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Mountain Man: Three Women, In Perfect Harmony

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Mountain Man: Three Women, In Perfect Harmony

Mountain Man: Three Women, In Perfect Harmony

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This summer's hottest new music may be coming from three women who perform with no backup band, no beat and no computer effects. They call themselves Mountain Man. And they're just back from a tour of the U.K., including a stop at the prestigious Glastonbury Festival. Mountain Man is about to begin another tour in this country and their first CD is coming out later this month.

Reporter Lars Hoel spent a day with the members of Mountain Man and discovered their name is not the only thing that's unconventional.

LARS HOEL: Three women stand onstage in a tight semi-circle. Amelia Meath on the left is facing Molly Sarle. Alexandra Sauser-Monnig stands in the middle or sometimes sits on a stool to play the guitar.

When most bands go through a sound check before a show, they take their time. But Mountain Man isn't most bands. Here at the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan, they breeze through in just about 10 minutes.

(Soundbite of song, "Honey Bee")

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singers): (Singing) (Unintelligible) I sing a song to thee. Oh, my sweet, honey bee. (Unintelligible) I sing a song to thee. Oh, my sweet, honey bee.

Unidentified Man: That sounds great.

HOEL: They met a little over a year ago at Bennington College in Vermont. Molly had taken a semester off but returned to visit some friends. One day, Amelia heard music coming from the living room of her group house. It was Molly singing one of her own songs. Amelia says at that moment she knew exactly what to do.

Ms. AMELIA MEATH (Member, Mountain Man): Yeah, I had her come up to my room, and then I had her sing it about 13 or 14 times until I memorized it. And then I taught it to Alex. And so then Alex and I knew it and when Molly came back to school, we all like...

Ms. ALEXANDRA SAUSER-MONNIG (Member, Mountain Man): We just voomed.

Ms. MEATH: Yeah, we voomed.

HOEL: Mountain Man has voomed, from a few songs posted on MySpace, their reputation spread to Indie music blogs such as "Chocolate Bobka." Shows at small venues arranged by musicians friends led to an appearance at last year's South by Southwest Music Festival. Now they've got a manager and tour dates, MP3 downloads and record contracts on four continents.

Despite all that's happened, Alex, Molly and Amelia still remember what it felt like that first time they sang together.

Ms. MEATH: Just feeling each others voices vibrating...

Ms. MOLLY SARLE (Member, Mountain Man): Yeah.

Ms. MEATH: our own bodies and filling the room up. And it was a feeling of like total elation.

Ms. SARLE: Yeah.

Ms. MEATH: And I remember I was...

Ms. SARLE: And surprise.

Ms. SAUSER-MONNIG: Yeah, really high.

Ms. MEATH: Total shock.

Ms. SARLE: Yeah.

Ms. MEATH: Yeah.


(Soundbite of a song)

MOUNTAIN MAN: (Singing) All of them. All of them have seen inside my mouth, have grown and flown south. Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah...

HOEL: All the songs except for one on the new album are Mountain Man originals. The sound is so pure, the harmonies so focused and austere that it's tempting to wonder if they all have perfect pitch. Molly says they don't and she adds that sense of pitch is really beside the point.

Ms. SARLE: I think our voices also really compliment each other, like the way the vibrations move together creates a sound that feels full.

Ms. MEATH: Yeah, weird. It's not a really a question of pitch because we write all the music by singing together. We never really write it down.

(Soundbite of song, "Animal Tracks")

MOUNTAIN MAN: (Singing) And the sweat will roll down our backs. And we'll follow animal tracks to a tree in the woods and a hole in the leaves, we'll see the bright baby eyes of a chickadee.

HOEL: Mountain Man sings about love and loss and sexual frustration and what it feels like to be a mother. It's only logical that an all-woman group should sing about women's lives. What isn't logical for some is their name.

During their U.K. tour, Mountain Man stopped by the studios of BBC 6, where host Marc Riley proposed his own theory.

Mr. MARC RILEY (Host, "Music Session," BBC 6): And you do have guitar on some of your tunes. But at one point in time, was there an actual Mountain Man who just couldn't sing properly and got kicked out?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RILEY: Is only ever been the three of you?

Ms. SARLE: Never, nope.


Ms. MEATH: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RILEY: Okay, so how...

HOEL: In the NPR studio, Alex has a different answer to this question.

Ms. SAUSER-MONNIG: Gender and the relationships between men and women and how we treat one another are things that we sing about a lot, and think about and talk about a lot amongst ourselves. And I feel like the name Mountain Man is this mysterious entity that's like the male counterpart to us, and it brings gender to the forefront of what we're doing - I hope.

(Soundbite of conversations)

HOEL: Equal numbers of men and women are waiting in line to hear Mountain Man at the Mercury Lounge. Even though the show is at the very unhip hour of 7:00 P.M., the room is packed. Everyone stands. And, as usual for a Mountain Man show, everyone is quiet.

(Soundbite of song, "Honey Bee)

MOUNTAIN MAN: (Singing) Oh, my sweet, honey bee. You are the one we've been waiting for. You are the dark. You are the void. So sit, my dear. And please prepare, sitting in golden air...

HOEL: Mountain Man's album, "Made the Harbor," is available on CD and vinyl July 20th.

For NPR News, I'm Lars Hoel.

MOUNTAIN MAN: (Singing) Oh, my sweet, honey bee...

HANSEN: You can hear Mountain Man perform two of its songs on our website,

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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