Making it on music
Hard work is paying off for local musician
It’s easy to recognize that Brian Stumpf hit local celebrity status ages ago. He handed out more high-fives in a 10-minute timeframe before his recent après ski gig at Scissorbills Saloon than most people get to in a year. He’s nonchalant when called out on it.
“I’ve been in Big Sky for a while,” he shrugs. “You know how it is – a small town – you get to know people.”
While it’s true Stumpf has lived in Big Sky for 13 years, he is also decidedly in the minority of musicians the world-over: he’s making it on music alone. What landed him in Big Sky in the first place was an internship at the Yellowstone Club to make use of his recreation and tourism degree from Penn State.
“I tried to have a real job, but more and more opportunities to play music keep popping up. Just in the last couple of years it’s really been fulltime,” he said. “I’d rather play guitar.”
Stumpf can be spotted at a gig either solo or with company nearly any night of the week.
“I like to call him the James Brown of Big Sky because he’s the hardest working man in showbiz in Big Sky,” said Ted McClanahan, who went to see him play at Scissorbills.
Stumpf has also had his hand in almost every kind of band this town has seen, even a few bluegrass bands, which is his most hated genre. He shrugs again. “People love bluegrass in Big Sky,” he said. “They eat that up!”
So, he’s pragmatic: Music is a love but it’s also a business.
Stumpf was first introduced to music and to the intricacies of jazz theory and the culture of jazz through a unique musical vocational-technical program at the Stafford Technical Center during high school in Rutland, Vermont – one of the only programs of its kind in the nation. Jazz, with its playfulness, creativity and intelligence remains his greatest love.
“I’ve always loved good music,” he said. “I remember when the Backstreet Boys came out and I hated it.”
Stumpf has always maintained an appreciation and affection for the grungy 90s genre – the angst-ridden, ripped jeans, dirty garage and dirtier guitar riffs kind of music.
He happens to have some longtime local friends who share that appreciation and through serendipity, synchronicity, synergy – whatever people want to call it – they found a way to make music together.
The Well was born a year ago – and then renamed Dammit Lauren and The Well thanks to a standing band joke of saying, “Dammit Lauren,” at practice, and because there were already bands in existence called The Well.
Their musical backgrounds are varied: lead vocalist Lauren Jackson used to be lead singer in a country band called Bottom of the Barrel; Shane Stalling, the drummer, is into punk, metal and some abstract music; mandolin player Benny Macht loves his bluegrass; and of course, Stumpf counterbalances with Jazz.
“We all have very different backgrounds musically. Something that we get as a compliment quite a bit is that we have our own sound,” said Stumpf. “You don’t want to sound like everyone else.”
The band has managed in their short time together to create a CD with 10 original tracks they wrote together.
“It’s a really fun, easy process somehow. It’s very collaborative. We all add our twists to whatever someone brings to the table,” Stumpf said acknowledging that writing music has never been this easy with other people.
Dammit Lauren and The Well are fortunate that they have a solid foundation of friendship from which to leap.
“Shane is one of my best friends. Bennie and I have been working together for almost a decade now. It’s become almost effortless with him. And Lauren she and I and her husband as well have all been friends for a long time but never really worked together like this,” Stumpf described. “I think she is so talented. I respect anything she brings to the table – which is so much. We all get along really well. It’s so fun, so easy and just kind of a natural fit.”
Choppers Grub & Pub booked the band after the Christmas Stroll. Owner Nancy Johnson couldn’t attend, but her husband Monte was there. “I heard it was a blast and everyone had a great night,” said Nancy.
Stumpf describes their sound as original alternative/psychedelic rock drawing inspiration from bands like Phish, The Grateful Dead, Ween, Heartless Bastards, The Black Keys and Cracker.
“We like to jam a little bit, get weird and do some different stuff. Even though Benny plays this acoustic instrument he has this pedal board which is always growing,” he said. “He has like 12 pedals on there now. We let him do this stuff and we call it “mambiant,” that ambient mandolin sound which is sweeping the nation.”
The band can be found at a New Year’s Eve gig at Big Sky Resort’s Montana Jack; and again at Montana Jack on January 25, opening for the Jamie MacLean Band – a nationally touring rock trio.
They are planning their CD release party in March and will have a couple of shows at the Broken Spoke with The Dead Yellers and the Kelly Nicholson Band. “We love those guys. We’re psyched that we can play music with them,” Stumpf said.
They’re even taking the band on the road at the end of March to Helena, Sun Valley and Grand Targhee. “As much fun as we have, we make this a priority,” said Stumpf. “We’re very invested and very motivated.”