The Resonant Rogues know that to get the most out of New Orleans, it’s best to keep one’s options open. Before traveling to the Asheville quartet’s home away from home in March, Sparrow Pants (accordion, banjo, vocals), Keith Smith (guitar, vocals), Craig Sandberg (upright bass, vocals) and Drayton Aldridge (fiddle, vocals) did the logical thing and booked multiple shows. But upon arriving, they had plenty more gigs pop up at the last minute, from swing dances to DIY warehouse shows to songwriter showcases, plus busking for thousands of people from all over the world on Royal Street.
“It’s kind of like music school — there are so many amazing musicians jamming, practicing and performing all the time,” Smith says. “People may choose to go to college or take lessons to learn how to play, but NOLA is a great place to learn how to perform.”
The band brings that energy back to Western North Carolina, releasing new album Here & Gone Again at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall on Saturday, April 11, the group’s two-year anniversary. Since that genesis, sweethearts Sparrow and Smith have maintained a successful musical partnership by writing songs separately and giving each other feedback while remaining in charge of their individual works. “With two strong-willed songwriters, we think it’s the best way for us to have some autonomy and creative control. We make most of our decisions together, but whoever wrote the song gets the final say,” Sparrow says, adding that band leading is “a whole other ball of wax.”
For those nonmusical tasks, the two try to keep things as equal as possible, and while they each have a few defined roles, the other nonetheless has a say in those matters. Sparrow does all of the graphic design, but Smith gives input on what pictures, fonts and colors to use. In turn, Smith does more of the booking, but Sparrow helps decide where they go, how much they travel and whether a gig is worth taking. And when it comes to writing bios, press releases and interviews, one writes and the other edits. “We just have to come to a point of agreement about every little thing, which can be difficult especially when there is also a relationship involved,” Sparrow says. “Two heads are better than one, though, and the debate often makes things more polished and well-done.”
That level of refinement extends to The Resonant Rogues’ new recordings. Following April’s six-song EPs of swing (Swing Set) and Balkan music (Go East, Young Band) — both of which were cut at New Orleans’ Word of Mouth Studios in a mere 12 hours — Here & Gone Again features all original songs that draw on the band’s numerous influences. A successful Kickstarter campaign afforded them more time to prepare and perfect the songs. The funds also allowed them to lay down tracks at Echo Mountain Studios, which the band chose after considering a handful of Asheville sites.
“It felt like a pipe dream at first, to record at one of the best and fanciest studios in the Southeast, but we decided to just go for it and work our butts off to make it happen,” Sparrow says. “Echo Mountain is just incomparable as far as sound quality, equipment, expertise and connections.” She says the church building has a magical feeling, and Josh Blake, the main engineer for the project, was “extremely helpful, informative, encouraging, knowledgeable and kind.”
Following the Isis show, The Resonant Rogues will wind their way up the East Coast before heading to Europe — the Balkan region and hot jazz clubs of France receive nods on Here & Gone Again. The band performed in Belgium, France and Spain in 2013 but expands its reach this summer. The plan is to start in Istanbul — where they’ll join family and study music and dance — then head west to Ireland, stopping through Budapest, Berlin and Amsterdam, and small towns along the way.
“We don’t know exactly what to expect but have heard great things from friends who have gone on similar adventures, and we are finding lots of support from folks we have been in touch with over there,” Sparrow says. “We will have many things planned before embarking on the trip, but we are leaving ourselves open to fun opportunities that may arise.”
WHO: The Resonant Rogues with The Moon & You and Madison J. Cripps
WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Saturday, April 11, at 9 p.m. $8 advance/$10 at the door