Prior to COVID shutdowns, Dustin Moran and KR Nelson — of Louisville-based folk rock-duo Many Mountains — consistently performed at coffeehouses, barrooms and concert halls in the Front Range and throughout the Lower 48.
The troubadours even played Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2018 as part of the venue’s Local Set series.
Carrying on in the great tradition of lover-slash-musical-partner twosomes — like Johnny Cash and June Carter, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent of Shovels & Rope — Moran and Nelson deliver plenty of on-stage synergy.
While the pandemic put a stop to their cross-country tour that ended in New Orleans, the couple still managed to keep socially distanced fans entertained in 2020 with Colorado gigs at the historic Gold Hill Inn, Boulder eatery River and Woods and Broadway Roxy in Denver.
Many Mountains’ second full-length record “Endless Time” hit listening platforms on Jan. 1. The nine-track album’s intriguing cover art — featuring two cloaked soul-gazing felines amid a backdrop of the cosmos — was designed by legendary psychedelic artist Alan Forbes. Forbes created The Black Crowes’ signature icon, did album work for Chris Robinson Brotherhood and has designed posters for The Jesus and Mary Chain, the Misfits, Widespread Panic, the Rolling Stones and other notable musicians.
From the opening tune on the album, “Dry Leaves in the Fire,” listeners are encased in impassioned strumming and a definite mood. The sultry song is one you expect to bellow out of a glowing jukebox — perhaps with light crackle — within the smoke-filled interior of a bygone lounge. It’s nostalgic, slightly dark, somehow cinematic and when played live would certainly incite a few spins around a dance floor — if and when folks are again allowed to engage in two-stepping with strangers.
The album’s title track, “Endless Time” is incredibly apropos for a year that for so many was clocked by Netflix binges, isolation and the heavy weight of hurry-up-and-wait. Marked by chill-inducing harmonies, both Moran and Nelson showcase their vocal chops on this perfectly crafted love song touting the magic and romance of unrelenting dedication.
“1-80 Tune” pays homage to the east–west transcontinental freeway and captures all the lyrical poetry and vocal stylings of a well-built Patty Griffin song. The rise-from-the-ashes anthem and its mention of “mesas that ripple along the marble sky” makes listeners want to hit the road with a full tank and an open heart.
At times, Many Mountains serves up the playful grit of a honkytonk hit, at others the duo provides mysterious musings.
Rich with authenticity, the pair reminds audiences of the pure power that can surface when storytellers are armed with guitars and truth.
We caught up with Moran and Nelson to discuss the mysticism that permeates through some of their art, what folk icon is on the top of their list to share the stage with and which latest tracks of theirs they would classify as favorites.
Daily Camera: Congrats on the release of your latest album. I’m really enjoying it. What’s it like to release an album during a pandemic and were most of the songs crafted over the chaotic course of 2020?
Dustin Moran: The pandemic has given us a lot more time to be at home crafting the songs in more of a studio manner. Up until the middle of March 2020 we were performing at least three nights a week, which is necessary for finding inspiration and maintaining a state of becoming, and we love performing live, but it’s been enjoyable being stationary and having our instruments and gear ready to be recorded when the mood strikes.
KR (Nelson) and I write songs separately, then collaborate on their arrangement and concepts later. Her songs included on the album were written between summer of 2019 and fall 2020. “Dry Leaves in the Fire” is the oldest. “Out of Control” is newer from September of 2020. My songs included on “Endless Time” have been around for quite a while. I felt it was time to honor their sentiment and give them a home. I’m uncertain why I waited with some of them, but in these times, you realize time is fleeting. Create and let it go. Perhaps that was the idea.
DC: Love that you describe Many Mountains as “Cosmicana.” From the album cover art that has a Tarot-card feel to the use of a Ouija planchette design in some of your marketing, I’m guessing you both have a fascination with the metaphysical. Any artists you admire for either their sense of mystery or mystique?
KR Nelson: We are definitely inspired and fascinated with that mysticism and I would say that it comes through in my songwriting, certainly. That searching for a connection with something bigger than the self and the idea that each individual is the universe expressing itself and interacting with itself is all very inspiring to me and I find meaning within that personally. So, those concepts naturally pop up when I’m writing.
As a teenager, I picked up the works of Joseph Campbell for the first time and since then have read nearly every major work he has written. His work blew my world wide open. Learning about the power of metaphor to interpret the world around us and to find meaning through the chaos was very impactful for me at a young age, but also to this day. Music and poetry are right there with it. I think his ideas surrounding myth and the interpretation of it are what led me down the path of that type of pondering and philosophy that comes through in my art.
DC: I’ve heard KR’s awesome cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and I know you both have many musical influences. I’m curious who today you’d like to share a stage with after restrictions from COVID have been lifted.
DM: Our shared grandiose dream would be to open for Bob Dylan. But, at this point, we’d be ecstatic to play anywhere.
DC: Do you remember a time when you knew music would be your career path? Had you always aspired to create art in this form?
KN: I started writing poetry as a young kid and grew up wanting to be a poet or writer of some kind. I had picked up piano and guitar as a young person, as well, but it wasn’t until I met Dustin (Moran) that I really started to consider playing those instruments more and trying to write songs with them.
Music has always been like a lighthouse for me — helping me in the most difficult times of life. I know I’m not alone when I say it’s like therapy for me. I couldn’t imagine not playing or writing music. Whether that is just in my room writing songs or performing them for people on a bigger scale, which I love doing so much and miss so much, it’s something I am compelled to do and will never stop doing it.
DC: Are there any tracks on the album that you would classify as favorites?
DM: “Endless Time” — every time I sing this song with KR (Nelson) I’m in the moment and feel bliss. “Out of Control” — last song KR wrote and we recorded for the album, our freshest tune.
DC: I know in previous months you guys have treated fans to livestreams on social media and have played some socially distanced shows throughout 2020. Are there any upcoming virtual or in-person gigs that should be on our radar?
KN: We will definitely be doing more livestream shows from our Facebook page in the near future and would encourage anyone interested in checking those livestreams out to follow us on Facebook and Instagram.