Interview with Mimi Naja of Fruition

Fruition band promo photo

Formed in the early 2010s in Portland, Ore., Fruition has grown its audience from passers-by on the street to fans who pack theaters and outdoor venues like Red Rocks. Their music aligns with folk and bluegrass, and as singer Mimi Naja tells us, it’s the “tender” ballads that they’re gravitating toward more often these days.

“Even as we explore and play trippy rock and roll, it always seems to come back to the kind of tender, more Americana/folky ballads for us,” Naja says.

Along with Naja (vocals, mandolin, electric & acoustic guitar), Fruition consists of Jay Cobb Anderson (vocals, lead guitar, harmonica), Kellen Asebroek (vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), Jeff Leonard (bass), and Tyler Thompson (drums, banjo). 

Fruition plays the Boulder Theater on Sept. 30 with Heavy Diamond Ring. In advance of the show, the Colorado Sound’s Ron Bostwick spoke with Mimi about how the band got started, finding and keeping an audience, harmonies, whitewater rafting, and the Thursday Thing the band launched during the pandemic. 


Colorado Sound:  Fruition really started as a trio, you were busking on the streets of Portland many years ago, if I remember right.

Mimi: Yes, it was me and Jay and Kellen. As a band, we started based on our ability to sing three-part harmony and blend really well. We had a lot of practice competing with the sounds of the sidewalk. We really learned how to project and make sure we were heard.


How has that affected who and what the band is today? Do you think about those times and what you had to do then to get an audience, and what you do now to keep an audience?

Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, we still have a lot to learn as far as how to grow an audience, but we definitely do have some kind of magic. And once we have the audience, we do tend to keep them. Fruition fans are very loyal and supportive of whatever exploratory sound we want to be making.

I think starting busking definitely feeds into our inability to lock into any sort of genre or category or bubble. We sang original music, but we also dabbled in lots of covers to get attention on the street. We love all kinds of sounds, but even as we explore and play trippy rock and roll, it always seems to come back to the kind of tender, more Americana/folky ballads for us. We will continue to explore whatever we want, but at the end of the day, the roots really seem to be in those tender moments for us.


You’re able to take what you had then and bring it to contemporary experiences, such as playing festivals and playing in front of tens of thousands of people. You’re not fighting the sounds of the sidewalk.

For sure. It’s interesting. There’s an audience for everything, but as our fan base got bigger, it felt like more of a party at the show. So you play a little faster, you play a little louder, but yeah, we really want to embrace that softer side, too. Our hearts are really in all of that.


Do I have it right that your first Colorado show was at the Keystone ski area about eight, nine years ago?

Maybe our first official show. I remember our first time ever going there as a band though was a private ‘dirty 30’ birthday party for multiple folks who were turning 30. They rented out a roller rink and we played with the Dead Winter Carpenters. Then, we played at Pete’s Monkey Bar in Denver.


You’ve certainly come a long way. You’ve now played Red Rocks a handful of times, and this week you’re doing a Colorado Sounds present show at the Boulder Theater. What has Colorado meant to the band over these years?

It’s meant so much. The Portland and Colorado markets have both meant the world to us. The fans come out in droves, and they are just so pumped. Nothing really beats the Colorado energy, honestly. It’s great.


And we know you like the whitewater rafting here in Colorado.

Yes. Oh my gosh. I didn’t really know I was a river rat until I got the opportunity to do one of those trips last year, and then I did two again this summer, and now it’s funny, now summer’s wrapping up and all I’m thinking about is how many times can I get back out there next year.

broken at the break of day album cover fruition


Your albums Broken at the Break of Day and Wild as the Night both came out right before the pandemic. How did Fruition deal with that sudden situation?

Obviously having your world shocked was hard for literally everyone. But our blow felt particularly harsh because we had just released that record. The song “Dawn” was getting a ton of airplay. People were loving it, and we had just started touring that record that we were so proud of. I think we got four shows in.


Once you realized that the pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon, what did you guys do as a band to deal with that?

We live all across the country, so we stayed in touch with conference calls. Usually we’re touring so we see each other all the time. So we made sure to still talk every week.

And as a way to stay engaged with the fans, and with music, we launched the Thursday Thing. Every Thursday at the same time, some conglomeration of the band, or a solo member, would go live on our socials and either just strum a guitar and sing songs or show video projects we’ve done – or just tell stories, or take fans’ questions and just hang out as best we could through a screen. That was so helpful for me, to know people were still out there listening and missing your songs. When you’re just alone in your house, it really means a lot to know that your creations mean something to someone.


With your harmonies, I’ve seen some comparisons to Crosby, Stills & Nash.

That is a very high honor. I’ll never forget a few years ago, a dear friend of ours, her mother wrote us a little card at a show that said, “You mean to my children what CSNY means to us.” It was just the best thing.


That’s wonderful coming from a generation up. They see it. It’s nice to have a parent be able to recognize that in their children.

Absolutely. And not just the sound of the song, but the gathering and the community of going to shows and all of that. It’s really great.


A few years ago you were out in Lake Tahoe doing Winter Wonder Grass, and you shot a video for “The Meaning Up” on a mountaintop on a snow-covered, beautiful, crisp day. And man, that might be one of my favorite low-tech videos ever. There’s nothing to it but you guys up there playing.

Yeah, but there is something to it because all of those circle shots that seemed to be a drone, that was actually a guy hanging out of a helicopter – just leaning off at the edge with a camera on his shoulder. You can only reach that peak by helicopter, so we got up at 9 am and took a helicopter ride. That is one of the craziest experiences of my life.


Fruition plays the Boulder Theater on Friday, Sept. 30 with Heavy Diamond Ring.



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