When Orono-based musicians Tim Berrigan, Michael Powers, Tyler Stanley and Gilbert Fulford decided two years ago to give a name to the band they’d been playing in, they came to the conclusion that they needed a bluegrassy kind of name.
“All those bluegrass bands, they all have ‘mountain’ in their names,” said songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Berrigan. “We needed something like that. But, you know, we didn’t really have a mountain to name ourselves after.”
Lacking a real mountain in Greater Bangor, they decided to make one up. The landfill on the Hampden-Hermon line would work. Thus, the Hampden Mountain Boys were born.
“People assume we’re from Hampden, but none of us are,” said Berrigan. “We’re from all over New England. And they don’t even know what we’re referring to.”
The Orono four-piece has been making music together as a band for more than two years. Before that, it was just Berrigan and Powers having late-night jam sessions on the roof of their apartment. They shared a love of songs from The Band, Johnny Cash and Sufjan Stevens, and of Americana music in general — from old country and bluegrass to contemporary bands such as Wilco and My Morning Jacket. The pair played around at open mic nights for months before really starting to write their own songs.
“It wasn’t until Tyler started playing drums with us that we began to think of ourselves as a band,” said Powers. “That was what kind of sealed the deal. It made it feel legitimate.”
Drummer Stanley and lead guitarist Fulford joined in two years ago, adding depth to a spare, acoustic, bluegrass-influenced sound. Over the past year, however, the Hampden Mountain Boys have fleshed out their style to include flashes of noisy guitar and more rock-based instrumentation — though well within the Americana spectrum of music.
“I had never really picked up an electric guitar until this summer,” said Berrigan. “It was weird at first, but we’ve really jumped into adding a noisier kind of edge to our songs. It feels really good to go in a new direction. We still have that kind of bluegrass, country foundation, but we do a lot of louder, more raucous kind of stuff now as well.”
Both Powers and Berrigan now are in graduate school, Powers for education and Berrigan for English, while Stanley has graduated from UMaine and Fulford works on a farm in Waldo County. Despite their busy schedules, the band finds time to play together regularly, including a show set for tonight at the Bear Brew in Orono.
The band also is preparing to record an album over the fall and winter in order to document the intelligent, challenging songs they’ve recently written. Listening to the demo tracks available on their Facebook page, you can hear echoes of the edgy experimental country of Wilco, crossed with the spiritual musings of indie folk songwriter Sufjan Stevens.
“I think we’re pretty invested in the lyrics as well as the music,” said Berrigan. “I’m really enjoying some of our newer songs, like ‘Dogs’ and ‘Flags’ and ‘Immaculate Heart.’ It’s totally different for us.”
The Hampden Mountain Boys are part of a current crop of UMaine bands, a strong grouping that includes fellow alt-country group Frank and the Red Hots, with whom the band will play at tonight’s Bear Brew show. Jam-funk group Restless Groove regularly shares bills with the Boys, despite their differences in sound.
“I think one of the coolest things about being in a little musical community like Orono is that everybody plays with each other, regardless of the kind of music you normally do,” said Berrigan. “People who wouldn’t listen to our kind of music do, because we play with Restless Groove and vice versa.”
The band’s subtle reference to the Pine Tree Landfill in their name isn’t an explicitly environmental reference — though with time, the meaning has deepened.
“That definitely wasn’t our intent at first, but as we’ve written new songs and lyrics, it gains another meaning for us,” said Berrigan. “I like the fact that it can mean more than one thing.”
The Hampden Mountain Boys will perform with Frank and the Red Hots, starting at 10 p.m. Sept. 17, at the Bear Brew Pub in Orono. The show is 21-plus; for information, look up the Hampden Mountain Boys on Facebook.