Bearfoot’s current lineup: Angela Oudean, Jake Stargel, Jason Norris, Sam Grisman, Odessa Jorgensen (clockwise from left)
Bearfoot was founded ten years ago in Alaska by a group of camp counselors. While only Angela Oudean and Jason Norris remain from the original lineup, the band has since taken on a new life. “We started the band when we were ages fourteen to sixteen,” says Angela, “So you can expect some changes.”
Most recently, the band has relocated to Nashville and signed on new members Sam Grisman (son of David) on the bass and Jake Stargel, originally from Georgia, on the guitar.
One and half years ago, California native Odessa Jorgensen replaced Annalisa Tornfelt on fiddle and vocals. Jorgensen brings a more indie and pop sensibility to the band, and cites contemporary influences like Phoenix and Grizzly Bear.
At MerleFest, a few months ago, we caught up with Bearfoot and recorded four songs in Room 317 at Wilkesboro Community College.
These songs were recorded by Kyle Byrd at MerleFest for American Songwriter.
With all changes to Bearfoot’s lineup, it’s great that the band kept going.
Angela Oudean: It is really great that it kept going. I think each time that it changed, you have to figure out if you want to keep it going, because it is different. But I think the band is really doing well and that with the new members it’s going to be doing even better. And I think that we’re getting better.
With new members, does the mission of the band change?
Odessa Jorgensen: It’s definitely going to change some.
Angela: I think the mission is pretty much the same, though. The mission that we have is just, tour a lot, play for a lot of people, have fun, make good music. So that didn’t change.
Originally the band was called Bearfoot Bluegrass. Are you still a bluegrass band?
Angela: First of all, we’ve never had a banjo, but when we started, we loved bluegrass music. We all still love bluegrass music. We played more traditional bluegrass back then, but even in the very beginning, we were doing David Grisman tunes, totally mixing it up, doing lots of folksy originals, and we just kind of came to the realization that we’re more of a roots band.
Odessa: It’s sort of a melting pot.
Angela: Bluegrass is a very specific genre to be putting in your band name, and I felt like it just kind of cornered us a little bit.
Bearfoot is based in Nashville now. What do you think about the Nashville roots and bluegrass scenes?
Odessa: It’s not just bluegrass, there’s just so many kinds of musicians there. That’s what I like about it, it’s just a very broad spectrum.
Angela: People think of Nashville as pop country music, but it’s totally not. It’s all kinds of cool music.
How do you pick songs to do in Bearfoot?
Odessa: We kind of just draw from all sources. Do you guys know Megan McCormick? She wrote the song “Oh My Love.” We looked around a lot for material, but I do a lot of writing. I wrote several of the ones on our new album.
What about “Good In The Kitchen”?
Odessa: That was [written by] the whole band, in the kitchen.
Angela: Annalisa came up with the main part, and if you listen to the melody, she totally based it on this tune that The [Infamous] Stringdusters do—their little “Biscuits and Gravy” song, which is so cute. She kind of thought of it as a call back to that song or something, and we just developed from there.
What about “Single Girl”?
Odessa: It’s been recorded quite a bit. I think Annalisa originally sang it, she wanted to do it. I’m not sure who she heard it from, but I’ve heard the Carter Family, of course, do it, and then Larry Sparks does a really cool version, and lots of other people.
Do you ever see the band going in a more pop direction?
Odessa: I definitely pull it in that direction.
Angela: I think it kind of fits into an Americana thing, you’ve got all kinds of stuff in Americana. We could at some point plug everything in and get a drum set, and not do anything that sounds very traditional. We already have tunes that kind of fit into that realm.
Is that something you would be interested in?
Angela: I don’t know, possibly. Everybody’s coming from a different direction, which is what makes a band a band, I guess.
With so many personnel changes, what stays constant for Bearfoot?
Odessa: It always changes, because I came in and I do some of the tunes Annalisa did, but kind of left behind a lot of them because they were hers. Now, the band does those, and I’m sure we’ll write new things. It’s just always morphing.
Angela: I think it’s always good to do a few [songs] that you really love from your past, from each generation of your past, and then always keep doing new stuff.
See Bearfoot’s summer tour schedule at www.myspace.com/bearfootband