Quick Q and A with Mandolin Orange

The sound of stars rising — Mandolin Orange!  This dynamic duo from North Carolina has been described as the contemporary version of Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris or maybe even Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings.  National Public Radio chose their latest CD, This Side of Jordan, as one of the Top 10 Folk / Americana albums of 2013.  Mandolin Orange played at the legendary Newport Folk Festival this summer and has been keeping up a relentless touring schedule.

To learn more about Mandolin Orange, visit their website.

Here’s a lovely video of “There Was a Time.”

Mandolin Orange at the Eno River State Park, Sunday, April 14, 2013.

One music critic has cited that your music is a mixture of folk, bluegrass and pop. Another music writer says that it’s a mix of bluegrass, rock, and country.  If you had to divide your ‘sound’ up like a pie, how would you slice it?  

It probably depends on the era.  We definitely went through a Mandolin Orange rock phase, but it was pretty short-lived.  We’re feeling pretty grounded in more of the old- time music lately, so I’d say the pie is currently 50% singer-songwriter (less genre-oriented), 18% bluegrass, 17% old-time, 10% country and 5% rock.

Has your music evolved in any noticeable ways since you first started playing together? 

It’s kind of a constant evolution.  We go through phases of what kinds of sounds we want to make (see first question) but I think it’s all still rooted in the same place.  We’re always going to be singing harmonies, and playing acoustic guitar, fiddle and mandolin.  The details come and go but those are the constants.

Do you have any mutual musical heroes?  Anyone who we’d be surprised by?

We spend almost all of our time either playing together or listening to the same music in the car, so most of our heroes and influences are mutual at this point. They’re usually instrument specific—for fiddle it has always been Stuart Duncan, for mandolin, Mike Compton and Tim O’Brien.  Acoustic guitar would be the obvious Tony Rice and Norman Blake, but a less obvious choice would be Neil Young—his solo acoustic guitar style is a huge influence of mine (Emily).  The songwriting influences are a lot more wide-reaching. John Hartford, Paul Simon, Eddie Vedder, Cass McCombs, Doug Paisley, the list goes one. We picked up a copy of Pantera Far Beyond Driven the other day in a record store… it probably won’t get as much airplay as the other stuff in the van but it’s a good throwback.

You met each other at a music jam in 2009.  Had you both been into music for a while prior to that fateful meeting?

Andrew had been songwriting since he first picked up the guitar, but was just learning mandolin.  I had played fiddle throughout middle and high school but hadn’t been playing for the several years leading up to our meeting, so it really was by chance that we both ended up at that jam!

Were you surrounded by the sounds of Appalachian music when you were young?  Was it cool to like it or were all your friends into heavy metal or rap or other types of music?

I think we were both more aware of that kind of folk music than we would have been had we grown up somewhere else.  That said, neither of us got super into it until we were older.  There was a lot more heavy metal and bad pop country playing in our cars as 16-year-olds.

Tell us about your first attempts at playing together.  Could you sense that it was a good fit?

It was really natural from the start. It was super easy to sing together, maybe because we both have pretty straight-ahead voices.

Mandolin Orange at Newport Folk Festival 2014

Mandolin Orange at Newport Folk Festival 2014

How long did it take before you both agreed that this was a musical venture to put time and energy into?

Not very long—after the first night we played together we were constantly making more plans.  We played around in local bars a lot during those first few months. It kind of developed naturally and took a while before we consciously decided to be a “band”.

You’ve had some amazing opportunities to play all over the country.  You’ve probably played in all kinds of places—big and small.  Do any stand out in any memorable ways or do they all tend to blur together?

2014 has been a bit of a blur.  We’ve played more shows this year and covered more miles than ever before.  But each show is unique and we remember places pretty well so far. We love big and small shows—it really just depends on the energy we get from a crowd and how interactive we’re able to be.  We like to be conversational as much as possible.

Is there a new recording in the works any time soon?  What’s in store for 2015?

Yes! We’ve been working on some new stuff that we’re really excited about! I don’t have many details to share yet but there will definitely be new tunes out there in 2015.

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