Folk Americana group Roanoke released their debut self-titled album in the summer of last year but I recently stumbled across their music and decided to investigate further.
As soon as the album starts you immediately sit up and take notice of the almost one minute thirty a cappela introduction to opening track Jordan. Ironically - and slightly frustratingly - this is actually the strongest part of the track as it quickly begins to feel a little messy once the full production enters. There can however be no doubt that the groups harmonies are incredibly impressive and they have to be applauded for being brave enough to leave themselves in such a vulnerable vocal state - and for rising to the challenge!
Whilst Jordan ultimately leaves you feeling a little torn as to whether you are really drawn to Roanoke, The Light will make you feel a lot more comfortable. Lead vocalists Taylor and Joey showcase how well their voices gel in a track where the distinctly folk influenced instrumentalisation is kept at a level to augment, rather than overshadow, the vocals. A definitively comfortable listen, The Light blends an optimistic lyric with impressive musicianship and strong vocals and is definitely a strong part of the album.
Make Up is another impressive addition to the album. The conversive style of the track with Taylor and Joey trading lines throughout the verses and then coming together in each chorus works very well and also serves to build a distinction between different parts of the track, keeping the listener interested throughout. It feels as though the melodic and lyrical journey is a big part of Make Up, it is certainly put together very well with a strong instrumental grounding.
This album is however a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the overall strength of the tracks. Closing track Never Gonna Love Again for instance needs to have a considerable part of the production stripped away in my opinion. Some of the strongest parts of the release are the softer, more delicate delivers and Never Gonna Love Again loses the spark of that in that it just ultimately feels a little frantic and uncomfortable after a while.
2) The Light
3) This Love
4) Without You
5) Heavy Goodbyes
6) Interlude/Mountain Man
8) Losing You
9) Make Up
10) Red And Gold
11) Never Gonna Love Again
I recently caught up with guitarist and one of Roanoke's two lead vocalists Joey Beesley to ask him some questions....
What was your first experience of country music?
Oh man I've been listening to country forever. My first experience that I can remember was Alan Jackson - my aunt, my uncle, my mum and probably my dad too, they were all huge fans of Alan Jackson so we all had the greatest hits album in the CD player almost everywhere we went. There's not a time in my life where I didn't remember knowing all the words to "Chattahoochee"! Yeah, that's definitely my first experience.
Roanoke is a really interesting name, how did you decide upon that?
It was definitely one of a couple of names that we were thinking about. Taylor, the female singer in the band, is a big equestrian, she grew up riding horses and she stumbled across a story from the Civil War where Roanoke ended up bucking off a general and it lead to the victory of one of the small battles in the war so we ended up going with that name. There was more to it, we like the symbolise of kind of being a rebel and kind of doing things your own way.
How would you describe your sound to new listeners?
It's definitely based in a roots music arrangement. It's definitely focused on songwriting first, very folk Americana. I would describe it more like Americana folk rock, it's bigger and there's some anthemic parts and it definitely is dynamic I think, in my opinion, it has room to listen and room to kind of jam out and let loose a little.
Which song would you say is intrinsically Roanoke?
That's a hard one...that's a really hard question...I want to say "Jordan" but that really isn't everything that we do. As far right now I would say if you were to listen to "Jordan" then listen to "The Light" and "Without You" I'd say those three songs are pretty close, you'd have a pretty good assumption of what we do.
As a band you play a variety of instruments, which one instrument would you like to learn that you don't already play?
I would love to play pedal steel, I think it's one of the most beautiful instruments out there - or maybe like a horn! I think those are really cool - but definitely pedal steel first.
You all moved to Nashville to pursue music, do you feel living in Nashville influences the music you make?
Oh 100%. I don't really think too many of us had a real direction before we moved here to be honest with you. I was always kind of writing similar stuff but I didn't really know what it was, I'd never even stumbled across Americana music before I moved. I'd heard like The Civil Wars stuff before I moved here but it wasn't really like as in my face as it was when I first got here. We had the idea to move to Nashville with Kyle our drummer and at that time we were listening to a lot of country because we were like 'we're going to Nashville!' We were buying boots and the whole nine [laughs]. We started going to The Station Inn on Sunday nights, they have a bluegrass jam on Sunday nights so we started going there and started realising that bluegrass was pretty cool. Taylor had always listened to folk music but we got together and started writing...it was interesting because we started arranging music in an apartment so we couldn't really do big anthemic with drums and stuff because your neighbours would hate you! It kind of just came together like that and I think we kind of discovered something in it. The calibre of musicians that are in this town is just insane so you really have to pick something and go as far as you can with it to even fit in first and foremost and then you have to figure out what you're good at. It kind of just worked out!
Do you feel like it took you a while to pinpoint that area of music or did it just happen naturally?
To get our sound? Well the song will kind of tell you what it needs I think, like depending on the song it'll be this needs guitar here or this needs a big drum part or harmonies so us kind of doing what we could with what we had kind of just happened organically so the sound and like the pieces of the music were all there but it wasn't until we really got into the studio...we tried hard to do it live in the beginning but we didn't really know ourselves well enough to and I think towards the end of it we were able to write and arrange and everything once we had gotten in there and played and listened back and been like 'that's not good' or like 'Joe you don't sound good here singing this part, maybe Taylor should sing this', that kind of stuff. After we got that and looked at it on paper almost it was a lot easier to look at it I'd say, towards the end of the album. We'd been recording "Jordan" live and that was after we had our heads wrapped around what we sounded like. So I guess to answer your question directly, it took us the length of the recording process to find our sound.
You released your debut album in the summer of last year, how did the experience around that feel?
Oh man it was great! It was such a high to do that. It was great because releasing the album was awesome, we had help from a great publicist to help us get out stuff out there, to help us get like debut releases and stuff like that. We had a lot of local support like The Five Spot here in Nashville, they do a lot of showcases there, it's a more popular venue I guess around town. They were very open armed and came to us doing the show there. They let us put the whole bill together so we got to do it with some bands that we really respect and we actually love hanging out with. Getting back the mixes, that took a long time, during the process I even totalled my car trying to get to the mastering studio! On the way there I totalled my car and Zach our mandolin player had to walk the rest of the way to get it done and I was sitting there talking to the police. We worked that hard so by the time it was all done it took a couple of weeks to set in that we'd done it. We took all the musicians and all the people who had supported and helped us and the next day we had them over to our house and just had a huge barbecue for everybody and celebrated it. It took a lot longer than I thought it was going to, I think that was good too, by the time it was out we all felt like it was time to hit the ground running.
Do you find song-writing comes naturally or is it something that takes a lot of work?
I think it's a song by song basis, it really depends. I've sat down and written songs in ten minutes and I've spent weeks and months on songs off and on. I guess it really depends on how in tune you are with what's inspiring you at the time but these days after doing the album and trying really hard to write I'm getting to know my writing style a lot better so it definitely helped the process for sure. It's also different too, if you're writing with more than one person that can be a lot quicker because you can bounce ideas off them and look at their face and if they don't like it you know that you can move on.
Do you find co-writing sometimes gets in the way though?
Absolutely! When you have a good co-write there's nothing like it, when someone comes up with a line that you would have never have thought of, you're happy to have that in there because when you play it, you sing it, even you're still surprised about that line. Sometimes you can get a bad co-write where they don't want to try anything new or are just not contributing then it's the equivalent to babysitting and it's not that they're not good, it's just sometimes your writing styles don't mesh right.
Which is the hardest track you've ever written?
I guess I'll stick with the album...the hardest one I ever had to finish on the album was definitely "Red And Gold" for sure. It was killing me, at the time I was very thorough with lyrics, in the song there's the story of a dad that leaves and doesn't come back and I'm like 'what happens to him when he doesn't come home, does he die? what do we do?'! [laughs] It was hard for me to kind of let that go and it was also the first time I had set out and tried to accomplish...Taylor and I...she didn't want anyone to find out what happened to the guy, she wanted him to be gone and I was like 'okay cool' so instead of writing lyrics we put in place a very long instrumental to give the kind of feeling that time had lapsed and the story could then renew itself at the end of it. That was hard, that definitely was a growing point for sure.
Do you feel like you've had to learn to know when to leave a song in terms of the lyrics?
Which track from any artist do you wish you'd written and why?
Okay I'm just going to give you one because there are so many! I'm really in to this artist right now so I'm going to say Gregory Alan Isakov, there's a song called "Empty Northern Hemisphere" that's just a beautiful song but that's not the one...there's one called "Song That She Sang In The Shower" by Jason Isbell, it's one of the most beautifully written songs I've heard in a very long time, it talks about 'a song that she used to sing in the shower, it's stuck in my mind like yesterday's wine' and it has such a lot of self-realising lyrics in it and I wish that I had the wisdom to be able to look back at myself in that way and write about myself - like maybe I messed up and maybe I did those things - I wish I had the maturity at this time in my life to do that. I look forward to being a writer like he is, I think that song really shows that.
Are there any plans to tour the UK in the future?
There's not a date in place but we would love to get over there as soon as we can. I hear so many good things about it, some of my friends are like 'dude, I don't even want to come back, I just want to stay there'!
Thanks to Joey for his time! Whilst this debut album hasn't blown me away, it is still a competent release and I would still suggest fans of folk or Americana take a listen. It'll be interesting to see how Roanoke develop in future releases, there can be no doubt that the group are talented vocalists, song-writers and musicians!