Five Questions with the Apache Relay

Exponential potential: Like the band’s home city, Nashville, Apache Relay keeps growing and evolving its sound. Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller
Exponential potential: Like the band’s home city, Nashville, Apache Relay keeps growing and evolving its sound. Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller

If you're a fan of roots-rock outfits like The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers, Langhorne Slim & the Law, Of Monsters and Men and The Head and the Heart, then you've kind of got to love Nasheville's The Apache Relay, too. That band (Michael Ford, Jr., Mike Harris, Ben Ford, Brett Moore, Kellen Wenrich and Aaron Early) formed in a college dorm and released its debut album, 1988, in 2009. Paste Magazine named it among their “Eight Most Auspicious Musical Debuts” of that year. And the band has only gotten better. Michael Ford, Jr. answered our five questions:

Xpress: One of my all-time favorite band photos is the one of you all on the tandem bike. Whose idea was that, and how hard was it to get that shot?
Michael Ford, Jr.: Thanks so much. All the credit for that one goes to Brett, he came up with the idea, and his wife Rachel Moore took the photo. It wasn't too difficult to get the shot. At first, we tried to pedal so the bike would actually be in motion when the shot was captured, but it was too hard to balance so we'd all just pick up our feet for a split second and Rachel would rapid-fire photos. Literally, a moment after the cover shot was taken, the back tire on the tandem bike folded. If you look closely at the photo you can see it starting to give way.

Your news section on your website includes three announcements for festivals that you'll be playing. How does playing festivals compare to playing individual concerts? And if you could hang out at a festival (as a fan instead of a performer), which one would you pick?
Festivals are a blast to play. In comparison to playing our own shows, they are typically more "throw and go," meaning a minimal sound check and set up time, but I think that adds to the excitement of the moment. The crowds at festivals also tend to be a bit more eclectic because of all the different groups playing. Playing our own shows is a bit more intimate, and we're usually playing much smaller spaces when we do so. They're both great for different reasons.

In terms of going to a festival as fan, I would definitely say Newport Folk Festival. They book amazing bands, you can easily go see all the groups you want, the festival is perfectly sized (in terms of number of people and the grounds), and Newport, R.I., is a stunningly beautiful area.

When you all got together as band, did you have a sense that your hometown of Nashville would become an indie-rock hot-spot the way it has? And, since you all spend so much time on the road, do you feel like a Nashville band? How does that town impact your sound?
I had no idea that it would become what it has now, and I think it's still exponentially growing. I certainly knew it had the potential to, because of the unbelievable amount of talent in the city, but didn't realize that so many people outside of the city would take interest like they have. I'm so proud of how far Nashville has come and where we are going. Despite all the touring, we all still feel like a Nashville band. It's our home and it's where the band met and formed. Not sure exactly how the town impacts our sound, it's hard to say when you're inside of it, you know? I think I'll be able to look back a few years from now and see how it affected the music we made more clearly. I can say that I'm deeply inspired by a lot of the music my friends are putting out: They make me want to keep pushing myself as a writer.

Were it not for the addition of fiddle and mandolin, Apache Relay would be a rock band. With those elements, you add a roots and Americana flavor. Did the sound evolve that way organically, or did you always envision the band with a roots connection?
The sound of the band has definitely organically evolved that way. When the band first started, we were a full-on acoustic band and as the band grew and gravitated towards a more rock sound, certain elements of the past stuck with us, which is why I think the roots element finds its way in to our music. We don't try to squeeze certain instruments into songs to keep it rootsy, we always just go on what we feel the song calls for and try to play to our strengths.

If you had to choose one song from your catalog to represent the band, which one would it be, and why?
Wow, good question. That's a tough one to answer. In terms of music that we have out, I would choose the Communion Records' version of "American Nomad" we recorded in London with Ian Grimble for their New Faces Compilation. I think the song, and that recording in particular, does a good job of displaying the melodic capabilities of the band.

who: The Apache Relay
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Thursday, March 28, Natalie Prass opens. (9 p.m., $8 advance/$10 day of show.)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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