5 questions with North of Nashville

Photo courtesy of the band

“America’s two-man outlaw country band” is the tagline for North of Nashville, the collaborating between Jay Basiner (acoustic guitar, lead vocals, harmonica, percussion) and Andrew Martelle (fiddle, mandolin, guitar, vocals). As the duo’s name suggests, they’re located north of Music City. Far north. In Maine. But Basiner and Martelle have a pitch-perfect country sound, from their driving instrumentation to their Waylon, Merle and Hank inspirations.

North of Nashville performs at One Stop on Wednesday, Oct. 8, ay 10 p.m. $5.

Mountain Xpress: As a country roots band, why not move to Nashville? And is there any sort of country music scene or history in Maine?

Jay Basiner and Andrew Martelle: We’re in Nashville a lot already and the city is becoming a second home for the band as we progress. There may be a time where the band officially has a Nashville address. In the meantime, our home, friends and families are in Maine and the Northeast, and it is a homebase where we are able to write, refuel and perform quite often while making a decent living at it.

There are a lot of advantages to being one of the only country acts in a very large geographical area where country music is hugely popular. Plenty of work and opportunities are available while we’re not touring.

What do you think of today’s mainstream country music — how it takes so many cues from pop music? Is this good or bad for country music, and do you think it’s broadened the listening audience for all forms of country music?

What you’re seeing right now in mainstream county music is a new home for rock ‘n’ roll and pop. Rock radio is all but extinct and the only format that is still making money for the industry is Top 40 and country, and there’s really no difference between the two in today’s world.

Most of the music on both formats is written by a committee with one goal in mind — to generate income. When something comes along that makes a lot of money, the industry’s move is generally to milk the formula as long as it can. That’s why you have nearly every song on country radio being nearly the same song with different singers, instruments and rhythms. There is less room for songs that aren’t about partying in a truck by a river with tan girls in cowboy boots.

Though the writers are generally more talented than the artists singing these songs, the result is a complete dissolution of the nuances of what makes country country, what makes pop pop, what makes rock rock. When it comes to mainstream, it’s all about what makes money and it’s the true music fans who ultimately lose.

When you play live, you play drums with pedals, which is an innovative answer to being a duo without a percussionist. Did it take a while for North of Nashville to work out the stage setup, and are there other instruments (or perhaps players) you’d like to bring into your live show?

It was a lot of trial-and-error to figure out the most effective stage show for North of Nashville. I (Jay) was playing the percussion with my feet during my solo shows and North of Nashville was born out of that type of show — in loud bars where people want to cut loose and have a good time. Because of the efficiency and streamlined creative benefits of the duo set-up, we’ve kept that approach alive in most of our live shows.

On our studio recordings and some of our bigger live concerts, we use more musicians and instruments like bass and pedal steel, and we will continue to have whatever sounds the music calls for onstage and in the studio. Who knows, maybe we’ll have a keytar player at some point for that certain special song!

Your self-titled album has a polished feel while your live show seems to be all about energy and a build of intensity. How do you bridge the two, or approach the two different aspects of performance?

Over the past year or so, we’ve been mindful about allowing much more of dynamic range during our live performances — similar to how our self-titled record feels. For the first two years, people leaving a NoN show mentioned how much energy we brought, but not as much about the musicianship, singing and songwriting craft.

My goal would be to have people leave a NoN show these days feeling the emotions in the songs and for those songs to sick around in [their] heads for a long time.

I love your cover of “In the Air Tonight” — what made you choose that particular song, and what do you think makes for a good cover song at a live show?

“In the Air Tonight” has been one of our most requested covers. I think a great cover takes a song that most people know and makes it sounds completely unique. We often try to pick songs outside of our genre to cover. The surprise factor always makes for a real climax to the live show, and it’s a boat-load of fun for everyone.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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