Vince Herman photo by Michael Weintrob
Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman Thinks It’s Time To “Enjoy The Ride”
Vince Herman has had an over 30-year career in music, much of it as the co-lead of Leftover Salmon, and also as the founder of Great American Taxi. In all that time, he’s considered writing and recording his own music but never seen it through, until now, with the release of Enjoy the Ride via LoHi Records. It took a set of circumstances that not only included being off the road from touring, but also being in the right place at the right time to convince Herman to try co-writing with others, including his friends The Davisson Brothers, in Nashville to hook him on the process. Before long, an album was born.
Vince Herman found he took to the experience in the same way that he takes to improvising live and working with David Ferguson as producer, much of that live feeling was also brought to the recording process. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have very intentional aspects. One of those areas of intention lies in the sheer variety of Americana sound traditions that you’ll hear. Herman’s bigger goal with Enjoy the Ride was to express what country music means to him, including many of the areas that are now excluded from a mainstream country category. I spoke to Vince Herman shortly after he concluded a three-week tour playing this new material with his very own band, which includes his son Silas.
Americana Highways: I saw that you’ve been playing a lot of dates lately.
Vince Herman: Yes, I’m just back from three weeks on the road and somewhat functional. It was a really fun tour with the new band. It was kind of exciting to do something totally new and take the band out. I get to play with my son in the band. It’s got lots of pleasures stacked up. The album release show was in the town that I lived in for 30 years in Colorado. We also did a thing here in Nashville on the 7th of November where I had a bunch of my friends who cowrote some of the songs with me on the record come in.
AH: What a great idea to also play Nashville. I did see the band interview video, so I’m aware of the hardships that you went through to pick your band!
VH: [Laughs] That was a fun one. These fellows in my band come up with some good ideas and also have the sensibilities to pull it off.
AH: It keeps going, with more and more gags!
VH: It’s kind of relentless. If you’re having fun doing something, why quit? That’s kind of the theme of my life.
AH: The chicken should have gotten more of a chance to join the band. She was onto something.
VH: Chickens are to bandmates what cats are to dogs. They are just not good to travel with. They don’t really like to participate in jokes. They are kinda standoffish. But we’ll still working on training her.
AH: I heard that you traveled a lot by road during the pandemic, which plays into creating your first solo album. Were you restless from not being on the road for the first time in ages?
VH: Yes. About four days before everything shut down in March 2020, I moved into a place in downtown Boulder and it was the first time I’d lived alone since college. I thought I’d hang out a lot, but everything closed. I sat there washing my groceries. [Laughs] I put up with four months of that. I’ve been on the road for 30 years. Then I couldn’t take it anymore, bought an RV and went roaming around inside my own little bubble.
I went out into the Northwest, saw some friends up there. I eventually headed down through the South, ending up in Nashville. I stayed about a month there, did some cowriting, got a publishing deal. I saw that Nashville was really where I needed to be. I never would have figured that out if I hadn’t had that “stop” button pushed for me. I think it was a pretty lucky thing. I found the silver lining.
AH: You’re not the only one. A lot of people have been impacted in terms of their artwork. It does seem like this is a big chapter of your life where the page might never have turned otherwise.
VH: Absolutely. I love to improvise on stage and make up verses in real-time and I always wondered if that would work in a writing room. It turns out that it does!
AH: Did that writing start because you were helping The Davisson Brothers with some of their stuff?
VH: When I was in town, they were coming through, and they set me up with a day of writing with some folks that they were writing with. We had an incredible day where a bunch of writers wrote seven songs. That day with Chris and Donny really blew my mind. I couldn’t believe how fun and how fulfilling it was to co-write. I had never done that before. I really had no idea!
AH: I’m wondering how this went down. Was it a little bit like improvising when you’re playing together, but instead using lyrics and writing?
VH: Exactly! Someone would have a line, maybe something to start the song, or they’d have an idea or a title. We’d work from there. I’m used to staring at that blank page by myself. I just have millions of half-way done songs where I’d get to a point that I couldn’t get around. Then I’d go out for a walk or something and never come back to it. With the co-writing thing, the one thing you know is that you’re going to have a song by the time the session is over. That’s the one rule. That’s been a real change for me. I’m someone who bailed out of college with six credits to go. I’m not much of a finisher! [Laughs]
AH: I love that idea that you will have a song by the end of a session. As a writer, I feel guilty about all the things that I’ve never finished, but not guilty enough to actually finish them. That must be a great feeling to have something in hand.
VH: With me, as a new guy coming to town, people were willing to try to write with me, and I’m happy that we produced something, so hopefully they’ll write with me again. I’m a happy boy.
AH: Do you think it helps to be more similar to the people that you’re writing with, or for there to be differences there in terms of taste and way of thinking?
VH: I don’t think that makes any difference. What you really are is that you’re in the present when you’re doing the writing thing. Keep your ears and your mind peeled to what just happened, in terms of a phrase or a melodic turn. When you’re so focused on that, I don’t think genre or style differences are the focus, though they may inform things. The focus is on the song and what you bring to it. You can have a Jazz cat and a country writer.
AH: Were any of the songs that you worked on in that first session completed and recorded for this album, Enjoy the Ride?
VH: Yes, the song “A Better Way.” We had already written six or seven songs, and Chris said to Levi Lowrey, who was there, “You look like you’ve got something left in you. What you got?” He said, “Well, I just have this one line, ‘Where have all the good days been?’” We just took off on that. When you’ve already written six songs in a day, your wheels are greased! That was my favorite tune that came out of that session, for sure.
AH: That is really a powerful song, and one of my favorites on the album. I’ve heard that talk about various sides of life, whether the good things, or the bad things, but this one takes on a more even tone, including both sides. But it’s also very hopeful. The sound is also gentle and reflective.
VH: A lot of times, when people go through moments, like the pandemic, where there was no social life, and think, “Where have all the good times gone? Will they ever be back? Wouldn’t it be nice to actually be face-to-face with a person?” Sometimes being that lonesome cranks it up and gets ahold of you. But when you look at the long term, a long future, and the good things to come, it helps bring back some balance to those kinds of days.
AH: One phrase that stood out to me was, “Taught us how to live a little bit more.” To me, that’s really positive. There are all the things that my ancestors have taught me, and it’s not a competition, but I often wonder if I can take that one step further by valuing what they taught me.
VH: Yes, absolutely. My grandfather was a singer in the a cappella tradition. You’d know you were having a good family gathering when Wild Bill started to sing one. He was a coal miner and I’m pretty proud of my Appalachian labor history that runs in the family. Writing with the Davissons was great because they are so connected to that culture in West Virginia. Their family has been on that land since the 1700s. Talk about generations giving you a way of life! That’s probably what prompted that line, writing with the Davissons, because they are so connected to the generations that came before.
I have kids who are both musicians and I love teaching them old fiddle tunes and Appalachian stuff and I hope to be filling them with stuff from previous generations as they navigate life on this planet.
AH: Americana is a very broad concept and that can be very helpful. Likewise, this album brings forward a lot of different traditions, song by song. Did you know that was going to happen?
VH: Absolutely. My goal on this record was to make a document of what country music means to me. Because I’ve been in this jam band scene a long time and country has gotten so narrowly defined in the present moment. That’s why there’s the need for the idea of Americana to take up those things that have been lost from country. To me, Americana is bluegrass, and cajun, and ballads, and rock ‘n roll. When Hank Williams first came on the Opry, he was playing cajun music. When Bill Monroe came on the Opry, he was playing bluegrass. That was before things got so separated. I definitely wanted to make a record that reflected that.
AH: I appreciate you sharing that, the idea that Americana has become a concept because the country category became so narrow. That makes a lot of sense. There were so many things left outside of that box that needed to go somewhere and the gravity was there to pull those things together.
VH: It’s a time in our country where we all need to see what we have in common a little more than what we have in our differences. That’s part of my attention to it. I also say that it’s time for the hippies to come back to Country music! What Willie Nelson did, bringing the Texas thing to Nashville, then going back to Texas and finding that hippies were going to his shows was a big cultural opening.
AH: I know you have so much experience as a live player that it makes sense to have recorded this album live, but were there conversations about that choice?
VH: David Fergusson, “Fergie,” produced the record and he put together an absolutely crack squad of Nashville session cats who know how to play together pretty dang well. It was definitely a different process to making a record for me. I usually have a band that I’m touring with and we create material and develop it.
With this, I sent recordings of the songs and the arrangements I was envisioning to the bass player on the sessions two days before the session. He wrote out all the charts, then we went in, figured out the song, then went in and recorded it on the first or second take. These guys were the best of the best and they just blew my mind. I was pretty freaked out not to know everyone yet, and for them not to have heard the songs yet, thinking, “Is this really going to work??” But I was just blown away by how effective this Nashville process is.
AH: The recordings sound so smooth, but they also have a live feel to them. That’s like the Holy Grail to get that combination.
VH: They were reacting in real-time to what the other guys were playing and it’s not over-thought, which provides a real, live, cohesive feel, but also, as Fergie once said, “Hey, man, let’s not ruin this by learning it.” I made a record with Todd Snider once, a tribute to Jerry Jeff Walker for my band Great American Taxi, and he’d teach us the song, we’d go in and record it.
Then, while he taught us the next song, the record would be mixed, so by the end of the record, everything was done. If I asked, “What should I study up on?”, he wouldn’t tell us. It keeps that live, reactive, on the forefront, on your toes playing rather than that lick you worked out.
Thanks so much for talking to us Vince Herman. We enjoyed it!
Find the album here: https://www.lohirecords.com/shop/vince-herman-enjoy-the-ride/