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As the Acoustic Syndicate family grows, a new album finally awaits

by Ryan Snyder

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Acoustic Syndicate ready their first new material in years for their Saturday show in Greensboro. (courtesy photo)

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There`s maybe no better way to sum up the outlook of Acoustic Syndicate circa 2005 than the words of Bryon McMurry on the Shelby folk-rock oufit’s song “It Was Good While It Lasted.” “Nothing lasts forever and we find out who we are,” he sang on the band’s 2000 album Tributaries, unaware then that it might be the band’s mantra in only a few years time as they entered an indeterminable furlough. The McMurrays — Bryon, Fitz and cousin Steve — knew just who they were: a close-knit group built upon rural values of sustainability and commitment to the family. When the two brothers began to experience growth in their own families, their incessant touring lifestyle of the past decade suddenly became an afterthought.

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“Fitz and Brian were both having to be gone during pregnancies and the last thing we wanted to do is have our families suffer on account of what we’re doing,” said Steve. “It’s important for us to stay centered and understand what’s most important. It was the obvious thing to do at that point.”

The group was arguably going out at their peak. They had just released one of their best-received albums in 2004’s Long Way Round (Sugar Hill), and kicked off the album’s supporting tour with a return to the Bonnaroo Music Festival after performing the inaugural festival two years earlier. Steve says that show in particular was instrumental in that tour’s success.

“We were on the way out to California on the bus and I remember thinking what a good experience that was for us,” he said. “We were keeping an eye on online chatter and it was really interesting to see how excited people were after that show.”

But the realities of fatherhood made the decision easy for the brothers.

They would occasionally perform solo one-offs in support of others on the alternative bluegrass and folk scene, but Acoustic Syndicate was no more in their eyes.

“We thought during that time that we were just done, but it wasn’t, and it wouldn’t be done,” Steve said. “It wasn’t like one day we woke up with a light bulb in our head going off and said, ‘Hey, lets get the band back together and play.’ It was sort of a persistent nagging.”

At the urging of their booking agent Hugh Southard, the group started playing more and more shows around 2007, learning how to juggle being a working band and family men at the same time. The days of 180- 200 shows per year may be over for the band, but Steve says that being able to have their families present has engendered a new kind of creative freedom in them.

As of now, they’re not only looking to begin recording their first album in seven years, but their arrangement is growing as well. Bassist Jay Sanders invited a friend, dobro player Billy Cardine, to join the group for a performance at last year’s Asheville Earth Day Celebration, and Steve said they knew almost immediately that he was a perfect fit for the group.

The addition is progressive for the group’s sound, which Steve describes as being edgier than any other era of the band, and for the first time, they’ll be writing songs specifically to feature a certain instrument. They hope to hit Echo Mountain Recording in Asheville with the pool of 15-16 songs later in 2011, many of which Steve describes as being written from a deeper, more personal place than ever before.

“I always tried to keep songwriting away from my personal life, but there’s been a couple of things in my life with living and people dying. Some major influences that really changed my reality,” he said somewhat hesitantly. “I thought about it and thought about it, and sort of avoided writing anything about it, but something kept bugging me to do it.”

He added that the time away has allowed him and his cousins to refocus their creativity after admittedly becoming burnt out in the year before their hiatus. Reenergized as a group, Steve believes that the band is in as good of a creative place as they’ve ever been.

“When you get burnt out and you start to write songs from the gut, it’s just not good,” he said. “It’s better to be creative out of a desire to be creative and not a need to be creative.”

Acoustic Syndicate will perform at the Blind Tiger this Saturday. Crowfield will support.

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