It has happened far too many times as a writer and reviewer: I become a big fan of a band, finally get to correspond with them for work, and then am disappointed to realize they are only putting on an act. Many are unrelatable, and playing music simply for the cool factor. Contrarily, Mountain Babies are a trance-inducing quartet, and the feelings audiences get from their music is stemmed in a genuine passion from its members. Not to say they don’t ALSO have the cool factor--beards, long hair, and wide-brimmed hats galore.
Dave Peters, who lends guitar, banjo, and vocals to the group, started Mountain Babies as an acoustic solo project in 2009, playing harmonica to accompany his guitar, and perhaps taping a shaker to his foot.
"I started writing and playing music because of the way it made me feel,"he says.
Heavier genres were popular in his teenage years, around 2005, but he slowly started to make his way from metal-driven music into softer tones.
"Once playing shows in that genre started feeling like a competition of who was the better guitar player or better band, I started losing inspiration, and the music started to feel stale and fake. I backed off and picked up my acoustic guitar and started playing what felt more natural to me,"he explains.
Initially, Dave played under the Mountain Babies bill at his mom’s Port Austin tavern and at Port Huron’s The Raven or The Roche Bar.
Throughout the years, Mountain Babies has featured musicians, and partnerships have developed as different projects. Peters, though, has remained constant with Mountain Babies, still playing solo acoustic shows occasionally today, which begs the question: why bring three band members in? It seems it would be simpler to keep the creativity as a one-man band.
Peters says there was a time where he thought he might never be in a band again. Band members Brandon Leyva (percussion/vocals), Stefan Nisbett (guitar/keys/vocals), and Ethan Williamson (bass guitar), though, make working together an enjoyable task. They teamed up just over two years ago, when Leyva and Peters opened at a show together and decided to look for more talent. The band taught themselves three hours of original Mountain Babies material in a matter of months, and now they’re playing, recording, and even writing together.
"With the guys I am with right now, it’s even easier (than being alone). They are all so skilled with their craft, and there is so much trust with everyone that it makes jamming and writing feel just as natural as doing it by myself, but with much more flavor,"Peters says.
This makes performing live sound closer to Mountain Babies’ recordings. On his own, layering all of Peters’ work sounded like a full band, but sets were simpler.
The guys are all from the Port Huron area (Yale/Lexington). They played their first official gig together at Art on the River in 2015. Together, they have played plenty of local shows and opened for Christopher Owens and Christopher Paul Stelling. Although it can be tough to get promoters to give out-of-towners a chance, they have played shows in the Detroit area, and with the recent acquisition of The Great White Toad, the band’s 15 passenger van, touring is on their minds. Peters says the Midwest and Canada are on the future agenda, and maybe a tour of the South and West coasts.
Mountain Babies’ discography goes back to 2011. Their newest release, ‘Existence of Resistance,’ was recorded, mixed, and mastered at the SchwonkSoundStead. Two of its four songs are instrumental, but make sure to catch vocals in the others; they are chilling and comforting at the same time. The band labels itself ambient folk, psych-country, and americana, and lists Neil Young as an influence. I would throw in indie and post rock categorizations with similarities to toned down Grizzly Bear or Lord Huron, but comparisons don’t help much when a band’s sound is so rare and one-of-a-kind.
Catch these local favorites out Oct. 21 at Oktoberfest outside of McMorran Place, Oct. 28 at the Schwonk for cover songs, or Nov. 25 at Lynch’s Irish Tavern.