courtesy of the artist
The minimalist female vocal trio Mountain Man just released its debut album, Made the Harbor.
The minimalist female vocal trio Mountain Man just released its debut album, Made the Harbor. courtesy of the artist
Molly Sarle, Amelia Meath and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig have perfected a bare, unadulterated sound composed of little more than three-part vocal harmonies. Together, they're known as Mountain Man, and while they sing mostly original compositions, their typically unaccompanied voices have a timelessly traditional feel.
Hear Mountain Man perform two of its songs in the NPR studios. (Engineered by Manoli Wetherell.)
After some simple, unadorned recordings were posted on their MySpace page, the tracks swiftly made their way around the Internet. The group's whirlwind ascent included an appearance at SXSW, a recent U.K. tour and a spot at the prestigious Glastonbury Festival — all of this, and they won't have a proper album out until Tuesday.
The three women met only last year at Bennington College in Vermont. One day, Meath says, she heard music coming from the living room of her group house; it was Sarle singing one of her own songs. Meath says she was drawn to the tune and knew what she had to do.
"I had her come up to my room, and ... I had her sing it about 13 or 14 times until I memorized it, and then I taught it to Alex," Meath says.
Each of them grew up in music-loving households, and their songwriting talents came naturally — all three women have contributed songs to Mountain Man's first album. Meath says she came from a "singing family," while Sauser-Monnig's father owned a record store. Sarle says her first utterance was the theme song to the TV game show Jeopardy.
From The Mountain To The Stage
Onstage, the three women stand in a tight semicircle — Meath, on the left, is facing Sarle. Sauser-Monnig stands in the middle, or sometimes sits on a stool to play the guitar. Their live show is as pure as their recordings — three voices either a cappella or accompanied by a single guitar.
"Honey Bee" is a quick a cappella tune akin to a hymn. Melodic counterpoint is nonexistent, and the three voices sit on top of each other in pastoral, old-time-sounding harmonies that ring with a certain twang. The absence of accompaniment makes the chanted, plying chorus sound siren-like: "Let us sing a song to thee / Oh, my sweet honey bee."
The trio quickly solidified its musical synergy, and now Mountain Man has a manager, tour dates, MP3 downloads and record contracts on four continents. These days, the women's harmonies even bleed into their everyday conversation.
"Just feeling each other's voices vibrating in our own bodies and filling the room up," Meath says, before Sarle adds, "It was a feeling of, like, total elation."