Year after SXSW tragedy, Jared & The Mill still carry mixed emotions
Photo courtesy of Cole Kiburz
Regardless of how Jared & The Mill performed on the stage at last year’s South by Southwest Music Festival, the Phoenix-area indie folk band won a whole new swath of supporters via an impromptu concert in an Austin hospital in the wake of a tragedy.
The fatal car accident that killed four concertgoers and marred the 2014 festival also struck a very personal chord with the band, which saw one of its most devoted fans injured in the crash. The resulting act from the band – a stripped-down performance inside the hospital room of Texas teenager and longtime fan Mason Endres – brought them national attention in People magazine and online with The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and other outlets, but it wasn’t easy to reconcile the band’s success with the incident that introduced them to so many new fans.
A year later – and just a week before they’ll head back to the Austin festival – lead singer Jared Kolesar still pauses for the right words on the subject of the group’s newfound notoriety.
“We almost feel strange talking about it, because of the conditions of the publicity we got from it,” Kolesar says. “Because although it did highlight our personality … at the end of day, we were just grateful for [Endres’] willingness to listen to such a nobody of a band. I like to think that under the circumstances, anyone would have done what we did.”
“We became very close with her and her family … it was an unfortunate situation that we enjoyed making a little bit lighter.”
Video of the performance promptly went viral in the days following the accident – the band performed its 2013 ballad “Just for Now” at Endres’ request – and new fans discovered what old Jared & The Mill die-hards like Endres already knew. Mixing sounds of the modern indie folk revolution with their affinity for what Kolesar calls “outlaw country,” Jared & The Mill are staples on the Phoenix music scene and trying to expand their sound on a new album due out this spring.
The band will perform at The StubHub Music Experience on March 19 at 4 p.m. CT, bringing honest and intimate songwriting that has evolved since forming four years ago. Their self-funded 2013 album, Western Expansion, fit well among furious-fingered contemporaries like Mumford & Sons or Of Monsters and Men, but their newest album, Life We Chose, slows down the pace.
The new, reflective sound now resembles something calmer and more mature, like laid-back California folk-rockers Dawes or even their iconic predecessor, Jackson Browne.
Kolesar says it’s all due to a tiring stretch of touring that got them here, and an affinity for being home in the American Southwest.
“Lyrically, it reflects the past year-and-a-half, and the idea that you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you’re well into it as a touring musician,” he says of the record, due out in April. “You lose things on the road. You lose touch with friends on the road, you miss friends’ weddings and your family members being born. It’s a commitment none of us knew we were willing to make until we had to make it.”
The new album also marks a sonic upgrade under the guidance of producer Tony Berg, a vaunted industry man who’s worked with The Replacements, Aimee Mann and Ted Hawkins, among others.
“Musically, it has a lot more of that western influence,” Kolesar says of the album, which was recorded in just two weeks. “Western Expansion was very much of a young record and we’re proud of it, but we’ve definitely done a lot of sorting out who we are as a band since that album, and the new album is much more of who are at this age.”
The band’s appearance at SXSW will kick off a busy tour that – at least for now – runs through early May, and will take it to New Orleans, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, among other US cities.
“We came out of recording the new album with a new spirit,” Kolesar says. “It’s surreal, because only yesterday it feels like we were first getting together, trying to figure out our sound in a hot little room in Tempe, Ariz. It’s been awesome.”