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Mountain Sprout keep their death-grass green 

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click to enlarge A little bit country, a little bit out of control.
  • A little bit country, a little bit out of control.

It requires special people to take mountain music and make it weirder than nature originally intended. And Mountain Sprout's cockeyed bluegrass is pretty special.

The Arkansas-based quartet originally formed in the early aughts in New Orleans.

"Like everybody else, I started out playing death metal," says vocalist Grayson Klauber. "Then I found a banjo. I'm left-handed and it's hard to find a left-handed banjo. Eventually I ran across one and bought it. I started learning how to play it and then I sold my death metal shit and started my style of bluegrass, death-grass."

And while Klauber sometimes misses the clamor of amps turned to 11, he's not ready to go back.

"Rock is dead because everyone got tired of carrying all the equipment," he smirks. "I had all that gear, a huge PA, all the amps. Now I walk in with my little double bag with two banjos and I'm ready to go."

Mountain Sprout's style owes a debt to country-spun wiseacres like The Beat Farmers, Southern Culture on the Skids and The Bad Livers. Their string music paeans like "Town Drunk," "Tweeker" and "Shitting in the Woods" showcase that satirical bent, which reaches its apex with "Screw the Government."

"I got bills to pay, kids to raise, money already spent," sings Klauber. "So if I plant some weed in my corn rows, man, screw the government."

Klauber found his first confederates on the streets of New Orleans. "I started with three bluegrass songs; that was all I knew how to play. You can get pretty good sitting on the street all day long singing the same songs over and over.

"People would just come and play with me all day," he continues. "My band was whoever showed up that day. So I'd say there were six to eight people in the band... You could make quite a bit on the street back then, more than we even do now in clubs."

That's how Klauber met lively fiddler Blayne Thiebaud, who was with him during those first early days. But no sooner had they released their 2005 debut PornoBilly than Katrina ravaged New Orleans and Mountain Sprout was forced to uproot. Having previously passed through Eureka Springs, Arkansas, they knew it would be a sufficiently unusual destination.

"It's a little mecca hippy paradise in the middle of the wasteland," he says. "We're the black spot in the Bible Belt."

While Mountain Sprout definitely owe a debt to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, they haven't made many fans among purists. The group even ran afoul of Grammy-winning newgrass mandolin player Sam Bush backstage at a festival.

"He told me to put my cigarette out, and I told him, 'Fuck no, it's outdoors,'" Klauber recalls. "Apparently Sam Bush has more power than me, because I got booted out of backstage."

In the long run, though, the band is fine with that.

"We've got a pretty hardy fanbase of people that like us," he says. "And a pretty strong hate-base as well."

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