You know you love North Carolina when you name your band Old North State. Especially when said band gets its start in Colorado. But, as Dillon Wray of that folk-roots outfit points out, he and his younger brother, Jantzen Wray, didn’t leave Asheville (where they grew up) with musical intentions. “We had always played music, but never together,” says Dillon. “When we were in Colorado, I was actually burned out on music and just wanted to hang out.”
Out West, Jantzen discovered a love for bluegrass, “and when I say bluegrass, I don’t mean North Carolina bluegrass, but a Colorado-fusion like Yonder [Mountain String Band],” says Dillon. The brothers started jamming together and writing songs, and from there, the band took shape.
What began on a whim soon grew to serious proportions. Dillon says Old North State played close to 300 shows last year. And that’s part of what led to the Wray brothers’ decision to move back East at the beginning of this year. “When you’re in Colorado and you have to drive from Denver to Salt Lake, that’s a really long drive with not much in between. [From WNC] you can do a five-hour drive and hit tons of things. It’s a lot easier to tour,” says Dillon. But, “I think family is the biggest reason.”
Family includes blood relatives and new Old North State member bassist and backing vocalist Bryan Thurman, who the Wrays knew from previous Asheville bands. “He was moving in more of a folk direction, as opposed to the punk and the metal stuff that we grew up with,” says Dillon. It’s a direction the Wray brothers have moved in, too.
In fact, in early iterations, Old North State was “that band that was screaming and jumping up on monitors and going crazy. Our original vision was more of the punk-rock sound,” says Dillon. But, being from North Carolina, and having a banjo (which Jantzen plays) in the lineup, they work to avoid Avett Brothers comparisons. When they lost their drummer, Dillon took up playing a kick drum as well as the guitar. That double-duty made sitting down necessary, and chairs led to more focus on song craft.
“We perform better when we sit down,” says Dillon. The band released its new EP, Hello, Darling, in April (find it on Amazon, iTunes and other music sites) and are focused on “playing good shows that draw well.”
And they’re at work on a new album that they’ll record in late September. “We used to feel like we couldn’t write as well [in Asheville], but I think it was all the childhood-type things,” says Dillon. “We’ve written a lot for our new record and it’s coming out well. Better even than when we were in Colorado.” — A.M.