MilkDrive: Jazz-grass

MilkDrive is looking forward to the reprieve of Bellingham weather as a stark contrast to their home in Austin, TX and the scorching festival circuit that precedes the stop. Having played the Green Frog once before, lead vocalist and fiddle master Brian Beken is excited to meet the Green Frog once again now as MilkDrive. With some urging, he now understands the gravity of trying the grilled cheese sandwiches on their next stop in town.

Joining Beken in this southwest jazz-grass is guitarist Noah Jeffries hailing from Idaho, Dennis Ludiker from Spokane, WA on the mandolin, and Matt Mefford on the double bass from Texas. All have years of playing under their belts, numerous bands, competitions, and most importantly friendly jam sessions, which quickly turned MilkDrive from a side project to the real deal. Beken boasts the 2004 flatpicking champion title.

The origin of the name dates back to fiddle competitions held in northwestern Idaho, home to Jeffries where they would get together and casually jam after hours. Beken nostalgically recalls driving to his (Jeffries) house “down a long road that led to a local dairy, called ‘Milk Drive.’”

The band’s collective backgrounds in groups like South Austin Jug Band and Jason Boland and the Stragglers (while playing with one another since they were kids) puts the quality factor at large for this group. They have put previous projects aside to create their original work as MilkDrive, which has been their primary pursuit since 2009 when they released their MilkDrive Live ‘09 album, followed by their first studio album Road from Home in 2011. It was at this time their sound really gained the jazz element that is often highlighted when being described.

“A lot of our music focuses around solos and improv, which is where we go with the jazz but we do it with bluegrass instrumentation,” describes Beken when asked about their sound. MilkDrive’s most recent studio album from June 2012, Waves, was produced by Bil Vorndick, who has produced albums for Bela Fleck and Alison Krauss. The recording features guest spots from Noam Pikelny of the Punch Brothers and Futureman from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The album seems to lend itself to a folk-loving crowd, with variations on their previous albums as subtle undertones.

Having been compared to the Punch Brothers on many occasions, Beken begs to differ slightly, explaining that the Punch Brothers have a more full chamber sound, with longer orchestrated tracks, whereas MilkDrive “packs a little more rock and roll.” When asked about how this translates live he pauses, then, with confidence concludes, “It’s like seeing a rock and roll band without drums or amps.”