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20 Questions: 30db

Photo: Charles Izenstark

30db v. 20Q. The winner? Why you, the reader (of course)! With his new exciting collaboration with Umphrey McGee's Brendan Bayliss, Yonder Mountain String Band's Jeff Austin reveals to PopMatters the name he's given his mandolin, a love for all things Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and why he's a self-described "orchid freak" ...

Supergroups are a rare thing -- and jam band supergroups are even more elusive.

To a degree, it's easy to see why: with frequent accusations of being far too indulgent at times, the idea of having multiple improv-based jam guitarists get together just to "see what happens" may not sit well with even the most hardcore of Bonnaroo devotees.

Yet 30db is no ordinary supergroup. Composed as a partnership between Yonder Mountain String Band's Jeff Austin and Umphrey McGee's own Brendan Bayliss (along with some help from North Mississippi All-Stars' Cody Dickinson), 30db is a remarkably cohesive, laid-back affair, with acoustic guitars dominating the proceedings. Although tracks like the beautifully meandering "Instrumental in D" wouldn't sound too out of place in either Austin's or Bayliss' discography, it never feels like the partners are resting on their laurels or pushing themselves to extreme ends: they're creating music out of genuine collaboration, and the breezy vibe of One Man Band -- 30db's debut album -- has a welcome charisma all its own.

Jeff Austin took time out of his busy schedule to answer PopMatters' famed 20 Questions about himself and his project, expressing a strong love for all things Aqua Teen Hunger Force, tells us of his song-writing mandolin, and why he's a self-described "orchid freak" ...


1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Avatar because besides the kick ass effects, that movie was just fucking awful. I cried after I realized it was three plus hours I was never getting back.

2. The fictional character most like you?

I'd consider myself part Master Shake (from Aqua Teen Hunger Force), part Schintzel (from Chowder), and part Santa Claus. That's right kids: Santa is fictional.

3. The greatest album, ever?

This is the hardest question to answer. Today I'll say The White Album by The Beatles. I got it when I was about 10, and it changed the way I looked at everything musical -- it made everything come into focus for me.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Not even a close one for me: Star Wars.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Chicken noodle soup. I could, and mostly do, eat it about every day.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

What accomplishment? The 30db record? Fuck yes, I'm proud! Brendan and I have been working on the material for years and it's finally here. Taking the time to get it right was the most important aspect of the thing coming to life.

7. You want to be remembered for . .?

Taking musical chances and keeping to my vision of what I want the music I make to be: honest, raw, and balls to the wall fearless!

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Musically: Sam Bush is number one. Todd Snider, Del McCoury, Darol Anger, Danny Barnes. Personally: my mom -- the strongest, most amazing person anyone could ever meet. Her guidance and wisdom have kept me going through an awful lot ...

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Georges Seurat's painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" -- my favorite painting of all time.

10. Your hidden talents . . .?

I'm an orchid freak. Getting one to re-bloom or spending the day transplanting an orchid is a quality day to me.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Years ago, I was thinking about changing everything -- my playing style, my singing approach -- everything. I was telling this to a friend of mine, and he said, "Why in God's name would you do that? No one else does what you do, so, why would you change that?" That advice has really stuck with me: just continue being fearless and true to yourself and it's amazing what can happen.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My 1984 Nugget Mandolin. Her name is Heartattack and she is my muse. That mandolin has songs already written when I wake up in the morning ...

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?

Gotta say, I do love quality denim...

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Matt Mallerio. Great creative mind; I'd ask him just where the hell did Aqua Teen Hunger Force come from. Or Anthony Bourdain -- we'd just talk food and get hammered.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I'm pretty happy living in the present. OK, maybe I'd go back five minutes ago and have that killer cup of coffee again. But, I'm pretty damn happy in real time right now

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Being at home with my girlfriend, dog, two cats and a killer meal on the stove -- better than any pill you can buy in a concert parking lot.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?

Cartoons, music, and a lot of quality silence ...

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Right here, right now: at my writing desk at my house in Pinecliffe, Colorado.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Mr. President, please don't fuck things up. Love, J. Austin.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

A lot of new material for 30db -- I mean, a shitload of stuff. My brain has so many satisfying ideas rolling right now, it's a pretty beautiful space to be in.

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