Mountain Man are Bennington College girls: One’s still in school, one’s out and the third just graduated earlier this week. They are Molly Sarle, Alex Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Meath; two of them used to play in rock bands when they were in high school—Ms. Meath was in an electroclash group called Cock Death—but now, having found one another a little over a year ago, they play folk music that is quiet and delicate and largely unaccompanied by instruments. Their songs—”Dog Song” is their finest—sound like they were written long, long ago, calling to mind ’60s country revivalists the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as well as Karen Dalton, if she’d had all her teeth.
Mountain Man played a show last night at the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg. It was the first of two one-off shows in the city. Tonight the three young women will be headlining at the Living Room on Ludlow Street, and in a few weeks they leave for a U.K. tour.
Their debut album, Made The Harbor, is going on sale in July through the small Brooklyn label Partisan Records, whose offices are located right above the Knitting Factory on Metropolitan Avenue. Last night was their fourth time playing in the city; tonight will be the fifth.
I asked Ms. Meath after the band finished their set if playing in New York was still considered to be any kind of landmark for a small, rising indie band—whether a show here meant something that a show in Columbus, Ohio doesn’t. She shrugged before answering. “It’s wonderful to play in New York—there’s a lot of young, beautiful people,” she said. “But other than it’s like, ‘Oh, great, O.K.'”
Part of the reason for this is that anyone who would ever consider going to a Mountain Man show would have heard about them on the Internet, according to Ms. Meath, either on Pitchfork, where a number of their songs have been written up, or Chocolate Bobka, a well-trafficked music blog run by guy from Greenpoint named Mike McGregor who also organizes small shows at D.I.Y. venues around town.
Mountain Man’s first New York appearance, which took place last October during CMJ, was thrown together by Mr. McGregor at the very last minute, when another band canceled on him for a showcase at Monkey Town and a substitute had to be wrangled in a hurry. What happened was Mr. McGregor had booked an act from New Jersey known as Ducktails, whose frontman had to bail because his other band, Real Estate, had gotten booked at another venue on the same night. Because the bass player in Real Estate is a Bennington alum and had seen Mountain Man play shows at school, the girls got the call to step in. They did, and Mr. McGregor’s mind was blown.
“That was like, a big, big moment,” he said recently. “I hadn’t seen them before. It was just a total brain buster. Everyone sort of stepped back with their jaws on the floor.”
Soon thereafter, Mountain Man got “Dog Song” onto a critically acclaimed compilation issued by Underwater Peoples, an indie label that put out the first single by Real Estate. Plans for a 10-inch were hatched, but according to Ms. Meath, the record was held up when Mountain Man signed with Partisan. At this point, the 10-inch, pressed on handsome light blue vinyl, is available as a limited edition and is being sold at shows on a “pay what you want” sliding scale of $10 to $15. It will also be available at the Underwater Peoples online store.
They’ve been on two tours so far, neither longer than two weeks. The one they’ll start a few weeks from now will keep them on the road for a solid four months.
Last night people were asking them to autograph copies of the EP at the merch stand.
“It’s nuts, isn’t it?” Ms. Meath said. “We didn’t even intend to be a band. We intended to be people who sing together.” The first Mountain Man show took place at her off-campus house in Bennington, she said. “People loved it and we got really excited and started playing more shows. And then we decided we had to go on tour, because people were getting really excited, and things just escalated from there. Now we’re a band.”