By ALEX KOMSTHOEFT/Montana State News
“Damn, that is good,” Shawn Swain says as he sips on his Bridger Brewery IPA.
Handcrafted, local beer is just one of the many fine things these Kitchen Dwellers appreciate about their hometown of Bozeman. From Montana, Alaska, Colorado, Wisconsin and Illinois, these five boys have unmistakably crossed paths to collaborate what they define as “no ordinary string band.”
All past and present students of Montana State University, these once individual musicians have found their collective sound as a foot-stomping, crowd-pleasing, heart pumping bluegrass band.
Joe Funk and Kyle Shelstad met their freshman year in 2009 when the magic started. “I met Kyle in September of 2010 and the three of us started playing together,” said Swain. “A week later I met Torrin in class.”
Shelstad left the country for a semester and Tyler Schultz stood in as a substitute guitar player for the Kitchen Dwellers. Upon Shelstad’s return, the band had one too many guitarists and were short one fiddle player. The obvious, rational solution Schultz came to was to “just show up with my fiddle that I had never played before. Never.”
“We never actually asked him to play the fiddle,” said Torrin Daniels. “But I don’t think we ever told him he couldn’t either.” Alas, the Kitchen Dwellers were whole.
“We are all from different backgrounds, different states, different mothers, but we all like to have a good time and pick bluegrass,” said Shelstad.
When the Kitchen Dwellers started jamming together, “the kitchen was the only space to play in my house,” said Swain. Years later, the kitchen is still these boys choice of rehearsal space. “Kitchens usually bring people together.”
Kitchen Dwellers fans that originally started listening to their music in Bozeman homes now bring the kitchen to them at live shows. “People actually bring pots and pans to our shows,” said Schultz. “It’s great.”
Whether it’s picking old fiddle tunes in a friend’s kitchen or playing original material on a big stage at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, this group of dwellers “are a fun-loving rowdy bunch who bring in a raging crowd for an energetic time,” said long-term friend and fan Kylee Firlit.
With their name growing in recognition across Montana and Colorado, the Kitchen Dwellers are seizing new opportunities to expand their sound. “There is really no middle ground,” said Swain. “You either stay small or you grow and expand.”
The Kitchen Dwellers have taken full advantage of the opportunities presented to them in the short time they’ve been together. Aside from their weekly, local shows, the band has gotten to play in multiple festivals with some of their idols. Last summer the Dwellers shared the stage with various bluegrass legends at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival where they will play again this June. “Telluride was definitely a high,” said Daniels. “Playing the same venue Phish played their “Colorado ‘88” album on … stuff like that is exciting.”
In February the boys played some of their favorite shows to date at the Big Sky Bluegrass Festival here in their home state of Montana alongside some of their favorite musicians. “We ended up in a pickin’ circle with some of our legends…Billy Nershi of The String Cheese Incident, Drew Emmitt and Andy Thorn from Leftover Salmon,” stated Daniels. “Those are important time to prove to life that you’re awesome,” followed Schultz.
“I never thought anything would actually come of this,” Schultz continued. “We were just living in the moment,” but this summer the Kitchen Dwellers will record their first album of current material. “It gives us a chance to develop our original sound.”
“We are trying not to be held to one genre necessarily,” said Swain. “We hope to break free from genres….We want people who don’t understand bluegrass to find us easy to listen to,” continued Schultz.
“It’s really easy to define yourself as a bluegrass band and fall into the traditional tunes,” Daniels expressed.
“It’s like the tradition of oral storytelling…the borrowing of fiddle toons” followed Swain. “These songs are handed down from person to person and overtime people remember. It just blows my mind those songs still survive.”
“But ever since we have been together we have been writing original material,” said Daniels.
“A lot of our songs can just come out of practicing in general. Someone will play something that sounds good and we can just go off of it. Timeless artists create,” said Schultz. “That’s what I like about our band so much. We do show off-style tradition of bluegrass, but I think we rope people in with our song variety and energy on stage.”
Shelstad contributes to a majority of the songwriting among the Kitchen Dwellers material. “Kyle is the intellectual one of the group,” said Daniels. “He’s more poetically minded.”
“I’m inspired by everything around me. Family, friends, art, history, dairy products, the weather, sleep, where the sidewalk may or may not end, pork chops and applesauce, Crazy Mountains, crazy women, long drives and other music,” stated Shelstad. “I listen to all sorts of music, from Medeski, Martin and Wood to Tyler the Creator. I try to use all these different genres to influence a bluegrass song and then I’ll bring it to the boys and see what they think. If it works for us as a band I feel like the songs really begin to take shape. Everyone adds their piece to the mix to create a final product.”
All the Kitchen Dweller members agreed that their fan base remains their key source of inspiration and are integral towards their growing success here in Southwest Montana. “It’s so cool to have kids that will come with us on 1,000 mile road trips,” said Swain.
“It really motivates us to build our repertoire and change things up,” said Daniels.
“Amidst their musical success, they’ll never turn down the chance to have a fun time with any fan, making them a very down to earth group of guys,” said Firlit.
“At the end of the day we’re just a group of guys that loves music and just playing all night in the kitchen,” said Schultz. “We never expected people to really like our stuff.”
Among all the Kitchen Dwellers recent and upcoming accomplishments, they have remained true to themselves as musicians and individuals. “We will never ever no matter where we end up say that Montana is not our home,” vowed Sawin. “Bozeman is where we will always be from.”
– Edited by Kaylee Walden