Vince Herman Serves Up a Leftover Salmon Q&A

The last time Pollstar interviewed Leftover Salmon, we chatted with Drew Emmitt in 2012 ahead of the release of the band’s first album since its hiatus. With the act celebrating its 25th anniversary on NYE, it was the perfect timing to check back in with LoS.

We caught up with Vince Herman (vocals, acoustic guitar, washboard) in December, shortly after the band released High Country, the follow-up to 2012’s Aquatic Hitchhiker.

It’s rather appropriate we’ve had the chance to now talk to both Herman and Emmitt (vocals, acoustic and electric mandolin, electric guitar, fiddle). After all, Leftover Salmon was born on New Year’s Eve 1989 when a few members from Emmitt’s group, the Left Hand String Band, teamed up with some of the musicians from Herman’s band, The Salmon Heads, to play a gig at the Eldorado Café in Crested Butte, Colo.

Leftover Salmon has created a forum on its website for fans to share stories, photos, videos and memories from the past 25 years.

Herman chatted with Pollstar about the big anniversary and new album as well as the addition of Little Feat’s Bill Payne to the lineup.

Not only did Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin produce High Country, but he also appeared on the LP as a special guest. Other guests include Sugar Blue, Casey Driessen, Andy Hall of The Infamous Stringdusters, Joey Porter of The Motet, and Kim Dawson.

Photo: John-Ryan Lockman / ShowLove Media
Hideaway Park in Winter Park, Colo.

Congratulations on the new album!

Yeah, it was a good weekend in Boulder celebrating that. We had a ball.

It was released on Black Friday, which also happens to be Record Store Day.   

We did a thing at Twist and Shout Records in Denver. It’s a great music store, I just love it. And [they have] a ton of old vinyl. And I’m a complete vinyl freak. (laughs) I’m sitting surrounded by vinyl right now, actually.

Did you find any vinyl on Black Friday to take home?

I did. Not only did I find some cool records but I got a carrying case that fits albums. So now on the road I have no excuse for not buying records. And it’s going to be a mess. (laughs)

How big is your collection?

I’ve got probably about 1,500 LPs and probably 700 or 800 78s. I have a Victrola, you know, a wind-up kind of thing, and I love old, old string band music kind of stuff.

So you’re a pretty serious collector, then.

I just … I’m a freak. (laughs) Fairly not a serious collector. I know a few of those and I can walk through my house.

In addition to the event in Denver on Black Friday you played a few shows in your hometown in Boulder to celebrate the new album.

Yeah, Friday and Saturday nights we played the Boulder Theatre and had a horn section, which was just so much fun to play with. Steve Berlin from Los Lobos, the producer of our new record, also joined us in the horn section. And God, it’s really fun to hear the songs done with horns. It just changes things. We didn’t have any horn players on the record but you know, one of things that we look at albums as is sort of a palate of material to play in the live shows. And it was real fun experiencing a different form of the tunes on the album for the album release party. Quite enjoyable.

Photo: John-Ryan Lockman / ShowLove Media
Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colo.

Bill Payne recently officially became a member of the band after playing with you guys for a year.  

He joined officially in September. We played a gig at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to celebrate the 15th anniversary of our Nashville Sessions record and at that show we announced Bill was joining the band. He had been sitting in with us as our special guest for about a year. But that was the “expect to see him at every show” announcement.

How did his addition to the band come about?

He produced a record for us. We did a bunch of shows with Little Feat. He just became a friend and someone whose work we really admired, not only his playing and writing but producing skills and organizational skills. Drew and I got to play the 25th anniversary of the making of “Waiting For Columbus” years ago and Bill organized this jam that probably had 30 musicians and it just came off without a hitch. And when we saw how organized and how aware he is musically and socially, we thought, “Wow, man, this guy is awesome.” And that led us to him producing our record. And over the year, we’d have him sit in.  When Little Feat took a break he had some holes in his schedule. Wee immediately invited him to come out and have some fun with us. And it was enough fun for him to wanna do it.

Sounds like it was good timing then.

It was amazing.

Photo: John-Ryan Lockman / ShowLove Media
Boulder Theatre in Boulder, Colo.

When you released Aquatic Hitchhiker in 2012, that was the band’s first full-length in eight years and its first since going on hiatus. With High Country coming out just a couple years after Aquatic Hitchhiker, it looks like the band got right back in the groove of putting out new music.

Absolutely. When we came back and did Aquatic Hitchhiker it was definitely kind of a statement – we’re in it to win it here again (laughs) and we’re going to be putting some energy into it. And that’s what musicians do – you make records. Well, not records, CDs, well not CDs, you make the digital file (laughs). I don’t know, I still wish we were putting them out on 78s, so what can I say? But no, it’s just kind of what musicians do. They make recordings and go out and play it. So we generated a bunch of material. In fact, we’re writing already for the next record, which is going to be a kind of New Orleans, Louisiana kind of record. The joy of writing with Bill Payne is just indescribable – he just brings so much to the table, his vocabulary is massive, his taste is impeccable and writing with him has been a real joy.

Can you talk a bit more about the writing process for High Country and what inspired the album?

Well, it was kind of worked on in installations. We originally had an arrangement with a brewery, Breckenridge Brewery, to release some songs from the record on six packs. (laughs) After so many years of drinking beer and making music, we figured we better put music on the beer.

Those songs were actually released last summer. And then we finished up more material in a couple different stints and finally got to the point where it was a complete album. We did two songs with Bill … and some of the other songs he overdubbed on after the fact. So yeah, it was a different. Drummer Alwyn Robinson wasn’t in the band when we recorded the majority of the tracks. However, he is on the track with Bill Payne called “Bluegrass Pines” and “Six Feet Of Snow,” which we recorded in the last bit of recording before the record was done. So the record’s kind of all over the place as far as personnel but I think it’s a pretty good example of what a Salmon record is, it’s got some calypso and some bluegrass and some Cajun and some rock ’n’ roll, a little funk. That’s the pigeonhole we’ve put ourselves in – whatever we wanna do! (laughs)

That’s fun you have all these different genres to play with and mix around.

That’s kind of what it’s always been for us. We never really set out with a plan of what kind of band to be or anything. We just kind of played what all the cats in the band shared in common when we first started playing. We came together on New Years of 1989 with a combination of two bands – the Lefthand String Band and the Salmon Heads. We thought it was going to last for one gig so we put that stupid name on it. (laughs)

And it’s still here today.

But when we first played it was a combination of Cajun music and bluegrass and stuff, and all just kind of tunes that we knew. And the reaction in the ski towns was really strong and kind of gave us the impetus to start writing for that and doing all those kind of things. There’s never been a plan but we keep going.

Do you have any favorite tracks off the album or any you’re really looking forward to playing live?

I really like “High Country,” the title track. It really gives a sense of the band being from Colorado and being mountain, bluegrassers from the West. You know, it’s a little bit different from that East Coast bluegrass, it’s not quite California Bluegrass. It’s Rocky Mountain stuff. And I think that song really provides a strong statement to that. And I like that. And it has good harmony and that kind of thing. And people seem to like it.

As far as the album tracklist, is there a certain person who came up with the order of songs? Or do you all give your input on that?

Yeah, we all kind of toss it around. It’s kind of like writing a setlist for a show. We kind of look at it, you try to get the stuff spaced out so that it takes the listener to a bunch of different places and has a flow to it. Those are the kind of things you look for. Steve Berlin, the producer, helps make some suggestions. But you know there seems to be some inherent order to things, you kind of try to discover. Who knows if we did on this one. (laughs)

I like how the album starts with “Get Up And Go.” That’s a nice way to kick off the whole album.

Oh yeah, that’s kind of the idea. Get up and do some traveling. I like to think of our music as kind of a travelogue itself – all around through the styles and all that. That’s kind of what we were thinking about that.

The album was produced by Steve Berlin, who also worked on Aquatic Hitchhiker.  

Just a great guy to work with and phenomenal ears, good ideas, really dug in and helped with some of the arrangements and that kind of thing. Was really hands on and it was a good relationship we forged with him.

Steve Berlin is also featured on the album as a special guest, along with some other musicians including Sugar Blue and Joey Porter of The Motet. How did those collaborations come about?  

We’ve had some great times playing live shows with Sugar Blue, who’s just an amazing national treasure. I think he’s arguably the current king of the Chicago blues harp scene and that’s a pretty big place to be. I was saying, “What could this tune use to really take it somewhere else?” And it was “Home Cookin’” in particular that I was thinking of. So we flew him out for the sessions and he ended up on a couple of other tunes. And man, what a great player.

And Steve Berlin, God, that baritone sax adds just such a great texture and drive to things. And we couldn’t resist talking him into at least playing one tune.

Joey Porter is in The Motet in Boulder and a really good keyboard player. It was before Bill had joined the band that we recorded those tracks with Joey and some of them were just great tracks and no need for Bill to overdub that stuff, it worked. So we ended up having two keyboard players on the record.

Photo: John-Ryan Lockman / ShowLove Media
Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colo.

What can fans expect from the 2015 tour? Do you think it’s possible you’d add a horn section or have Steve Berlin come back for a few shows?

We actually had so much fun this last weekend that we are looking at some dates to take the horns section out on. Nothing firmed up at this point but yeah, we like to bring out guests with us and just push the music a little bit more into the improv kind of scene, just going looking for something to happen. We like that.

I think that just really adds to the experience, rather than sounding exactly like the record when you put it on your CD player or computer or listen to it in your car or whatever.

Well, you know, luckily our music has never been so popular that people expect to hear it like they hear it on the radio (laughs), although we have been doing good with this record. I think we’re at 14 on the Americana charts and that’s the second week on the charts. Yeah, we’re pretty psyched about the radio response. Music seems to have some cycles and I’m hoping that it’s time for a cycle of old guys playing roots music to get in people’s ears. (laughs)

We’re psyched it’s going into the 25th year of the band. We’re pretty fired up to experiencing a rebirth with Bill joining the band. I think the band sounds as good as ever. Alwyn Robinson on the drums is just killing it. Andy Thorn on the banjo just really made the band come back to its best form ever, I think. Greg Garrison on bass is just amazing, rock solid and a great writer and arranger too. He did a lot of the horn arrangements this past weekend. It’s always great to pull new skills out of the band members. We just wanna keep that going and have a lot of fun the next 25.

Not a lot of bands can say they’ve still here after a quarter of a century.

When I started kind of thinking of doing this for a living and playing roots music, I never figured I’d blow up and sell as many records as Prince or anything like that (laughs) but it’s a little niche and we’ve been really lucky to enjoy that niche for 25 years and just feel incredibly blessed to get to keep doing it.

Photo: John-Ryan Lockman / ShowLove Media
Hideaway Park in Winter Park, Colo.

Upcoming dates for Leftover Salmon:

Jan. 9 – Paia, Hawaii, Charley’s       
Jan. 10 – Waikapu, Hawaii, Mill House At Maui Tropical Plantation
Jan. 11 – Waikapu, Hawaii, Mill House At Maui Tropical Plantation
Feb. 5 – Big Sky, Mont, Whiskey Jacks (Big Sky Big Grass)
Feb. 6 – Victor, Idaho, Knotty Pine   
Feb. 7 – Victor, Idaho, Knotty Pine    

Feb. 8 – Big Sky, Mont, Whiskey Jacks (Big Sky Big Grass) 
Feb. 11 – Missoula, Mont, Top Hat   
Feb. 13 – Boise, Idaho, Knitting Factory Concert House      
Feb. 14 – Park City, Utah, Park City Live     
Feb. 17 – Durango, Colo., Animas City Theatre       
Feb. 18 – Durango, Colo., Animas City Theatre       

Feb. 19 – Telluride, Colo., Sheridan Opera House
Feb. 20 – Telluride, Colo., Sheridan Opera House   
Feb. 21 – Avon, Colo., Nottingham Park (WinterWonderGrass)      

Feb. 22 – Avon, Colo., Nottingham Park      
March 13 – Estes Park, Colo., Stanley Hotel
March 14 – Estes Park, Colo., Stanley Hotel
March 15 – Estes Park, Colo., Stanley Hotel
May 22 – Evans, Ga., Pavilion At Evans Town Park (Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que Festival)   

Leftover Salmon will also appear at Wanne Festival in Live Oak, Fla.; Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado; and Floyd Fest in Virginia. These events haven’t announced their daily schedules yet.

For more information please visit