INTRO -- An Asheville Americana trio is starting to get some national attention with airplay of their second CD taking it into the Top 20 of some radio charts. The national attention comes courtesy of some humble origins that embarrassed teenagers across the country can probably identify with. George Olsen has more.
Time in the car with parents can sometimes be irritating for the kids, sometimes beneficial, sometimes both.
“I grew up listening to my mom singing harmony with Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt and Barbara Streisand full tilt, full volume every time I was in the car for many years. At the time I was “oh, mom, stop.”
Eleanor Underhill, one half of the namesakes of the Asheville trio Underhill Rose. It took a while for the Joni Mitchells and Bonnie Raitts to sink in though. Eleanor says there was a lot of Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul in her youthful listening, but it seems the more acoustic oriented choices of her parents won out, as evidenced by Underhill Rose’s new CD “Something Real.”
Underhill and Molly Rose are the band’s original members with recent addition Sally Williamson on bass rounding out the trio. Both Underhill and Rose had that early introduction to the mix of acoustic music and harmony that makes up their sound… in addition to the Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell Underhill’s mom blasted in the car, she soon found the acoustic sides of classic rockers Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the Beatles, while Molly Rose was enraptured by the Trio albums… Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton. They were both college students when they recognized their similar musical inclinations and started singing together. Molly Rose came in with a bit more informal training, again with a parental influence. Her father, a musician, would point out harmonies in songs and get her to sing different parts. For Eleanor Underhill it was a little more hit-and-miss.
“I did take Voice 1 at Warren Wilson College. I’m sure I learned some technique but I’m sure I’ve forgotten it because most of my life has been a very organic… this is what I want to do I’ll figure out how to do it on my own. I think you learn some bad habits in that realm doing it that way but it’s also authentic, so mostly trial and error, listening to myself and getting pointers from others as well.”
There’s also pointers in the songwriting process to be shared. The music on “Something Real” is all original with all three members getting songwriting credits on the disc. It’s the problem… or advantage… of working in a group situation. You think you’ve written a sure-fire standard, they might think… not so much. So what do you do?
“You do have to be very open and I think that’s something we’ve all realized, and we’re all able to do. That’s what it takes to be in a band. You have to compromise, you have to be open to suggestion. You have to have a sense of humor and enjoy the process and not get too crazy attached to things.”
“Something Real’s” opening track “Helpless Wanderer” has a long time attachment for Eleanor Underhill. It was originally written and performed by her and Molly Rose’s first musical endeavor the Barrel House Mamas who split up in 2009, at which time Eleanor and Molly decided to give it a go on their own. Now the song shows up on Underhill Rose’s 2nd CD. It’s reflective of the more intensive touring schedule the trio faces as they give the band a full-time shot though it originally was more a reflection on Eleanor’s then-current state of mind.
“This song, absolutely, reflects touring life. You know, Helpless Wanderer was also written as a personal, talking about just feeling lost. I’m having a bad day. I’m not making the right decisions. I feel like I can’t move forward, you know? That’s really what the song came to me about.”
The track “Drives Me to Drinking” is also indicative of touring life, partially inspired by the people they’ve run across while touring. Call it making the best out of a bad situation.
“Molly Rose wrote that tune. The second verse was inspired by a show we played and this one guy was really drunk and kind of harassing us. We’ve played a lot of different venues, sometimes on beautiful stages and sometimes in the corner of a bar, as I think all musicians experience both for much of their career. This guy was just harassing us. That’s kind of object at the person in verse two.”
While Eleanor has stated she doesn’t want to write anything that “sounds too much like any one thing” Underhill Rose’s music certainly feels comfortable in the Americana genre and its roots in country, bluegrass, blues and folk. Her song “Unused to You” boasts a nice turn-of-phrase that certainly feels comfortable as a country heartache ballad.
“I went through a really hard break-up with someone that… and everyone can relate to this at some point in their life. It doesn’t have to be a break-up. You can just lose someone, but you really dial into their activities and having them around. You get so used to them. That was a real clear feeling of mourning, that I was getting un-used to someone. It just kind of hit me. I thought it was a real poignant phrase and I wanted to write a song with that in the chorus.”
But despite songs of mourning and feeling lost and bad audiences… well, one small portion of an audience… the CD “Something Real” isn’t just one long foray into hard times. “Something Real’s” lyrics may be personal reflections but the good times get equal representation with the bad.
“Sally, our bass player, wrote Got My Back. She went home for a wedding. She’s from Denmark, SC and saw some old, old people. She was looking around the room thinking these people will be there if something, if the world takes its toll, so she wrote that tune. It’s one of those songs where as soon as we got it together we were singing it… They Got My Back… it’s pretty catchy and certainly has a great, great message.”
And now it’s stuck in your head too.
Eleanor Underhill, one-third of the trio Underhill Rose. Their second self-released CD is entitled “Something Real.” I’m George Olsen.