Grace Honeywell on violin performs with Noah Tretter, who earned his music degree from UO. Ron Hartman/The Chronicle
COTTAGE GROVE – Sometimes, as any good cook will tell you, tossing a bunch of diversified ingredients together in the same pot is the way to make the best stew.
That’s sort of the musical recipe being employed by Eugene band Conflicts With Caribou to achieve their unique, folksy sound.
”We all come from vastly different backgrounds,” violinist and lead vocalist Grace Honeywell said after a show at the Axe & Fiddle on Friday night, Feb. 27. ”(Stand-up bassist) Fin (Gutmann) studies jazz, (guitarist) Noah (Tretter) got his music degree at the U of O, and he also plays in the U.S. Army band, and he can play anything.
”I grew up studying classical, Celtic and Scottish, so we each have been able to see music through a different lens, if you will.”
Conflicts With Caribou is one of the area’s young, rising bands – and they’re making that ascent despite losing one of their brightest stars recently.
The four-man band became a trio in December when mandolin player Joseph Yaconelli was one of 12 people nationwide to earn a George J. Mitchell Scholarship, which sends future American leaders to Ireland for a year of graduate study as part of the US-Ireland Alliance.
As only the second University of Oregon graduate to receive the honor, Yaconelli – who now lives in Minneapolis – will pursue his master’s degree in computer science beginning in September at Ireland’s University College Dublin.
The band has persevered without Yaconelli. The three remaining members might be young – all are college age or graduated since 2016 – but they’re not young musically. Honeywell started playing violin at age 5, Tretter was 6 when he started playing guitar, and Gutman picked up his first stand-up bass in sixth grade.
And much like Yaconelli, this is a trio of overachievers – on and off the stage.
Tretter, who works as a sound tech for Willamette University, handles all of the production work for the band, including their lone EP, ”Poem.” Tretter also plays (and teaches) bass, ukulele, banjo, piano and percussion. He provides sound support as a guitar player for the U.S. Army band, a position he has held for five years, as well as playing in other on-campus ensembles.
Obviously, Tretter believes in going the extra mile – just check out what he likes to do for exercise. A couple times a year, he participates in ultra-marathons, which is defined as any marathon longer than the traditional 26.2 miles.
Oregon has 68 UltraRunning races this year, ranging from 50k (just over 31 miles) to 24 hours.
”I’m taking a little break right now, because I’m recovering from a concussion,” Tretter said.
Honeywell has been making a difference by being a teacher and an ambassador for causes she cares about. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the U of O in 2016, then spent a year in Thailand teaching English to 450 students.
She now works full-time at UO as program coordinator for the Division of Global Engagement. ”I’m very passionate about it,” said Honeywell, who also plays with another top local band, The Muddy Souls, who are scheduled to play Thursday, March 26 at the Axe & Fiddle.
Guttman is still a full-time student, and he, too, is in another band. It’s his own funk band, called The Breadhunters.
”My goal is to be a full-time musician,” Guttman said. ”I’m already doing music pretty much all the time now, but I know it will be different once I’m out of school.”
For the time being, Conflicts With Caribou will go about its business, writing and performing their fun mix of folk, bluegrass and jazzy songs. As Honeywell says about ”Southern Moon,” writing the songs can get emotional. ”When you miss someone, all you can say is you miss them. … It’s a very personal attachment.”
Or as Tretter says about ”Mountain Song,” which he wrote while hiking the Pacific Coast Trail.
”It’s about all the anxiety of not knowing where to sleep every night.”
Someone in the band saw a travel brochure in Canada for hikers in the wilderness giving advice on how to avoid conflicts with caribou. As if anybody would actually be seeking such advice.
How absurd, they thought. And what a great name for a band!
Amazingly, Tretter was visiting Iceland not long thereafter and encountered a caribou.
”We tried to feed it,” he said. ”It ran away.”
Probably wanted to avoid a conflict.