Each of us measures progress in a manner unique to our experience. A series of “firsts” highlight our youth -- first kiss, first car, first time going all the way, and for musicians - their first album. With time and age, however, our self-concept begins to be derived by a series of moments made miracles by the ones we love, the hunger in our hearts, and our ability to gaze into the dark abyss, and fear of the unknown, while holding onto hope that within each and everyone of us resides a spark capable of igniting light inside those we’re fortunate enough to live, love, and leave, as our journey delivers us to our life’s work.
Before knowing Mark Lavengood’s journey I was able to look inside the eyes of a man who is forged from the very commitment, consistency, and compassion that runs through my veins. He is an effervescent light who inspires joy and laughter that long lingers in his absence. Widely known and celebrated as “Hug E Bear”, Lavengood is an artist, educator, and entrepreneur hot off the release of his new album, We’ve Come Along. Featuring 10 tracks, Lavengood is backed by a band of brothers who embody the connectivity of his music and the pervading effect we have on others.
We sat down with Mark to discuss the new album, his musical journey, and more. Enjoy the conversation below.
Describe some of the harder and heavier times when music helped you get by and come a long way?
I pulled on music in a heavy way during some of my most formative years from 17-22 (late high school through college). There's just so much raw emotion, mystery and worldly innocence that I (and many American teenagers) experience through the filter of the "I" - I was listening to a bunch of Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Johnson, Bob Schneider, Ben Harper. My musical palette was evolving from radio sensible to the more obscure, independent, acoustic sound styles.
Who are some of the folk who helped instill a great respect for music in you?
Definitely my dear friends from the beginning to the end - winter/sessions. We were high school buddies who sought a deeper level of brotherhood through music and "the hang" and thanks to them, I was turned on to the acoustic and bluegrass music scene and I've never looked back, save to reflect and dose myself with some deep nostalgic sessions :)
Share with us your gratitude for being able to use music as a platform to address the inequities and struggle we face as a result of social class?
Music is one of the best ways to communicate a message and for that message to reach the people. I started this path because of the passion I have for playing music with friends, but as I've grown throughout my career, I've realized just how powerful music can be when it comes to connecting people and representing the voice of the masses. I couldn't be any more grateful to continue this work and to represent the people's voice the best I know how, especially when it's as imperative as it seems to be today.
For someone who doesn't play music, can you articulate the joy you experience playing songs that were inspired by your children?
It's a beautiful, exuberant feeling! Playing music, in general, will give you that surge of magic goodness, but to play a song inspired by your own child (or any child, really) is as special a treat for the artist as it is for the audience. It's like taking a monster sized bite out of a ripe cantaloupe on a 90 degree summer afternoon, finishing the bite in a leisurely manner, then sprinting into the lake until you fall in, head first.
Tell us something about each member of your band of brothers that we may not know...
Keith Billik - used to play in a Pink Floyd cover band. His daughter was the inspiration for the satire bluegrass song, "Big Spy Camera", not to be confused with "Big Spike Hammer."
Kyle Rhodes - was the only one from the bonanza to record on my debut album, "From Dust to Steel," back in 2010!
Spencer Cain - got ordained and was the officiant for Josh and Lindsay's wedding (Josh and Lindsay from Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys). Also - was one of the founding members of the original Flatbellys.
Jason Dennie - has a skull tattoo of Bill Monroe with his famous quote (and the title of my second full-length release), "That ain't [no part of nothin']" on his back. Also, wins the "I Play with Most Bands" award.
What did you learn most about yourself as a musician as a result of producing this album?
When we first went into the studio, I had only suspected that I was going to be a father. My girlfriend and I didn't quite know we were pregnant, but I had suspected as much (queue the nerves). The night before the first recording session, I went and saw my dad play a local gig. My emotions were in a flurry and crying my balls off was the best therapy I could muster. I was kind of freaking out, but when it came time to go into the studio, I let it all go. I packed all my anxiety into a tight night little wallet and left that sucker in the car for when I clocked out, full of uncertainty. After the day's session, we had "America," "Bound to Ride," "Three Day Blow," and "Hungry Heart" in the can. I went back to the car, took a long, deep breath and exhaled. I opened that wallet then and there and realized it was full of amazing, unknown possibilities and opportunities that were yet to be explored. So what did that teach me? Probably not to worry about the things that are out of my control and that the journey is a reward in and of itself, not the beginning, nor the end.
Listening to “We’ve Come Along” rekindles a deep sense of purpose in my life. It helps me better understand a bright and beautiful human being who has abilities far beyond my own, all of which he offers to the world each time he takes the stage, with each strum of his dobro or upright bass, and with each larger than life smile and hug he casts upon the ether to defend us all. When you find your optimism fleeting, listen to this creation; When you find your heart hungry and hurting, feed it with these songs; And when you find your stride once more, be sure to pay it forward.
Just in case you were looking for one, This is a Good Sound. Get your copy of “We’ve Come Along” today.