With three enthusiastically received studio albums to its credit, Asheville-based Americana trio Underhill Rose has decided to cut a live album, something that songwriter/banjo player/vocalist Eleanor Underhill hopes will “represent the core trio’s sound. … We tour as the trio, so we wanted to capture that.” Recording sessions for the as-yet-untitled album will take the form of a pair of shows at The Altamont Theatre on Friday, Sept. 16.
Underhill says that the trio — including guitarist Molly Rose and upright bassist Salley Williamson — is tighter musically than they’ve ever been. “We love doing the studio album stuff with all the bells and whistles,” she says, “but I think it’s time to share the stripped-down version of what we do.”
The group chose to record in front of a hometown crowd for very specific reasons. “We really want to bring that energy of the live audience into the recording somehow,” Underhill says. “I’ve seen quite a few shows [at The Altamont Theatre]. It’s intimate, and it has great sound.”
The fact that the band will perform two (separately ticketed) shows that night was a factor, too. “We didn’t want a room that we couldn’t fill up,” Underhill says. The venue’s virtues, she says, include having a good vibe and being just large enough “to fit our community of fans.”
Plans call for the live album — due for release sometime next year — to be compiled from recordings made at the two Asheville shows, plus two more performances the following night in Lexington, N.C. That necessitates doing essentially the same set for all four performances. “The album will include a collection of best-ofs from all three of our albums — songs that we feel that people have really been drawn to the most,” Underhill says. The concert will also feature “some songs that we feel did not get their day yet.”
The trio chose Jason Merritt — the studio engineer on Underhill Rose’s albums Something Real (2013) and The Great Tomorrow (2015) — to run the remote recording console for their live dates. “He is our buddy,” Underhill says. “He understands what we do; he’s recorded our voices. From an audio standpoint, he knows us better than anyone.”
Some surprises may be in store for those attending the shows (the last before the group leaves for a tour of Ireland and the U.K.). Underhill hints that as much as a quarter of the set might include “some wild cards that we’re thinking could be on the album … if we nail them. And if we don’t get it, it’s OK; we have our core songs that we definitely want to get on the album.”
One thing the group will not be doing is filming the performances. “When trying to engage an audience, record something audio-wise and record video, I find — for myself — that I get too ‘in my head,’” Underhill explains. She would prefer to focus on the music. “I want to hit the notes.”
One of the group’s goals is “keeping it authentic,” so Underhill Rose plans to refrain from post-production fixes and overdubbing. “I say that now,” Underhill laughs, “but no one has signed a paper saying that we will absolutely not [correct any mistakes]. But that’s the plan.”
The band ran successful Kickstarter campaigns for two previous albums to date, but the musicians are not taking that approach for the live album. “We want to give our fans a break from being asked for money,” Underhill says, “because that’s not fun for anyone.” The group members plans to draw upon their own savings to cover the expenses. But, Underhill allows, the finished product could possibly be a double-disc set.
The band will be attending the AmericanaFest in Nashville later this month where “we may be shopping around some raw [recordings] to some record labels or some distribution companies,” Underhill says. “Something may come of that, or it may not. And if not, it’s all good. The last two albums have done fairly well on the charts, so we’ll see what happens. It’s a crazy industry.”
WHO: Underhill Rose live album recording shows
WHERE: The Altamont Theatre, 18 Church St., thealtamonttheatre.com
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 16, 7 and 9:30 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show