Strength in Numbers

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Strength in Numbers

MilkDrive is one of the bands that formed after the South Austin Jug Band splintered, as Dennis Ludiker, Brian Beken, and Matt Mefford joined up with old friend Noah Jeffries from Jason Boland & the Stragglers for expeditions along the boundaries of acoustic music.

Debut Road From Home mixes homespun instrumentals with renditions of tunes from Beck, Jeff Buckley, the Greencards’ Kym Warner, and local songwriter Drew Smith. Friday evening they share the Cactus Café stage with Smith, whose song “SoHo” has been turned into the entertaining video below.

Here’s a conversation I had with Beken, who was excited about going on the road for most of the year, and being added to the lineup for this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Geezerville: What happened to the South Austin Jug Band?

Brian Beken: It was one of those things where there were so many different people in the band towards the end of it. It had always been a fivepiece, but there was such a revolving door of people that we decided to put it to rest and everyone wanted to do their own thing.

G: There are times when MilkDrive is more of a jazz band than a bluegrass band. How would you describe what the band does?

BB: We don’t really have any thing that we specifically want to be. All of us listen to everything: jazz, bluegrass, rock, rap, all of it. We just like to play stuff that kind of gets us going. Sometimes it’s jazz, it could be bluegrass, there could be a swing element, and sometimes there’s a straight-up classical element. There are arrangements that are really kind of taken from people like Bach with different patterns going on. We really started out as an instrumental band, but people kept on telling us that if we wanted to actually play in front of crowds, we would have to start singing. So that was something else we dove into, seeing as none of us had really done it before. I’m kind of the lead singer right now, but who knows next year it could be a whole different person doing the lead singing.

G: There are a lot of different songwriters on the record. How did that come about?

BB: That was kind of out of necessity because we didn’t have any songs that we had written. I reached out to friends of ours like Kym Warner and Drew Smith and asked if they had any songs that would fit into a MilkDrive theme. They really delivered. After I asked Drew, that night he went home and wrote a song from my perspective, which was really cool. He sent it to me the next day and I was blown away. That’s the first song we recorded for the record.

G: One of your biggest influences is the newgrass supergroup Strength in Numbers [Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, Mark O'Connor, and Edgar Meyer]. I didn’t know that many people knew about them. Telluride Sessions is one of my all-time favorites.

BB: It’s really weird that more and more people keep saying that to us. Like you, I didn’t know that other people knew what that was.

G: Those guys were, and still are, such incredible musicians. What’s interesting to me is that I think people come away from a MilkDrive show with the same feeling, that you guys are extremely talented. One more thing, where does the band’s name come from?

BB: It comes from a street in Idaho. There’s a town where Noah is from where we all used to convene and there’s a dairy nearby. The road that led to it was Milk Drive. None of that’s there anymore. It’s all been bulldozed and developed now.

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