The Everybodyfields’ youthful take on an old sound

by Jordan Green

The music of the Everybodyfields, a string of pearls organized around the coequal songwriting duties of Jill Andrews and Sam Quinn, conveys a comfortable and worn feel like scuffed furniture. The pair from Johnson City, Tenn. present a striking contrast: Quinn’s voice comes across as unorthodox and full of otherworldly pitch, reaching into the remote regions of the soul; Andrews’ intonation is more delicate and conventionally pretty.

After four years writing songs, recording and working the road, they’ve filled out their band as a quartet with fellow Johnson City resident Megan McCormick playing lap steel and several other instruments, and Emma O’Donnell of Hudson, NY bringing the sound of the fiddle to the group’s songs.

The band’s music dips from the mythic American folk life stream, a place eternally situated on the road, developing twin themes identified by Andrews as ‘“loss and leaving.’” Like the music of Lucinda Williams when she could still be considered a folk troubadour, the Everybodyfields’ songs carry a sense of promise and open-ended adventure, but also the darker flipside of regret and weariness born of romantic excess.

‘“There’s a bar in Alabama, and it’s called the Red Rose,’” Andrews sings on Halfway There: Electricity and the South, the band’s 2004 debut release. ‘“And I go there when I’m thirsty; that’s the only reason I suppose.’”

‘“I know I’ve had enough of this town,’” another verse goes. ‘“There’s not much more for me to see. There’s Bibles falling from the sky. I don’t think God has time for me.’”

If God is seen in one frame as having abandoned the hopeless sinner, the chorus presents a more attractive personification ‘—’ that of the good-hearted enabler.

‘“I think God is a moonshiner,’” the same song’s chorus proclaims. ‘“His skin is gold from the whiskey in his blood. I think in heaven there is a barroom, a place where the men go to forget their wives.’”

On a recent Wednesday the band is on break, a 10-day respite before they commence a new string of shows in Georgia, swinging up through North Carolina and Virginia, eventually making their way up to New England. Andrews is in Santa Fe, NM exploring national parkland with a close friend.

‘“There is definitely a lot of adventure,’” she says of life on the road. ‘“Always staying in new towns is cool. One thing that definitely kind of sucks is you’re always rushing from gig to gig. The driving is really hard ‘—’ driving five hours and pretending like you had a really great night’s sleep and you didn’t drink too much the night before.’”

After four years together as a band and two albums under their belts, Andrews says she wouldn’t mind making a little more money.

‘“We’re still crashing on people’s floors,’” she says. ‘“You wake up and your back’s sore. You don’t have a lot of privacy. Like it or not, you’re with these three people all the time. You want to be by yourself and focus on yourself sometimes.’”

At this stage in her band’s development Andrews still looks forward to playing new venues and cities with fresh anticipation and excitement. In August the Everybodyfields will make their first foray to the West Coast, playing a five-night string of dates in Washington state and Oregon. The Avett Brothers, a North Carolina band that shares the Everybodyfields’ youthful take on traditional music, will join them for three dates.

The Everybodyfields come out of the southern Appalachian mountain fastness, a location congenial to music making despite its relative remoteness. The bluegrass program at East Tennessee State University brought McCormick to Johnson City. There’s a network of small cities there at the interstice of the four states that back into the southern part of the Appalachian ridgeline: North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Knoxville, Tenn. and Asheville, NC could be seen as the region’s twin pillars. Bristol, a town that straddles the Tennessee-Virginia line, could be considered the music’s spiritual home, being the place where the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers were first recorded in 1927, achieving immortality and launching country music as we know it.

Andrews describes her band’s home base in more prosaic terms.

‘“It’s in a very central location,’” she says. ‘“Atlanta is five hours away. Charlotte is three hours away. Asheville is two hours away. It’s not hard to get to Boston, to New Hampshire or Maine. Knoxville, Tennessee is the hometown place for us. We’ve got a great audience there because of a couple radio stations that have really helped us out there.’”

Kentucky and the rest of the territory to the northwest remains a resistant prize, sequestered as it is on the other side of the Cumberland Gap.

‘“Kentucky’s a hard shell to crack shell to crack,’” Andrews says.

‘“Lexington is hard to get into, but maybe it’s just because we’ve been focused on the Dame,’” she adds, referencing the city’s premier live music venue. ‘“Louisville’s hard to get into. They expect you to already have an audience, which is understandable I guess.’”

Kentucky and other sections may soon fall under the Everybodyfields’ spell. Partly under the influence of their friends the Avett Brothers, the band is evolving.

‘“They’re definitely more rocking and aggressive than we are,’” Andrews says. ‘“We have a pretty soft edge still. We are listening to music like that. I think that’s the natural progression of our music. We started out in the country; now we’re sort of into town. Things aren’t about the mountains. Things are about you and me. I definitely write about things I see daily, people I know and people I care about.’”

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