Jeff Austin doesn’t care if fans place his unfinished songs on YouTube. Myriad recording artists refuse to preview material live, fearing that it will land on the internet.
“But I don’t worry about that,” Austin said by phone from his Chicago home. “I’m halfway finished with my next album, which will be out next year. Our band is just itching to play these songs. When we get to Iowa City, we’ll definitely play the new songs. We’ll do two sets and fans will hear a lot of new stuff.”
Fans of the bluegrass mandolin playing vocalist also will experience songs from his two solo albums, 2004’s “Songs from the Tin Shed” and 2015’s “The Simple Truth.” He also will weave in some songs from his former group, the Yonder Mountain String Band, when he performs Friday (11/16) at Gabe’s.
“It’s going to be a long show,” Austin said. “You’ll hear a lot of songs but like most people, I’m most excited about the new songs. I think it’s a good idea to play the new material so the fans can be familiar with the songs when the album comes out. I think it’s better to hear something before the release. It might help me spur something with the shrinking record-buying audience.”
The upside to playing songs live is bouncing the tunes off the audience, to see what works and what feels right before entering the studio. “I totally believe that,” Austin said. “You get to know more about the song when you play it live.”
It’s been four years since he left Yonder Mountain String Band because of creative differences and two years since his band has been together.
“We’re in a good place since we feel like we’re just starting out,” he said. “We’re just trying to make enough noise for people to hear us. We hope to be noticed with this new batch of songs.”
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Austin’s environment has helped shape the songs. While with the Yonder Mountain String Band, he lived in a remote part of the Rockies, about 45 minutes west of Boulder. Winter sounded like a scene from the Stanley Kubrick classic “The Shining.”
“It was kind of like ‘The Shining,’” Austin said. “We were often trapped at home buried in three feet of snow. It was great for creativity. That whole period with the Yonder Mountain String Band was magical. I was able to create and tour with my friends for 16 years, but now it’s over and I’m in a different space.”
Austin returned two years ago to the Chicago area, where he was born and raised. It was primarily a parenting move.
“I didn’t want my kids to be living in a remote setting with coyotes and bears,” he said. “I wanted them to live in a place with access to parks and museums. I can’t tell you how much we enjoy doing simple things, like ordering a pizza. It’s helped me being here as a songwriter. I’m in a comfort zone in Chicago. I love it here and it’s great for my family.”
Even though he is preparing to depart for his tour, he’s writing regularly. He’s inspired by some of his favorite musicians.
“Right now I can’t get enough of LCD Soundsystem and David Bowie,” Austin said. “It’s not bluegrass, but that’s fine. What you listen to doesn’t have to be what you play. I’m not sure how many times I’ve listened to Bowie’s ‘Hunky Dory.’ I’ve been listening to that album when I’ve been asleep on flights.”
Austin is ready to spend more time at the airport.
“I’m fine with it,” he said. “It’s not pleasant, but what is great is playing my music before an enthusiastic group of people every night.”
The laid-back songsmith’s animated fans dance throughout his sets, which is comprised of progressive bluegrass and a number of jams.
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“It’s all about having fun when you play live,” he said. “It’s my favorite thing to do.”
WHAT: Jeff Austin with guest Humdinger
WHERE: Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 9 p.m. Friday (11/16); doors open 8 p.m.
TICKETS: $18 advance, $20 show day; Icgabes.com/event/1747862-jeff-austin-iowa-city/
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Jeffaustin.com