“We loved Asheville, but it’s too pretty,” says Mallory Graham, half of indie-folk duo The Rough & Tumble. “All we wanted to do was take hikes and drink delicious beer.” Graham and her collaborator, Scott Tyler, were members of The Walk-In Residents when they lived in Western North Carolina. Three years ago they relocated to Nashville to get serious about songwriting.
Shortly after the move, they launched The Rough & Tumble, initially as a writing project. “But then we thought, ‘let’s start recording and let’s start touring,’ and it tumbled into this thing that we want to do full time,” says Tyler. It’s about to become very full time: The couple plan to buy an RV and go out on the road permanently. But first they’ll visit Asheville for a Saturday, Oct. 18, show at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall.
That performance comes on the heels of a cross-country jag with stops in Michigan, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. The trip came about because, as an incentive for a Kickstarter donation, The Rough & Tumble offered a house show. The winner of the prize lives in Las Vegas, so Graham and Tyler organized a tour around that one gig. “Then we thought, ‘We’re only four hours from L.A.,’ because that’s what you think when you’re a touring musician,” says Graham.
Here’s what’s not an afterthought: traveling with a 97-pound bullmastiff mascot named Butter. The dog commandeers the backseat of the duo’s vehicle and sometimes complicates their plans. “Most of the time she can come into the club or the house show,” says Graham. “There are times when we have to be a little creative about where to put her whenever we’re playing at restaurants or places that don’t allow dogs. Last night we paid a guy to sit in a parking lot and watch her.”
But Butter’s benefits are many: She provides fodder for fun photos, requires Graham and Tyler to take driving breaks and walks, and “she’s a great conversation starter,” says Tyler. “We joke that if you don’t like our music, at least you’ll like our dog.”
The canine companion is cute but not necessary to attract listeners to The Rough & Tumble. The band’s thoughtful and often quirky spin on Americana, country and singer-songwriter styles has a tried-and-true feel, delivered with a wink. The previously mentioned crowd-funding initiative made possible last year’s release, The Rough & Tumble’s Holiday Awareness Campaign — a collection of 24 songs commemorating “those tens and twenties of holidays that get upstaged each year by Christmas,” as the duo explains on their Bandcamp page. Groundhog’s Day, April Fool’s Day and Boxing Day make the list, along with “A Day for the Remembrance of the Souls of Lost Whales” — one of many titles that doesn’t make obvious what observance it celebrates. But Graham’s and Tyler’s easy strums, poignant chord organ, moving lyrics and well-matched vocals quickly reveal that Holiday Awareness Campaign is about much more than lesser-known furloughs.
Graham and Tyler are currently at work on a new record, though they’re not in any hurry to complete it. “In the last three years, we’ve released three EPs and a double album, which is a lot of material for a couple of folk-singers,” says Graham. The duo are working with Matt Langston of the Black Mountain-based electro-pop project, The Jellyrox. And, though Tyler says they’re not sure where they’re going to take the album, the songwriters agree that their new songs share a common inspiration.
It’s a theme that’s either really strange or completely fitting for two musicians about to trade a rental house for an RV, and gigging for nonstop tour: “We’re writing about home,” says Graham. “It seems a little sentimental for us, but it also feels very new for each of us, and something is rumbling.”
WHO: The Rough & Tumble with Even the Animals and Matt Townsend
WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 18, at 8:30 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show