Michael Carter lives in a Southern-style storybook, on a piece of meticulously maintained property in the heart of Tempe, covered in lush bermuda grass, pecan and mulberry trees. This is a common meeting place for Jared & The Mill, and given their country-infused folk-pop sound, it's about as complementary a location for them as can be. It's mid-April and the band is just days away from leaving for a sold-out tour opening for Barry Gibb, their biggest break to date. Of all times, the band received confirmation of the tour on April Fools' Day, but there's nothing funny about the realizations the guys are having now.
"We were talking about if we're nervous about playing in front of that many people, and it almost feels like that amount of people is inconceivable," Carter, the band's banjo and mandolin player, says. "I'd almost be [more] nervous to play for a room of 200 people than I would be for like 1,500."
Jared & The Mill are seated around a tiled table on Carter's back porch and they all laugh nervously, everyone offering notes of agreement. It's their first time playing on the East Coast, their first time playing arenas, their first time playing to crowds of 10,000 people -- it's the culmination of a lot of firsts in general. The size of the venues is intimidating, as they would be for any young group of musicians, and Carter expresses a specific concern that accompanies an outing of this size, as if it's contradictory to the band's appreciation for club shows.
"Talking to a lot of artists at South By [Southwest] that were doing really well, just meeting people at bars, most of the people you would talk to were like 'Man, really enjoy that. You know how much I miss playing for a hundred people? It's so impersonal now,'" he says.
Granted, this conversation took place between Jared & The Mill and a highly inebriated member of a very, very well-known indie folk band, but it's nonetheless an important point worth noting -- the small shows should be played like the stadium shows, and it's the former that's usually more memorable than the latter. Thankfully, the band's adept at entertaining in both environments.
Carter is quick to acknowledge that "soon we'll be back playing to 20 people," but this tour may mark a catalytic moment, the point from which Jared & The Mill experience an exponential growth. Jared Kolesar, the band's namesake, chimes in, affirming his love for the smaller shows.
"Last tour we had like 1,300 people in Boise and 4 people in Chicago, and I have to actively try to remember the Boise show," he says. "I can remember Chicago or Kansas or North Carolina fondly -- halfway through the Kansas City show it turned into a Q&A session."
This wasn't ever meant to become a dream job for these guys -- frontman Kolesar, banjo/mandolin player Carter, lead guitarist Larry Gast III, bassist Chuck Morris III and drummer Josh Morin, all contributing vocals -- it was really just supposed to be a one-off collaboration.
"The initial point of the band was to be a five-piece pop ensemble that played one show at the Clubhouse, and it just spun wildly out of control," Kolesar says, laughing. "We just came together as friends and as musicians and we just grew really well together."
Within that growth, a fraternal admiration of each other has arisen. Carter describes Gast's playing as if "a jazz player got dropped off in West Texas and played there for three years, then showed up in Chicago," and the entire band acknowledges Morin's studies in percussion at ASU as an integral part of their sound, as Morin brings a background in Latin jazz, steel pan, African drum and contemporary drumming to the table. Proficiencies aside, Jared & The Mill take things seriously, and as with any artistic endeavor, it comes at a cost.
"We joke that we ruined each other's lives," Kolesar says. "Obviously there's so much we've gained from this band but you get invitations to weddings and you're like, 'I'm not going to be able to make that,' and they're people you love. In some small way, you have to give things up. You have to truly want it in order to get your dream job."
Carter breaks the solemness that hangs over the conversation.
Barry Gibb has never played the Hollywood Bowl. Neither has Jared & The Mill, but they're about 45 minutes away from doing so. Knowing that they're about to play the Bowl before Gibb ever has, Kolesar and Morris strike up a theoretical conversation between themselves and Gibb in which they offer him advice. "Listen, man, just imagine the entire audience naked... you're going to do fine out there."
We're backstage at the Bowl -- rather, we're underneath it -- and the band members shuffle about, tuning instruments, tucking and untucking shirts, checking last looks in the green room mirror. It's their last arena show of the tour and this obviously isn't their first rodeo, but they do have every right to be nervous -- it is the fucking Hollywood Bowl, after all.
"The first time I realized how many people there [are in the audience] was the third show [of this tour]," Kolesar explains. "I fucked up the intro to the second verse of 'Ides of Fall' and right then, it's like a hanger just dropped and I all of a sudden saw how many people were in front of me. I turned around like 'What's happening?' and was disoriented for a second."
For now, they're wringing hands and slapping each other on the back, amping up for the pinnacle of this tour cycle. Three days from now they'll be on their way back to Arizona, filling their Instagram and Facebook feeds with sepia-toned shots of the desert, their white Chevy van (affectionately named "Tamata") and statuses extolling the virtues of being back in the Grand Canyon State. They talk about their June 14 homecoming show at Crescent Ballroom with a sense of relief, as if it's a comfortable childhood bed waiting for their return. At this moment, however, they're about to play in Los Angeles on a seasonably warm June night, the Hollywood Cross glowing above the Bowl's band shell.
When they walk onstage and introduce themselves in that aw-shucks manner they have about them, there's no trace of stage fright or inadequacy. Jared & The Mill run through their set, sounding cohesive and expansive, a sound that fills arenas as well as it fills the Crescent Ballroom. Forty-somethings are standing, clapping and dancing along. Someone a few rows down loudly asks no one in particular "Where are these guys from?"
They're from Phoenix, Arizona, and it's doubtful that this is the last you'll hear of them.
Jared & The Mill are scheduled to play Crescent Ballroom on Saturday, June 14.
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