Deepen the harmonies

Write what you know: Though Something Real is a diverse collection of sounds, influences and writing styles, the band says, “All of the songs speak to what’s going on in our lives right now.” Photo by Daniel Coston

“I feel like I have a rock ‘n’ roll heart, but it comes out as country,” says Salley Williamson, bassist of local Americana trio Underhill Rose. Songs on the band’s new album, Something Real, are true to the group’s roots music foundation, while also subtly drawing on each of the three musicians’ backgrounds.

Vocalist and guitarist Molly Rose says that she grew up in downtown Atlanta during the height of hip-hop bands like Goodie Mob and Outkast. “And yet my voice is Americana,” she says. And the album’s lead song, “Helpless Wanderer,” for all of its harmonica swagger and banjo pluck, has a certain parallel to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance.”

“I lost my way at 85 and 40 and I lost my wallet, too. It sure does hurt you when you don’t eat right and you’re drinking coffee like soup,” goes the song. (Gaga sings, “Can't find a drink, oh man. Where are my keys? I lost my phone, phone.”)

Lyricist and banjo player Eleanor Underhill says that she listens to plenty of pop music, and her intention isn’t to pen an old-timey tune. But, as Rose points out, when you add a banjo, a song tends to sound old fashioned. Ultimately, the lyrics on Real are “a comment on what we’re experiencing,” says Underhill. “All of the songs speak to what’s going on in our lives right now.”

So what is happening for the band these days? They’re gearing up for a tour, in support of Real, that will take them throughout the Southeast, into the Southwest, and to Montana and Colorado as well. The tour (and the new album) is a chance for Underhill Rose fans to hear fresh material, including songs written by Williamson, the newest addition to the trio (she joined a year and a half ago). Real is also about 50 percent older material; some songs date back five years.

With the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the group went into the studio for two five-day stints. “We were surprised and honored by how many people supported us,” says Rose. “It created a huge amount of enthusiasm for us.” For Real, Underhill Rose enlisted local guest musicians including Matt Smith (pedal steel), Rayna Gellert (violin), Justin Ray (trumpet), Jacob Rodriguez (saxophone), Ryan Burns (keys), Silas Durocher (electric guitar), Steve Burnside (accordion) and Mike Rhodes (drums). For a producer, they tapped The Black Lillies’ Cruz Contreras.

Initially, Underhill Rose wanted the album to convey the immediacy and presence of a live show. “The reality is, when we were in the studio, these songs naturally evolved,” says Rose. There’s a track with a full drum kit (not typically part of the band’s live show, though Rhodes will play their album release celebration at Isis); there’s also “Never Gonna Work Out,” whose vocals were recorded around a single condenser mic.

“Why not take advantage of the studio and let it be that extra tool that allows the songs to be something different?” asks Underhill. It was Contreras who suggested they look at each song individually, and that one of the album’s strengths is its diversity. Which makes sense, coming from a band with three different songwriters.

“People will get what they’ve always liked in the music, but they’ll also get to hear cool new songs,” says Rose of Real’s end result.

And, listeners will also hear the continued evolution of a band that’s always been good, and strong, and rooted in the local community. Though they’ve been Underhill Rose since ’09, Rose and Underhill have been friends and musical collaborators for more than a decade. They met while students at Warren Wilson College, “when we were going to be environmental educators and save the world,” says Rose.

That particular career path didn’t happen, but through songwriting and performing, the friends have matured together. “It’s allowed us to deepen the harmonies, and be able to read each other’s minds,” says Rose. She’s only half-joking about the telepathy, adding, “Salley’s getting there too.”

— Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

who: Underhill Rose album release celebration (Jesse Lafser opens)
where: Isis Restaurant and Music Hall
when: Friday, May 31 (8:30 p.m., $10 in advance/$12 at the door. http://isisasheville.com)

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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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