), and David Benedict (mandolin). Mile Twelve raises the bar for every bluegrass band out there. They are about to create their second album down in Nashville later this fall and we’re all anxious to hear it.
You can find some additional information about Mile Twelve on their website.
Here’s a video of one of their original songs, “The Day You Left.”
Mile Twelve. Please tell us why the band is named Mile Twelve.
Mile Twelve is a mile marker on route 93, right on Boston’s southern border. We’ve passed this mile marker more times than we can count on our way to gigs, at the beginning of a tour, and ultimately when we return home. It’s a little rite of passage each time we go by it, and it’s a reminder of how far we’ve gone, and that home is always waiting for us when we come back.
We’d love to know the backstory about how you all met and formed the band.
Boston’s bluegrass scene is vibrant, but it’s a pretty small world. If you play bluegrass in the Boston area you’re bound to get to know the other pickers. And nowhere is that brought to life more than at the Cantab Lounge in Central Square. Every Tuesday night the little bar is overrun, both upstairs and in the basement, by bluegrass pickers. Mile Twelve met as so many bands do in this area, by jamming at The Cantab. It’s a special place.
Your bio states that you walk the line between traditional and contemporary bluegrass. How do you manage to do this?
This is sort of the central question for most modern bluegrass bands. If we got up on stage and every song we sang was about hopping a train or murdering an enemy, it would sound like we were doing some kind of distasteful parody of traditional bluegrass because that’s not authentically us. But on the other extreme, if we got up there and every song was a progressive, highly-arranged art piece we would ostracize people who love bluegrass for its roots. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either one of these extremes if that’s what’s authentic to the artist playing them. But we love traditional bluegrass, and we also love great songwriting, challenging arrangements, and unexpected twists, so that’s what’s going to come out naturally in our music.
Your latest single is a bluegrass rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” How did that come about?
All of us love and listen to all kinds of music outside of bluegrass. And it’s always a challenge when you find something you love and want to cover, to see if you can make it work on bluegrass instruments. There’s something particular about a bluegrass cover of a pop song that makes it interesting and challenging. When Bruce Springsteen closes out a Boston show with a cover of “Dirty Water,” it’s awesome, but that’s cause it’s a natural transfer. He’s got drums, bass, keys, electric guitar, it all just sort of works like it’s supposed to. But when you transfer something onto these five acoustic instruments, with little sustain and nowhere near the firepower of electric instruments, you have to get creative. “Rocket Man” is a masterpiece of a song, and it has so many little twists and turns, it was a perfect piece to try.
What traditional bluegrass pickers have influenced your styles?
Too many to name, but some of the big ones are Alison Kraus and Union Station, The Del McCoury Band, Bela Fleck, The Stanley Brothers, The Punch Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Gillian Welch.
Tell us out about your original tunes. How do they come about? Do you all contribute to the writing? Or are some of you more responsible for the arranging of the songs?
Nate and I (Evan) do the bulk of the raw songwriting. We come to the band with something rough, lyrics with a chord progression and a melody. But from there the whole band becomes part of the process, everyone gives their input on everything. I’ve brought songs to the band that I thought were finished pieces, and then after input and editing, they become something totally different and much better. The whole band arranges together as well, no one is showing up with a chart telling people where to come in and drop out. It’s extremely collaborative. The band will even come up with ideas for songs that then Nate and I will go and write together. Its a great engine for creativity.
You’ve toured a lot over the past several years. Do you have any shows that stand out? Any specific anecdotes that will stand out in your memories?
There are definitely some things that stand out. Playing a show in BB’s hometown of Whanganui, New Zealand, which was so packed there were people spilling out the back door of the room. Playing the famous Rock Top Bluegrass Club in Tokyo. Getting to the main stage of the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival this year. But sometimes it can also just be an intimate house concert on a beautiful night that sticks out in your mind. Touring and traveling can be hard, it’s not always pretty, but it’s those moments that make it more than worth it.
Do you have any specific goals to accomplish in the near or far future?
As far as the future, there are some things we have in mind. We’re recording our sophomore album this December in Nashville with bluegrass legend Bryan Sutton producing. We’re playing some big festivals in 2019 for the first time such as Merlefest. We’re going to the UK and Canada, and all over the US as well. There’s a lot on the horizon.