By Edwin Arnaudin
Backstage Pass 

Underhill Rose To Sing At 185 King, On WSQL


Last updated 3/11/2013 at 9:44am

Left to right Eleanor Underhill, Molly Rose, Salley Williamson. (Photo by Daniel Coston)

The ladies of Underhill Rose recognize an opportunity when they see one. Ready to record a new album last fall but lacking the finances to do so, the Asheville “heartfelt country soul” trio followed the path of other innovative artists and utilized the online fundraising site Kickstarter. With the aid of a persuasive video and strong community support, the group exceeded their requested budget and are currently putting the dollars to good use in one of the Southeast’s most revered studios.

Switching from the recording booth to the stage, Thursday, March 14, at 8 p.m. the group will take part in 185 King Street’s aLive @ 185 series, a show simultaneously broadcast on WSQL 1240 AM. Amidst a rare breather from their chockablock schedule, all three ladies spoke recently with Backstage Pass about crowdsourcing, progress on new tunes, and returning to life on the road.

Question: Your Kick-starter campaign was a huge success. What was the secret to reaching your goal?

Answer: Salley Williamson (upright bass, backing vocals): We were overwhelmed by the support of our community and fans during the Kickstarter campaign. It gave us a lot of confidence in our purpose as a band and in the music we are creating. Kickstarter took a lot of planning and teamwork from the get go, from determining the tiers and incentives we wanted to offer, to making the video, to getting the word out about our campaign.

The secret was all of the friends and fans that were willing to share the video and contribute what they could. It’s also great that Kickstarter isn’t just a donation-based program. The folks who contribute receive a CD, or an art print, or even a house concert in return. It will be fun, making good on all of those pledges. The album comes out May 31.

Q: You note on your website that the album’s producer Cruz Contreras “has brought more to this project than we thought possible.” How so?

A: Williamson: Over the past couple years we’ve played festivals with The Black Lillies and even opened for them at Pisgah Brewing. We’ve admired the band’s music and Cruz Contreras’ songwriting for a while now.

In hindsight, bringing Cruz on as producer was kind of this kismet thing that was just meant to be. Somehow, Cruz had a window of time in The Black Lillies’ busy tour schedule to work with us, and the synergy between all the members on our team for this album was just right. Cruz has directed and produced bands since his days with Robinella and the CC String Band.

Luckily, he did a great job of taking all three of our opinions into account while adding his own spin to the music. We spent several long nights and days on preproduction, and Cruz’s suggestions for the arrangements added a fresh perspective to the songs. He is also featured on guitar and keys for some of the tracks on the album.

Q: Echo Mountain has attracted the likes of The Avett Brothers, Dawes and Smashing Pumpkins to its studios. What specifically appealed to you about recording there?

A: Eleanor Underhill (vocals, banjo, harmonica): It drew us into its vortex! Honestly, I think that Molly was the most enthusiastic about recording at Echo Mountain. She grew up singing at church and I think the fact that Echo Mountain used to be one brings in an intangible sacred element, even if you are someone who is not particularly religious or spiritual. The space is open and inviting. There is a lot of room to physically move around and get away from the mixing room after 10 hours of meticulous work.

Echo Mountain is local and we loved the ability to go home and sleep in our own beds at night. It also has amazing equipment. We used some pretty fancy microphones, amps, and preamps, as I recall. We felt that we should seek out the best for this album.

It’s been two years since our last one, which we pieced together over several months, studios, and even states (Georgia and North Carolina). This time around, we had the support of our Kickstarter backers. That is what made it possible.

Q: A week after the 185 King Street show, you’ll embark on a mini East Coast tour through the end of March. Is it difficult to make the transition from the studio back to the stage?

A: Underhill: The studio and the stage are completely different animals. Until we began preproduction on the album, our only focus had been playing live. So much so that we barely had time to work on new songs! It is a very organic and, I think, healthy process to shift gears and turn inwards a bit to work on new material, sort out new harmonies, and put everything under the microscope.

The road can be very grueling and I think we were all more exhausted than we even realized. So, in a sense, the studio was very nurturing. It also brings new perspective. Our live approach will be different now after that studio experience. Life on the road is a privilege, and I think that we will be ready to make that transition now that we’ve rested up and have some fresh ideas to try out at live shows.

Q: Speaking of shows, your Kickstarter page indicates that you’ll be playing eight house concerts, one for each of your most generous backers. Do you expect these performances to be easier or tougher than your usual gigs?

A: Molly Rose (vocals, guitar): We are really looking forward to these gigs. Some of the people we have met before (even friends and family), and some we look forward to meeting when we arrive for the gig. To answer your question, some parts are easier and some parts are harder. It might be quite a drive with a lot of gear to get out to a house in the middle of nowhere (or the middle of a big city, in some cases), but the scenery is beautiful and the people are always glad to have us.

When we have played house concerts in the past, the audience is typically a small group of friends that listen very closely. So, people hear you loud and clear, whether you mess up or sing a song better than you ever have! The hard part is only because I set myself to a high standard. If I mess up a lick or sing a line a little strangely, I give myself a little heat. The easy part is that the crowd is always forgiving. Ultimately, at house concerts, the audience is truly listening, even feeling the music, which is a magical experience for everyone involved.


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