FOR ALMOST ten years, the duo Underhill Rose has shaken up the Americana scene with melt-your-heart melodies, luminous arrangements, and unforgettable live performances. Featuring Molly Rose on guitar and Eleanor Underhill on banjo, the North Carolina band has gained international recognition since its formation.
In the last four years, Underhill Rose has independently released two albums in the top of the Americana Music Association Airplay Chart and Roots Music Report Chart; their second record, Something Real, peaked at number 18 on the AMA Charts, was named an AMA Top 100 Album of the Year, and even scored in the top 25 of the EuroAmericana Chart, Freeform Americana Radio, and The Alternate Root “Roots 66” Charts. Underhill Rose celebrated their third record going number one on The Roots Music Report’s Progressive Bluegrass Album Chart for over nine weeks in 2015.
The band returns to Savannah with a new album in tow. Underhill Rose Live showcases the band’s strengths in a stripped-down environment where stories are told, instruments are played beautifully, and inimitable chemistry is witnessed by lucky audiences.
We caught up with Underhill and Rose to chat about their college jam sessions, their brave decision keep it indie, and the inspiration behind their songs.
Why the decision to make a live album?
Eleanor Underhill: We had three studio albums and years of touring under our belts and it felt like the perfect time to capture the stripped-down sound of a live show featuring the core trio. Playing for a crowd can elevate the performance because you are interacting in real time. Many of our biggest fans and closest family came out for those shows, which made for a really meaningful experience. We were also able to pick some crowd favorites from each of our prior recordings and include some cover songs that we've never released before, so the live album acts almost as a "best of" collection as well.
You have independently released your two albums. How have you seen the benefits of handling it yourself instead of seeking label representation?
Molly Rose: Having an independent band means running your own small business, which can be empowering. One of the benefits is that we have cultivated relationships directly with our fans through crowdfunding campaigns. Our fans bought our album before it was released (along with other merchandise and handmade art), which gave us the capital up front to release our albums. It is very similar to what a label would provide, but has given us the final say in decision-making and made us closer to the people who believe in us.
At times, we have had the only independently-released album on the Americana chart, and this is a testament to our small but enthusiastic team: our publicist, booking agent, stylist, radio promoters and fans.
I see y’all are Warren Wilson alums! There seems to be a really nurturing creative, communal environment there. What was it like getting to know each other musically in that kind of space?
Underhill: It's a small school that seems to attract people that are looking for something beyond the traditional college experience. Molly and I both worked in the organic garden each week and were required to do 100 hours of service work before graduating. The work/service/academic triad nurtures a well-rounded perspective and skill set. Molly also worked in accounting, and funny enough, she runs the numbers for Underhill Rose. We learned a lot about self-sufficiency, which is handy as independent business owners.
Beyond the technical stuff, it felt like a supportive community of creatives. There was an old-time jam session each Wednesday during lunch with staff, students, and even the president of the college. I would bring my banjo and try and keep up, learning the traditional Appalachian tunes. In our spare time, Molly and I were both writing songs, learning our instruments, and enjoying singing harmonies on one another’s material. The beauty of the Swannanoa Valley was, itself, inspiring. It was a great place to build a musical foundation.
You’re wonderful storytellers. Where do you find lyrical inspiration? What kind of stories do you find yourself drawn to?
Rose: Thanks so much! We are inspired by the people around us and the landscape. We feel lucky to call Asheville, North Carolina our home, which is in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their beauty and the flora and fauna are a constant inspiration.
Otherwise, we have gained a lot of insight and song ideas from our travels out west and overseas to Ireland and the UK. I remember Eleanor picking out the basic song idea for “Love Looks Good on You” while we were in northern California on our summer tour. I was inspired to write a new song we have been performing called “Dublin Days” when I was flying in to the Dublin airport. We also have plenty of relationship songs, too. Sometimes the best thing you get from a failed relationship is a great song!
What are you working on next?
Underhill: Molly and I are looking forward to the next chapter of Underhill Rose. It's crazy to think that next year will be the band's ten-year anniversary! Where does the time go? We have been focused on adding some new songs to the repertoire, both covers and originals, and reworking some songs from the past. We have loved touring but will dial things back in the fall of 2018 so that we can focus on creative endeavors (announcements coming soon!). It's a real gift to have such a great musical partnership. We'll just have to see where the road takes us from here.