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INTERVIEW: The Underhill Family Orchestra

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Chickasaw Fields”?

Steven Laney: Sure! The song is a kind of gentleman’s argument with a gentle-lady. It touches on the strengths of compassion, compromise and working together in a relationship. We liked putting the song into a format that mirrors those classic Johnny Cash and June Carter tracks. It’s a feel that the band loves and obviously has a lot of respect for, given that history. I think it’s a fun twist on the ‘call and response’ song style and structure, with an upbeat, but admittedly agitated, sense of urgency. Taking that sweetness that June and Johnny had on stage and making it more relatable to us by adding in the actual frustration of having one of these types of conversations (that we now know was a huge factor in their relationship, also) helped us make a song that has a sobering realness that you don’t always find in the simplified and errant versions of love found in ‘rom-coms’ and sentimental love songs. The song ends on a note of euphoria and a persistent promise–I love writing like that. It makes it feel more like an epic poem or a hero’s journey sort of story, to me.”

Did any particular event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Steven Laney: “That’s always a tough question. I think conveying a group of feelings lyrically is just as important as basing a song on any one specific thing. I think our experiences dealing with relational dissonance were certainly fuel for the content of the song which, for me, is inherently relatable. I mean, we all have arguments and disagreements. Convincing the listener that they are not alone and having them feel the same emotions that you are feeling or have felt and finding oneness in that is a much more moving goal. I think every good story is based on truth, and our opinions and feelings are compilations of our experiences.”

Any plans to release a video for the single?

Joelle Rosen:  “We recently recorded a live, stripped-down version of ‘Chickasaw Fields’ (think La Blogotheque Take Away Shows) and we plan to release that soon. We want to make a lot of music videos and have multiple concepts ready, so hopefully we’ll have a lot more content coming your way.”

Steven Laney: “I tend to have a lot of music video ideas. You can always count on us at least having something visual to accompany the songs that we will be emphasizing.”

The single comes off your new album Tell Me That You Love Me – what’s the story behind that title?

Steven Laney: “Oh man. Ok, A) I think a big theme for the record is, in a broad stroke, love. Love itself isn’t really a word that is curtailed into a single meaning but can be used to express many multiple emotions and states of mind; and B) I like to think of love, and this is where I start to sound like a nihilist or something, as loss. I think they are secretly synonymous with each other and fettered to each other. If you love something you will lose something. Everything in love which is worked for, not given or freely bestowed on anyone, can be rephrased in a way to talk about the loss that one incurred by falling in love, or even by losing yourself in love. Love is compromise and compromise means giving up a little something.  I think it’s really beautiful; I don’t think that love is begrudged by loss, I think it is strengthened by it.

The way you love affects the way you want to be loved. I think the record deals with loss and pain and hurt, but all to the expense of the euphoria and fulfillment you gain with finding someone who deeply experiences the same feelings you do for them…. even if they do throw cheetos at your face when you fall asleep watching ‘The Mindy Project.’”

How was the recording and writing process?

Roy Durand: “‘Chickasaw’ being the first song we touched on in the studio made it a pretty cool introduction to working with our producer, Noah Shain. It was one of the drum parts I had worked on the most before entering the studio and I still wasn’t pleased with it. Noah saw where I was trying to take the part, and gave me the exact direction it needed. It’s probably one of the coolest drum parts I’ve ever recorded.”

Joelle Rosen: “When Steven first came to us with the song, explaining a call-and-respond Johnny and June feel, I immediately connected to it and the writing began. It’s great when the whole band can connect to a concept and run with it. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs to play live and I feel it shows a quintessential Underhill vibe. The harmonies and background melodies we added with Noah in the studio really put a fresh spin on the song and made it one of my favorite parts of the album.”

Joe Grove:  “This was the first song in which I got to participate in the writing process. We’d actually been playing this song for a good while before putting it on this album. Steven had the bones and concept for the song, and we all sat down in the apartment Ben and Steven used to share and we took a couple verses. I remember I put in the line that goes ‘shaky fingers take morning coffee // never had none like you could do.’ It was a great experience for me getting my first chance to contribute to the creative process, and that sort of set the bar for me in knowing that I’m not just a hired gun playing bass anymore, I’m a part of this band, and I get to help shape it and have an impact.”

What role does Mobile play in your writing?

Steven Laney: “Mobile is home, home is universal. I think the culture in the area is precedent to our style and sound; everything is an influence. I wake up looking at Mobile and I go to sleep listening to Mobile. It’s important to care about where you’re from and I think that care influences you. Whether you get a Bigger Box from Foosackly’s or a Lafayette Burger from The Blind Mule or if you walk your dog through Cathedral Square to get to Hayley’s, or whatever your fill-in-the-blank version of that is, your hometown affects and binds you together on a daily basis.”

What aspect of love did you get to explore on this record?

Joelle Rosen: “Love is a constant theme in our writing—maintaining it, losing it, balancing it. Some songs are based on our own personal experiences and some are fictitious scenarios with real emotion. In ‘Chickasaw,’ the repetition of ‘I don’t need that… I don’t want to… I just might try…’ is something I feel like most people have experienced at one point or another in relationships—when you love someone but circumstances are hard or you’re learning how the other person works. We also have the ‘Tell Me That You Love Me’ line buried in ‘Chickasaw’ as well as ‘When The Trumpet Sounds.’ At the end of the day, we all want and need to be loved.”

Any plans to hit the road?

Ben Cook: “We are on the road as much as possible. From two-show weekends to weeks on end across the country, we work as hard as possible to get our music to as many ears as we can. Having someone hear the album is one thing, but being able to interact, perform and hopefully make lasting friendships is what The Underhill Family Orchestra is all about. We want to play more festivals and certainly get over seas and be able to reach more demographics and countries with our music, but as far as being on the road, you won’t have to wait for very long to see us in your town.”

Joelle Rosen: “We are always on the road. Live shows give the audience a closer experience with the music and it’s a great way to connect with people. Also, playing shows all the time is the best rehearsal you can get. We are planning a few lengthy runs this year already.”

What else is happening next in The Underhill Family Orchestra?

Steven Laney: “We have road dates, tours, videos, an album. Just trying to keep our noses down and work as hard as we can.”

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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