Looking back over the past 25 years of rootsy, string-based music, the impact of Leftover Salmon is impossible to deny. Formed in Boulder at the end of 1989, the Colorado slamgrass pioneers were one of the first bluegrass bands to add drums and tour rock & roll bars, helping Salmon become a pillar of the jam band scene and unwitting architects of the jam grass genre. Though the lineup would change through the years, the foundation of Leftover Salmon was built on the relationship between co-founders Drew Emmitt (vocals, guitar, fiddle, mandolin), Vince Herman (vocals, guitar,washboard) and Mark Vann (electric banjo).
Following a decade of constant growth and constant touring, on March 4, 2002, Mark Vann lost his battle with cancer. Vann insisted that the band carry on and Salmon did so for several years leading up to an indefinite hiatus in 2005. If Leftover Salmon had never played another note after leaving the stage in 2005, the legacy would have been secure; the members’ names etched in the books of history. But today, more than two decades after Salmon first took shape, the band has a new album, Aquatic Hitchhiker, due May 22 on LoS Records, a new banjo phenom named Andy Thorn, and a new lease on an old agreement. Leftover Salmon is officially back.
The 29-year-old Thorn grew up a Salmon fan in North Carolina and says the band helped him realize “this is what I want to do with my life.” Ironically, it’s his presence in the group that has given Leftover Salmon new life. “Andy’s a real young guy with a lot of great energy who plays in a way that definitely relates to Mark’s [Vann] playing and he’s a lot of fun to be around, it’s led to a real revival that just clicks on some hard to describe level” says Herman. “We’ve played with some great banjo players over the past few years, and not to say anything about them being less than great musicians, but there’s just something intangible about playing with Andy that kind of makes Drew and I look at each other and grin. This is what we’ve been missing as far as that feeling between Drew, Mark and I that used to be there.”
Produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, Aquatic Hitchhiker is Leftover Salmon’s first record in eight years and first ever of all original material. “Steve [Berlin] understood where this album needed to go and how we all needed to work together as a band to make it happen” explains Emmitt. The recording process solidified the new Salmon, cauterizing old wounds and allowing fresh ideas to grow over past scars. “The time is right for this band to come back on a lot of levels” says Emmitt. “It’s taken us a little while, but I think we’re finally there.”