Interview with Kellen Asebroek of Fruition

Karin McLaughlin
By Karin McLaughlin / November 12, 2018
Kellen Asebroek of Fruition

​We got to sit down with Fruition's very entertaining keyboard player, Kellen Asebroek between them playing at Festy Experience and Union Stage for some Q&A.  We covered a wide variety of things while trying to remain on topic, and at most times, failed miserably, however got to learn a lot about busking, festivals and space concerts from the man who always manages to wear an entertaining shirt.  It was truly a pleasure!

Karin McLaughlin: Alright, down to business.... so, you guys are on a whole​ whirlwind tour ​​nowadays, playing​ with The Lil Smokies​ who I interviewed earlier - delightful gentlemen, boys.  During our interview, I asked about tour life and the three of yous bands (Greensky too), your camaraderie, your roadshow, and your late nights.  I said it's got to be bananas and the Reverend said lions and tigers and ​bears and bananas (laughs). So I'm sure that those are road secrets, but how much fun is it getting to play with and tour with ​people that you really vibe with and can have a good time with? And you guys are just genuinely friends. 

Kellen Asebroek: I feel so lucky that ​that happened like that. ​I mean, all these guys ​we basically met randomly, you know, ​ just through chance and crossing paths a​t other festivals and then we ended up with them.  I mean Lil Smokies​, we met them just going to after parties in Missoula and ​some kind of combination of faith and luck that we ​connected with them so much.   We're all just in the same circuit and get to see each other all the time, I mean I see Greensky more than I see my ​parents.

KM:  Lucky you, not a bad thing.

KA: No, it's not, no. ​ We all get along, maybe too great sometimes, left to our own devices, it definitely becomes….

KM: Trouble?

KA: Well...who can party the hardest (laughs)

KM: Yeah, I'm sure. You guys have been on tour pretty much all summer doing fun stuff.  Started​ the summer at Delfest.

KA:  Yep, happy place.​

​*I was, at the time, wearing a ‘Delfest is my happy place’ t-shirt*

KM: Yes, I love it there!  So, what has been a highlight of 2018 now that summer 2018 is technically over - what was your favorite?

KA: Whoa, You’re asking me for a retrospect right now?

KM: Yes, retrospect.

KA: We were just talking about this earlier actually.  This spring, we did a tour opening for Jack Johnson for five or six nights in the south and that was, not just a highlight of the year, but just like a highlight of my life. ​ Growing up being a fan of his and then getting to be on a tour that is just so professional, it's such a well oiled machine with the nicest folks ever and Jack was super inspiring as far as just the way he treats people and the energy and ​the fact that he gives back, what is it, all the merch sales? (asking Jeff Leonard)

Jeff Leonard: 100% of merch.

KA: Yeah he gives back 100% of merch sales to charities.

KM: Any specific ones?

JL: Mostly environmental and he’ll actually specifically seek out local organizations wherever he’s playing.  He’ll call to the radio station wherever he's playing and say that he’ll match up to $10,000 of donations to whatever organization.

KM: A true hippie.

JL: It’s inspiring.

KA: Yeah and if I recall correctly he also doesn't really pay himself out for tours.  He pays his crew and then just uses the rest to donate to his charities in Hawaii.

JL: Yeah, he's done whole tours where he donates 100% of the profits.

KA: Yeah and it's stuff like that has inspired us - ​you know, Jeff kind of helped spearhead that we should give back even whatever you make.

JL: Yeah, start now, you don’t have to wait til you’re rich.

KA:  Even if we're just making like a couple hundred bucks for a charity we're also ​ putting them on blast, just to get a name out there.

KM: Yeah - not to be like religious but it's like the Bible story where one guy gives a whole bunch of money and the other guy gives significantly less but it's all he has and the moral is that the guy that gave less really gave more because it was all he had.

KA: Yeah exactly.

KM: So another thing that I actually just learned about and I read an article about recently is busking.   Did you guys start out as buskers?

KA: We did a lot of busking.  We've all been in other bands growing up, in high school and whatever, different kinds of stuff but when we met in Portland​ and kind of started the band, we started it because of busking.  Me and Mimi and Jay went busking and sang together and fell into three part harmonies really easily.

KM: Such a funny name, busking.

KA: I know. I'm not actually sure what the etymology of that is.

KM: We can make up what it stands for.

KA: Oh, busy underground, or under paid sidewalk singing sidewalk dudes

KM: Kickers.

KA: Oh, yeah, there's gotta be a K in there - busy urban sidewalk kick ass (laughs)

KM: (laughing) The jig is up!  This just in - we solved the problem of what is busking.

KA: That's now the Wikipedia definition.

KM: Oh yeah, that's true - we could do that - we could totally do that, update Wikipedia!   Now you guys, I mean, I saw you guys at Delfest years and years ago and your sound has really grown and changed over the years. I feel like it's very hard to pigeonhole you guys as one genre or sound and even Mimi, when I saw you play at Gypsy Sally's in the past few months, ​I heard her singing and there were essences of Susan Tedeschi - ​it was crazy!

KA: Yeah, I hear that too, totally.

KM: So how do you guys make that work and continue to evolve so much musically?

KA: It's just, evolution man, it's​ organic. We hardly notice it because we're together all the time and we’re playing all the time, so the music just naturally grows as we grow and changes subtly as we change as humans.  With each album that we make it's just a little bit different than the last.  The difference between albums isn't that stark, but if you went from our most recent album to our first album, you’d think it was a different band.  The natural progression, I feel like it's just that, it’s just nature.  And yeah, I think that we do kind of play a lot of different sounds, but it still sounds like us.

KM: Right, like just now you played some bluesy tunes and then into a little funk and then...

KA: A raging grass type song (laughs) but yeah, I think that the harmonies help tie it all together and just the general approach for the songwriting, we just know what works.

KM: I'm actually really glad that you brought up the songwriting because you guys all write, right?

KA: Yeah, the three of us in front do – me, Mimi and Jay write.

KM: So how do you decide whose songs make the cut?  I know I read that on this last record, there were a lot of songs that didn't make the album.

KA: Yeah, totally, every album.  I mean, Jay alone, you know, could put out 10 albums a year with as many songs as he writes. Just we all write songs and I think it's pretty similar to how other people might do it - the songwriter will write the bare bones of the song on guitar, piano or something, and then bring that kind of bare bones version to the band and the band will add some flesh to the bones.

KM: Like telephone when they add to it and keep adding to it. (laughs)

K: Yeah, totally, it keeps going down the line.  Sometimes I'll write a song and I can hear what I want everyone to do in my head and but I’ll have to bring it to everyone and be like, “Here so that a very basic version of the song, let's make it a ​ nice piece".   It's pretty fun.

KM: So are you guys ​gonna do like a deep cuts album where you put out all the songs that you haven’t put out on the albums?

KA: That's a pretty good idea. I think if we're if we're going to do anything with stuff that we haven't released, it would either be ​re-record it or be B sides that we would put out for free just to get people cool stuff, keep people interested. It sucks when you​ vote on songs on an album and then stuff goes on the cutting room floor and some of that stuff just gets lost in a hard drive somewhere like demos and studio shit.

Kellen Asebroek of Fruition
Kellen Asebroek of Fruition

KM: Now you guys are on Lo-Hi (record label) you’ve got a lot of real good label mates.

KA: Yeah, well, you know, the last couple things we've done we put them out with the help of record labels, but they've mostly been one or two record deals, so it’s not like we're like on the roster forever.  That game has changed so much.  We got into the music industry at the weirdest and some might say the worst time to be trying to or be on a label really ​ making a shit ton of money. It feels like the wild west right now.

KM: Yeah, I feel like there's so much more opportunity now for independent production and labels and you don't necessarily need all the production as much.

KA: Yeah, we can do a lot of this ourselves, right?  Tyler, our drummer, is an accomplished engineer and every time I go in the studio he’s learned a bunch of new shit and he has all a bunch of great gear, we do all the demos in house.  We're talking about just, you know, recording stuff ourselves and putting it out for free and yes, dropping singles. That's what you do now when you have new content.   People aren't going to want a 15 song album.

KM: Yeah, I could see that.  What’s the point, I mean, all the Tower Records are closed. (laughs)  You can get the vinyl at shows.  That’s all I care about.

KA: If you look at what's really blowing up in the hip hop and soul or even pop world, people just drop singles out of the blue and it blows up or they’re dropping a four song EP and then they do the same thing in a couple of months, I mean look at what Beyonce is doing.

KM: Yeah, the game has definitely changed.

KA: Definitely changed.

KM: I remember standing in line at Tower Records to get Eminem's new album at like midnight.  I wanted to be the first to hear it because there were no other ways to get it back then.

KA: Oh, which one, do you remember?

*We go off on another tangent about Eminem and his music, his age, his daughter and listening to him many moons ago.  We then go even further off topic about Mariah Carey and whether we should or shouldn’t be surprised that she finally admitted she is legit crazy*

KM: Okay so you guys are going to be playing in Boulder the 28th 

KA: Boulder yes the 28th and 29th of December playing with Dan Rodriguez from Elephant Revival, he’s a good friend of ours.

KM: But I don't see anything for New Years…

KA: No, actually we're taking New Years off for the first time since we've been a band.

KM: Are you still gonna hang out ​together, all of you?

KA: Actually, I don't know what everyone's doing.  There's a lot, I mean we’ll all be in The Front Range so there's a lot going on - Denver – there’s String Cheese.  I might go back to Portland - my buddies are playing at one of our local spots there and I might go sit in with them and party.

KM: Aren’t Lil Smokies gonna be in Oregon?  Oh, no wait, that’s Halloween, never mind.

KA: Oh, yeah this is also the first year we aren't playing on Halloween I think since we've been a band.

KM: Do you guys dress up every year?  

KA: Yeah

KM: What were you last year?

KA: Hmmmmm, what were we?

KM: Do you do ​the group costume or individually?

KA: Yeah, we try and make it a theme together. I honestly don't remember what we were last year….oh no we were at Hangtown for Halloween, Hangtown Halloween Festival out in California. It's actually put on by the same people that put on High Sierra.  We've done all kinds of shit but sometimes the costume thing is kind of a pain in the ass honestly.

KM: I'm sure, and hot depending on what you wear.

KA: Last year actually, at this festival, we decided to be a high school track team. (laughs)  We all wore tiny shorts and track shirts and sweat bands and sneakers, that was dope.  We weren’t too hot in those costumes, I’d do that again in a heart beat! 

*We go off topic again about past Halloween costumes and such and our ideas for this year*

KM: Your latest EP Fire - you guys did a really cool video at Red Rocks for “Baby Let's Go”.  Red Rocks is magical.

KA: Magic, I agree.

KM: What is a place that you haven't played yet that you're dying to play?

KA: Two answers.

KM: Outer space?  

KA: (laughs) Three answers. Okay. Answer number one: outer space.  I want to be the first band to play on the Moon, opening for Nsync.

KM: Okay, that's a good one.

KA: Yeah, that's very specific, I realize that.  Me and Dylan who photographs for Greensky and actually made that “Baby Let's Go” video, that's our plan – to send Fruition to the Moon with Nsync.  Just because.  Well, at least JT.

KM: As opposed to Backstreet.

*Off again talking about space travel**

KA:  Two - going back to busking - we used to go down that Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco at Golden Gate Park – it’s a free festival they do every year all weekend long, like a million plus people show up and it's insane.  We busked at it for years and it really helped grow our popularity in the city, but we've still never played it somehow.  We've got a great booking agent, we know all the bands that play it but still never played, so that’s another one.  Last, I really want to play at The Gorge. People always say Red Rocks is the shit but The Gorge is just…

KM: Yeah, I’ve heard that too.  A lot of my friends always go to see Phish at The Gorge.  I didn't know you camp there and that it’s like there's no security, just like a free for all apparently as far as getting in and searched, which I had no idea and which seems like a very big liability.

KA: That sounds incredibly dangerous, I like it, let’s go.

KM: Okay! (laughs)

Kellen Asebroek of Fruition

KA: I'm actually going to see Phish for my first time in a couple weeks.

KM: Oh, really, where?

KA: Nashville, two nights. They're sold out, playing at the Ascend Ampitheater, which coincidentally is where we played with Jack Johnson.

*Off again talking about Phish and Nashville*

KM: Okay so I asked where you want play, but a bucket list item - I ask this to everyone.  It doesn't have to be - I was asking just musically, like to work with someone or play somewhere or whatever but just in general, what's next?

 KA: ​I don't know, I wish I had thought about this.  That tour with Jack Johnson was really huge and I didn't know it was​ a bucket list item until we were doing it.  I think it was fabulous for me ​because he was such a huge inspiration and I grew up in SoCal and he's a god ​out there. ​  So bucket list would be doing more stuff like that, getting to open for some of our influences in different genres.  That was such a nice breath of fresh air and, not in any way to discredit or devalue ​touring with​​ folks like Greensky and ​Infamous Stringdusters and ​bands like that, but ​it's nice to branch out of this bluegrass and jam world.  Especially for us, you know, I feel like we are lucky and fortunate enough and versatile enough that we can kind of fit into a lot of different scenes.

KM: Yeah you guys really run the gamut.

KA: We don't have any songs that are longer than like four or five minutes and that's hardly jam band material, but we grew up in this circuit and it's embraced us and thank God because we wouldn't be as successful as we are without it.  It'd be cool to get out and play with Dr. Dog or Tedeschi Trucks ​would be awesome​​​.

KM: You guys were there the year they played Delfest, right?

KA: ​Yeah, I actually got to meet her, meet Susan that year.   ​I don't remember how but​ it was me, Mimi and Allie Kral.

KM: Oh, I have such a girl crush on ​Allie!

KA: She's one of my best friends!  We were back backstage in that artists area, you know, circling the wagons back there (laughs) I don't remember what the deal was but for some reason we all sang "America the Beautiful" together.  It was me, Allie, Mimi and Susan we're just singing "America the Beautiful" it was great!  

KM: What about adventure wise bucket list?

KA: Oh yeah!  Thank you adventure wise, yes!  You’re sparking some ​idea goals, golden ideas, goldeas!  

*TOTALLY off topic singing the Ross theme song and debating if TJ Maxx has one as well as admitting our now well established extreme conditions of ADHD.*

KA: ​We played a little bit internationally, but would love to do more.  We played in Mexico and in Canada.​

KM: Ok, that's just North America (laughs).  Do you​ even need a passport to go to those places​? ​

KA: (laughs) Ok,  I want ​to, we want to go everywhere in the world. I mean,​ we really want to get to Europe​.  Greensky just went to Japan and it looked amazing, I want to​ do that. ​  

KM: And some of them are heading to Barcelona, right?

KA: Yeah, I'd love to do that. Love to go to Australia, New Zealand. ​

KM: They have ​Byron Bay Blues Festival, I feel like you guys would do good there. ​ Hippie Australia. I wonder what's the scene for this type of music there.  There's gonna be some right?

KA: Yeah, I mean, that's the thing​, what is our type of music? ​​ We play at a lot of bluegrass festivals and people are like, "Oh, man, I don't like bluegrass that much, but I love you guys!"  So we'd like to get out to some other stuff too. ​Just international, yeah, that's the bucket list - worldwide​.

KM: Prestige, worldwide.

*Last off topic delay to Step Brothers and the f**king Catalina Wine Mixer*

KA: I'm glad we are on the same wave as far as references. (laughs)

KM: (laughing) Totally!   Okay, now we are a wrap. Thank you very much.

KA: That's it? ​Ok, thank you! 

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.