Roanoke - Sound In The Signals Interview

Roanoke is a rising Americana & Folk band coming out of Nashville. They debuted their self-titled album on May 13th to a big celebration and praise from fans and many critics. Their music tells stories of adventure, heartbreak, love, and perseverance. They have a unique sound and story that most can relate to and they were kind enough to share with us what they hope their listeners get from their music, how special the Nashville scene is to them, and what is coming next for the band.

You've been compared to bands like The Civil Wars, The Head and the Heart, and The Lumineers. I think the band is on the way to making its own name and place in the music scene. Can you tell us a bit about your background for those who may be unfamiliar?

Zach: We all moved to Nashville for different reasons: some of us wanted to be performers, some writers, maybe even a little bit of both. With Roanoke, we have all found what we were looking for, I think. It’s an incredibly collaborative band, with everyone’s musical sensibilities affording equal weight. That’s what created our sound, just a wonderful confluence of ideas and influences that coalesced into something much bigger than the sum of its parts.
Your debut album, Roanoke, came out May 13th. I'd describe it as fun, charming, and quite captivating. Joey and Taylor create great harmonies and the instruments really guide the album. You recorded most of the album in a church-turned studio in Nashville. Did that location and the history there lend itself to the recording process? What was an average day like while recording?

Zach: Recording at Reel Love Studios was a blast. For most of the band, it was our first professional studio experience in Nashville, so we were a bit in awe to begin with. Having the space be an old church added a sense of reverence to the whole process. It was also a warmer experience as compared to being in a more modern studio: the equipment was vintage, and the old wood floors would creak under your feet, but it lent a more organic feel to the recording that I think translates well into the final product. We were tracking in what used to be the sanctuary, with all the pews removed, and the high ceilings produced a great natural reverb. We always had a couple mics running: one for the instrument, and one that just captured the room sound. We would typically get started around 10 in the morning and go on until about 7 or 8 at night. For my part, on mandolin, I’d get to hear the whole rhythm section track their parts first, so I’d have the instrument in my hands down in the basement and fiddle around in between takes. Most of the mandolin parts were written on the day while I listened to the other guys lay their parts down. I think that spontaneity registers on the songs, and keeps them sounding fresh, like we’re playing them for the first time.

You capture Folk/Americana quite nicely. I understand that you (Joey and Taylor) hail from Florida and Michigan but found yourselves in Nashville. Something that brought you together was your shared love for roots instrumentation and for the storytelling involved in Folk and Americana music. What does this music mean to you? How has Nashville shaped your music and band?

Taylor: Americana music is something I discovered after moving to Nashville. It means a lot to me because it doesn’t put artists into one genre. It’s country, it’s gospel, it’s rock n’ roll, blues, folk. Americana and folk music is true, honest songwriting, and storytelling, which really resonates with me because that’s what I want to do with my music. I moved to Nashville and was completely immersed in the music scene. I have always loved old music, but really started to take certain things from the classics such as Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, etc, and use them to inspire my songwriting. Living in Nashville really helps us to step up as a band. There are so many amazing bands and artists up there and it’s so important to stay on your toes and constantly work to better yourself not only musically, but also on the business side of things.

You have a unique sound and style that I can see appealing to a large audience. Another part of the appeal is the storytelling in your music. "Heavy Goodbyes" is a powerful song about coming to terms with having to leave someone you love. How do you come together to write songs with such meaning?

Taylor: Every song is different. Sometimes I am inspired by a song, or a person, other times I am inspired by a story or a feeling or concept, or even a word or line. I wanted to write a song that was beautiful and tragic at the same time, and that’s when the concept of “Heavy Goodbyes” came to me. I wanted to explore the idea of leaving someone, but also coming to terms with having to leave someone, and making the best of your last night together. I brought the song to Joey and he helped me finish it. There are so many songs in the world, and it’s hard to find a subject that hasn’t been turned into a song. To me, the songs that stick with me are the ones that are relatable, but forces the listener to think from a different perspective. There are so many songs about saying goodbye, but it’s the unique perspective on the subject, paired with the right chords, melody, and arrangements, that makes the song meaningful.

"Jordan" is another powerful song that tells a common story; it's one of finding faith and redemption. I understand that you wrote this after being inspired by seeing Alison Krauss perform a gospel song a capella. "Jordan" starts the album beautifully. This is one of my favorites off the album and I think part of that is because of the a capella part in the beginning. What do you hope your fans get from the story and meaning from this song and from the album, as a whole?

Taylor: I hope that fans will listen to “Jordan” and relate. It does have some biblical references but it is more than that. It is about finding forgiveness within yourself and I hope that listeners can hear “Jordan” and relate on some level. I think that many people struggle with finding forgiveness within yourself and many times it eats away at your sense of self. I want people to know that they aren’t alone in feeling this way. That actually goes for the entire album. We wrote songs that were extremely meaningful to us, and we hope that audiences will hear our album and either relate in some way, or just let the song take the listener on a journey. It’s an album we put our heart and soul into and we want people to feel something while listening.

I want to bring up what you are doing with your song "The Light". Taylor grew up an hour away from Flint, Michigan (which is currently struggling with a water contamination crisis). You are working with  Cadence and Cause to bring help to struggling families by giving 100% of the donations made for the purchase of that song on their site to those families. Can you tell us a bit about this and what it means to you?

Taylor: Basically, I heard about an opportunity to help some fellow Michiganders and I took it. Any chance I get to help anyone with my music is wonderful. I heard about the crisis in Flint and immediately felt for the families. Something so tragic and preventable was happening so close to where I grew up, and I’m so happy that we had the opportunity to help out with our music. It means a lot to me that our music can help people, and I look forward to exploring other ways to help in the future.

You've said "Roanoke has a special place in all of our hearts as it is our introduction into the world, It’s our best foot forward and our shot in the dark." I like that. I'm sure you're going to be quite busy after the release of the album. What's coming up for Roanoke and how can fans keep up with you?

Zach: Roanoke hits the road in June for the first of three tours this summer and fall. Now that the album is out there, we want to bring the music directly to the listeners. Performing is what we love, and why we’re still in this crazy competitive business. We’ve built some great relationships with folks across the country, people who’ve helped us with a couch to crash on, or contributed to our IndieGoGo campaign, and we relish the opportunity to share our music and make new friends along the way. You can find details about the tour, and how to contact us at roanokeband.com

Thanks for the interview. We wish you well on the release and in the future. Is there anything you would like to add?

Taylor: Creating this album has been such an amazing experience. We would not be able to do it without the support of our family, friends, and even new fans! The support has been overwhelming and we want everyone to know how much we appreciate it. We would not be able to do what we love without you.

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