The Everybodyfields, the alt-country duo with the unwieldy name and the addictively melancholy songs, have come a long way. All the way from Johnson City to Knoxville, for starters.
“I’d lived in Johnson City for so long,” says singer/songwriter Jill Andrews, who co-fronts the four-piece band along with collaborator Sam Quinn. “I love it there, but I needed a change.” So, most of the band relocated to that other eastern-Tennessee city, the one garnering attention for its breakout music scene.
Still, Andrews has a soft spot for her home town. It’s where she grew up and were the Everybodyfields began nearly a decade ago. Andrews and Quinn met as teenagers while working at a Methodist summer camp. A casual trading of guitar tunes led, eventually, to more serious sessions and finally a tenuous first show in a church basement. For that gig, they baked brownies and invited their friends—a far cry from the bars and concert halls the band now packs. “I don’t even know if we were 21 them,” Andrews recalls. “A bar might not have been an option.”
The group’s next career stop, thanks to an overzealous if out-of-touch booking agent, was a stream of mall shows—a tour the songwriter jokingly threatens to revisit.
But those early days were sweet times: “It was cool to be excited about organizing that,” says Andrews. “Just the thought that we could make money doing something we were excited about.”
And at this point in the group’s career, they do make money, though Andrews points out that the life of a professional musician requires countless hours logged on the road and plenty of sacrifices. “Touring isn’t good for relationships,” she sighs. In fact, though the Everybodyfields formed largley by chance, Andrews says that every day comes with a conscious decision to pursue music as a career. And even with that dedication, she still keeps a backup plan or two (she studied psychology in college) under her belt.
Then there’s the frugality: Though both Quinn and Andrews are understatedly stylish, Andrews points out that she wears the same outfits over and over. “I don’t go on shopping sprees,” she laughs.
The band is also known for its way with an achingly lonesome song, underscored by the title of last year’s release, Nothing is Okay (Ramseur). On the cover, a thick rainbow slumps into an inverted arc—an ironic smile under clouds that ooze a brownish slime. It’s unnerving. Not so the song selections, however. The sweeping opener, “Aeoroplane,” is the perfect juxtaposition of Quinn’s cracked warble and Andrews’ sweet, clear voice. “Leaving Today” pronounces its sad themes with Dobro and fiddle strains; “Savoir” has the sonic makings of a country-radio hit while retaining an edgy authenticity.
It’s that edge that keeps the Everybodyfields, twangy though they may be, firmly ensconced in “alt” territory. And, no matter how popular they become, the band members don’t see themselves going Nashville-style mainstream.
“Alt-country really is an alternative to mainstream country,” Andrews says. “It would be great if bands like Whiskey Town could be on mainstream country radio, but I don’t think you can have a big record deal and be considered alt-country.”
She adds, “I don’t have anyone telling me what to do. That’s pretty great. I can just write about myself all day long.”
In fact, it’s that introspection that makes the Everybodyfields so likable. Andrews and Quinn are beautifully broken and lovingly faded, their hearts firmly affixed to their sleeves. Okay is a testament to that. The record, as Quinn told Paste magazine, came after he and Andrews ended their romantic relationship. They recorded it three times and the band nearly broke up in the emotional backlash.
“A lot of our songs are kind of sad on that last album,” Andrews acknowledges. “During the writing of that album, there was a lot of loneliness and sadness I couldn’t help but focus on.”
But that doesn’t mean that the group is only capable of lachrymose strummings. “I think that’s expected because that’s what we do,” Andrews notes. “But if we wrote a happy album, I don’t think we’d be shunned.”
who: The Everybodyfields (Caroline Herring opens)
what: Gorgeously moody alt-country
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, April 12, (9 p.m., $12. 232-5800)