Playing a style of music dubbed “galaxy grass,” Montana-based Kitchen Dwellers draw from bluegrass, folk and rock on their two studio albums — 2017’s Ghost in the Bottle and 2019’s Muir Maid. In the middle of the pandemic, they even expanded their music horizons further and delivered a 2020 EP of Pink Floyd covers entitled Reheated, Vol. 2. The group continues to explore bluegrass and folk on the just-released Wise River, a release that finds the band working with Cory Wong of Vulfpeck as producer.
Recently, the Kitchen Dwellers teamed up with singer-songwriter Daniel Donato, a proponent of “cosmic country,” for a fall tour. Donato recorded his 2020 effort, A Young Man’s Country, at Nashville’s Sound Emporium in two days with guitar ace Robben Ford. It explores country's psychedelic side. Last year, he issued the covers album, Cosmic Country & Western Songs.
Talk about when you two first met. Davies: We knew that we wanted Daniel to come out and do some shows with us in Montana for New Year’s Eve. He came out, but, unfortunately, his band couldn’t make it because they had COVID. We were impressed that he was willing to do the show without them. The gig was at the Elks in Bozeman, and he walked in and was the coolest dude in the world. We knew he was someone we would get along with, and the whole weekend was awesome. Donato: The Dwellers had two nights to ring in the New Year at the Elks. The Dwellers have really built up their crowd, and they have not sacrificed any of their art to become viral or do anything that would compromise what they do. When I walked into the soundcheck, I thought they were just a classic great band in the sense that they don’t take themselves too seriously, but they take the music seriously. I remember in soundcheck they were talking about a bridge, and I marveled about how great they were communicating as a band. I don’t know how much new material they broke out for the shows, but there were six or seven setlists and sharpies and a binder with all of the songs. I was really inspired. I remember seeing them and thinking they were my brothers and we were on a similar frequency. We just hit it off, and there was a wild energy in that room. The Dwellers crowd is so welcoming.
At what point did you guys decide to do this tour together?
Donato: I remember that when we met, [banjo player] Torrin [Daniels] told me he thought cosmic country was a similar concept to galaxy grass. When the opportunity for this elongated tour came out, it sounded like a no-brainer.
I love the tour poster. What kind of merch do you have in the works?
Donato: We’re working on some collaborations. I remember on New Year’s, the Dwellers they had limited edition prints. I spent like $300 on their merch. Davies: We just got a shipment of our fall merch the other day. I was on a call with the band, and this UPS truck just showed up at my house. I had to go because we had a lot of boxes. I only opened a few of the boxes that came. I think we have a collab T-shirt for the tour. I think we’ll roll out a couple of posters throughout the tour.
The Dwellers are from Montana and Daniel is from Nashville. How do you overcome those incredible cultural differences?
Donato: A lot of beef jerky, and we talk about Smith & Wesson pistols. Davies: You’ll be surprised. We might be living in different parts of the country, but there are so many things we have in common. There are exceptions to this, but there is country rural vibe in both places. I think that’s why we both get along. Donato: Montana has Yellowstone and Nashville has the show Nashville. We both don’t like their homogenization of culture, and we’re both equally sour in that way.
Talk about the music you first listened to while growing up.
Davies: I grew up really listening to the classics in my house. My weekend would start with four hours of nothing but the Beatles in our house growing up. That was the start of it. In high school, I got into all kinds of different music. That’s where I really started branching out. That’s when I started listening to Tony Rice and Béla Fleck. I was always into rock and jam bands and then moved to Montana and half the guys on my dorm floor would have banjos and mandolins. Every night they would sit in a circle and jam. I wanted to start a band out of that nightly tradition. That’s how I learned to craft a song and how songs are formed. Donato: My parents aren’t intense listeners of music in the sense that they sat me down and had me listen to Abbey Road or Good Vibrations. I got into Guitar Hero when I was 12. When I was 14, I started going to Nashville and busking on the street. I got way into honky tonk and Bakersfield country and Texas country and bluegrass from Kentucky and Western swing from Texas. I was heavily immersed in it.
Could you each talk about your latest albums?
Davies: We did things quite a bit differently on this record. All the songs were born through COVID. We were all home. We would meet up in town. They all stem from that. Some of them were written about how difficult it was and others were about inspiring and delivering some hope if not for other people than for ourselves. We wanted to write the music we could play when it was all over. We did the most amount of team work and meeting and preproduction than we have on any other album. On our two other main LPs, we didn’t do as much preproduction work. The other thing that’s different about this one is that we worked with Cory Wong, who produced it. He’s a Minneapolis funk musician. He’s an amazing musician and studio guy. He’s been getting into bluegrass and acoustic music. It was an education working with him. We recorded the whole thing with him in Minneapolis in four days. We worked at breakneck speed when we were there. That’s how he works, which is great because we have a hard time staying on track. He got people on the record who have different styles that we would have never thought to put into our music. We were open to anything that speaks to us. Donato: The songs on Cosmic Country & Western Songs are standards but not really well known. There’s a sound to records that don’t have a band on them that I would never put my name on. Before COVID, I was touring like mad. I thought it was be a great year. But COVID happened, and the band dissipated. It all fell about. It was this existential but necessary chapter I had to go through. Halfway through 2020, [the Nashville club] Robert’s Western World reopened. I went back down there on Monday to play from 2 to 6 p.m. with three people there. I just got back to basics with one cat, Jon Rafford, who is a legend in the Nashville scene. He’s a drummer and producer that everyone knows and loves. He was playing in my band and we played like 50 shows to no one. We had this idea that since that era of Nasvhille’s music was dying. We wanted to cut a record that captured what it used to be like to be in Robert’s Western Wear on a Saturday night and everyone is dancing and eating fried bologna records. It was like, “How do we tell that story in a musical way?” That’s what the whole record is. We cut it in two days. We cut everything live. It’s as true to a honky tonk record that I could make in that space and time.
What will the live show be like? Do you plan to collaborate?
Davies: There will definitely be collaboration. We already started talking about it. We’re super excited and talking about things we could do every night. Having the acoustic and full band will lend itself to cool ideas. Donato: There’s an innate level of this yin and yang. When you have that in one evening, you’re set up for something that’s very special, just on the level of physics. Both bands are highly aware of this and you’re getting something as a consumer I’ve never seen. The Dwellers take the acoustic platform and take it to the galaxy. I’m trying to get to a similar place. The beauty of live music is that you have to be there to feel it. It’s very rare in our culture right now. Our thing is that the moment is the perfect producer. We surrender ourselves to that. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to go on the road with these guys and learn from them.
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]