From basement jam sessions to big theatre performances, Pert Near Sandstone live for the inspiration gained from other musicians. The band grew out of jam sessions at a house in St. Paul. “We didn’t get together as a band necessarily,” said mandolin and fiddle player Nate Sipe. Trying different instruments, and collaborating among themselves, led to the creation of Pert Near Sandstone in 2003. Collaboration, said Sipe, is “where folk music develops.”
The Hardest Part of Leaving, the band’s sixth full-length album, will be released on April 15. The quintet will celebrate the release with an April 12 performance at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. “We had a six-day marathon where we were brainstorming different ideas and recording them,” said Sipe of the album’s creation. “We spent three days brainstorming and three days in the studio.
“We bounced ideas and songs off of each other to see what was working and what wasn’t,” continued Sipe. “Then we had time to adjust.” The band’s collaborative process means that “we are able to try some new things and mix things up before we plan to record… this gives us the ability to be different and bring new concepts to our music.”
Over the past decade, the band have become standbys of a Minnesota music scene that’s increasingly known for its strong roots musicians. I asked Sipe to name some of his favorite fellow “pickers.”
Leo Kottke is an American-born acoustic guitarist known for his finger-picking style on both six- and 12-string guitars. “Kottke is one of my favorite musicians of all time,” said Sipe. “He was one of the reasons I started getting into music…my uncle gave my dad a Kottke album.”
Dakota Dave Hull is a Minnesota guitarist who’s won national acclaim for his sensitive playing and is also an institution in the local folk community.
Mike Seeger (1933-2009), half-brother of Pete Seeger, was one of the biggest influences in today’s string music scene. “You could literally hand him any instrument and he could make good music with it,” said Sipe. “He turned people on to string music.”
John Hartford (1937-2001) was a New-York-City-born fiddler, banjo player, guitarist, and songwriter. He grew up in St. Louis, playing and singing about the Mississippi River, and is known for his knowledge of Mississippi lore. He also had a crack band in the John Hartford String Band. “Everyone in that band are some of our favorite pickers,” said Sipe.
The John Hartford Stringband, musicians who used to play with Hartford, continue to play together. “Everyone in that band are some of our favorite pickers,” said Sipe.
Bob Dylan is not only a legendary songwriter, he knows his way around a guitar.
Sipe calls Tom Waits “inventive and experimental.”
Duluth roots musician Charlie Parr, said Sipe, is “right up there with the best of our influences.”
Parr is just one of Pert Near Sandstone’s local influences. “We love watching bands play before and after us,” said Sipe, “hanging out with all of these talented musicians and getting ideas from them.”
This Sunday on a special pickin’-themed Local Show, hear Sipe’s bandmate Kevin Kniebel talk with David Campbell; and listen to other local Americana artists.
Andrew Vaaler is a student at Bemidji State University.