Interview with Jim Van Cleve from Mountain Heart – Band Performing at Fraze Pavilion on 8/9

jim van cleve
Jim Van Cleve

Interview by Scott Preston

Mountain Heart
Tuesday August 9, 2011
Fraze Pavilion
695 Lincoln Park Boulevard | Kettering, Ohio 45429
8pm, Buy Tickets

Mountain Heart is the band that has been fearlessly revolutionizing the way acoustic music can be presented and played. The band’s name has been synonymous with cutting-edge excellence in acoustic music circles since the group’s creation in 1999. Widely known throughout the music industry for continually redefining the boundaries of acoustic music, the band has gained legions of loyal fans both as a result of their superlative musicianship, and more notably, their incomparably exciting live performances.

As one of the most highly awarded ensembles ever assembled, Mountain Heart, or members of the band, have either won or been nominated for Grammy’s, ACM, CMA, and multiple IBMA Awards. They have appeared on the revered stage of the Grand Ole Opry in excess of 125 times and have shared the stage with acts ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Montgomery Gentry, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Brad Paisley to Alison Krauss, Tony Rice, The Avett Brothers, Yonder Mountain Stringband, Levon Helm, John Fogerty and Patty Loveless. 

Cincy Groove: Didn’t the band have a great run of sold out shows around the time you released “Things Just Happened” back in January of this year?

Jim Van Cleve: We ended up having a run of 9 straight sold out shows. That was unprecedented for us, so we were obviously pretty stoked about it. Ever since that run of shows we have had quite a few exciting things happen. Earlier this year we signed with The Roots Agency and also became involved with the Boots Campaign, which helps to raise money to help support returning troops in need. We also ended up signing a deal with The French’s Shoe and Boots Company. We have had some great shows this year and this year is probably the best year the band has ever had.

Cincy Groove: Is the band or yourself working on any recording projects?

Jim Van Cleve: Between December of last year and June of this year I have finished 5 different projects. Some of them weren’t full records but still production work, so it was pretty involved. So overall it was 2 full records and 3 I guess what you could call EP projects. I am not the only band member in the studio, pretty much everyone in the band is working on something when we aren’t on the road. As a band we are working on new material for at least one more project this year maybe two.

Cincy Groove: What can you tell me about the Mountain Heart “Limited Edition Signature Series” Vietti Chili? I saw that on your website and had to ask about it.

Jim Van Cleve: We did the Music City Roots Series and a rep from the Vietti Chili company was there and absolutely loved Mountain Heart. They have this artist program and moved us to the front of the line and put our faces on a couple hundred thousand cans of chili.

I have a funny story about that situation. One night my wife was going to make some chili. So I went to the grocery store with my daughter, she was 4 at the time. I was going down the aisle looking for the kidney beans and hadn’t really thought about the Vietti Chili deal because it had happened quite a few months before. I saw a can of the chili and picked it up and turned it around and there were our faces. I held the can up to my daughter and said “Who is that?” and she said “Daddy, you are on the can”. Then she proceeds to name the rest of the guys in the band and then finishes with “Daddy you are on the can, thats dumb”. I proceeded to laugh and laugh and almost fell over right there in the aisle. She said it was dumb, but it was really cool to see her reaction.

Also from the Music City Root Series show we did a rep from the French’s Shoes and Boots Company was there (they were a show sponsor). They just really liked what the band was doing and jumped on board with us as well. We ended up getting a lot more clothing than we deserved and before it was all said and done each of us had about 3-4 pairs of just some killer cowboy boots to wear on stage.

Cincy Groove: Tell me about the Bluegrass Underground Series, it seems to be a very cool experience.

Jim Van Cleve: It definitely is, its down in McMinnville, TN. There is a cave that they have shows in called the Volcano Room. There is a great big chandelier hanging from the ceiling and they brought in a world class lighting guy to really deck the place out. The shows are shot in HD and the first show that is being put out is Mountain Heart and Ricky Skaggs. I saw some of the outtakes from the show and it is going to be epic. I’m not sure when its going to air, but it will be all over PBS. Kind of a Austin City Limits type of feel to the show.

mountain heart
Mountain Heart

Cincy Groove: Whats coming up on the bands’ radio show “Things Just Happened”?

Jim Van Cleve: With Mountain Heart being on the road so much we are still trying to figure out how to get the Sept show put together. The last one we did was “live from the road”. For a part of the tour you would experience what it is like to be a passenger on the bus and be on tour with us. Josh brought a Zoom recorder on tour and taped everything he could. He then just dropped it into Pro Tools and edited the show while we were on the road and sent it back to the mothership at WSM. I think for the next show we might have the band Perry, who I have played with a bunch of times. I just recorded a Christmas song with them about 3 weeks ago. If we can get our schedules to line up we want to have them into the studio and do some live studio work.

Cincy Groove: I really like the idea of having artists interview other artists. It a perspective you don’t get to see very often.

Jim Van Cleve: Thats probably what we have received the most feedback about. Everyone really enjoys the interaction between us and the performers we bring into the studio. Our angle on things is very different than your typical radio host. We put up a video of myself, Josh and Sam Bush, when we had him on and received a lot of great response from that one.

Cincy Groove: So why did Mountain Heart start their own record label?

Jim Van Cleve: With the state of the music business right now everyone really has the ability to do their own thing. The internet and social media has made it even easier for a band to get the word out about their music. Mountain Heart’s Facebook numbers are exploding right now. Record labels are specialized in terms of the genre of music that they know how to market. I don’t know if there are any labels out there catering to the type of music that Mountain Heart is playing right now. It just made sense for us to start our own label and keep our own money (laughing). We are going to be in the black on this current record faster than we ever have been before. The fact that we don’t have to answer to anybody about anything really helps to fuel our creative fires.