Finally nodding off to sleep at 2am after a show in DC, Underhill Rose is awake before 8am the next morning, preparing for an in-studio performance at Washington’s public radio flagship WAMU. “That’s almost enough sleep,” smiles singer/songwriter/guitarist Molly Rose. “It’s worth it, you know, but sometimes you feel a little bit tired.”
All of the dues paid on the road began reaping rewards for Underhill Rose in 2013. The Asheville-based trio’s fan-funded country-soul release, Something Real, made the Americana Music Association’s year-end Top 100 for airplay.
Molly Rose and Eleanor Underhill began blending their voices together at Warren Wilson College in 2001, in a group of ladies who would become the Barrel House Mamas. They carried that mountain music flavor, and the tight, flowing harmonies, into Underhill Rose, solidifying the sound with bassist/vocalist Salley Williamson. “At the core of it, Eleanor and I have been singing and playing together for 13 years, and that does not go unnoticed,” Rose says. “I don’t think that anyone can deny the electricity between the two of us when we play together. And Sally is a nice complement to that.
“We say that we’ve been able to read each others minds for a long time, and it’s true. We can pretty well intuit what the other person is going to do next. That makes it really easy when you’re wondering how they’re going to approach singing the next line of the song. The more time we spend together and play music together, the better we get.”
After reaching and exceeding its Kickstarter goal last spring, the group went into Asheville’s Echo Mountain Studios to record Something Real with Knoxville producer Cruz Contreras (The Black Lillies). They brought in Rayna Gellert on cello, Matt Smith on pedal steel guitar and dobro, Mike Rhodes on drums, Ryan Burns on organ, and Silas Durocher on guitar. Justin Ray added trumpet on Rose’s ragtime song ‘The End of 27,’ one of three tunes she penned for the album.
“That song is about turning 28 years old, but it’s really also about the ’27 Club,’ that infamous club of famous people that die before they turn 28…Graham Parsons, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin — the list is long,” Rose explains. “But I kind of realized that most people are going to turn 28, so you might as well celebrate.”
Rose describes her tune “Drive Me To Drinking” as, “A true drinking song, and it’s a sad one. It hurt because it’s a little bit raw. I went to record my vocal, and thought I’d do a couple more takes, and they were like, ‘No Molly, we’re going to keep that first one.’ I must have just been feeling it,” she says. “That’s the way music should be sometimes, just in the moment of truly feeling it. Capturing that moment and keeping it.”
The song “Full House” examines Rose’s dream of home ownership. “I did finally get the house, and literally a couple weeks later we were on tour out west,” she recalls. “Even now there are tons of boxes in the house, but it’s okay. Wrote the song, and I’m so glad and grateful that we’ve been traveling as much as we have been.”
For Underhill Rose, touring done well is a contemplative time. “It’s one of the few times where we aren’t around people, so we end up being pretty quiet,” Rose says. “We have some time to ourselves, some time to think, so that allows for us to do songwriting, or just sleep against the window. Other times we rock out, we listen to a lot of music. But generally it’s pretty quiet on the road.
“We certainly get inspiration from the experiences that we have while we’re out on the road, and we’re constantly inundated with new things. Getting to see all these places and the way people live and do things is fuel for the fire of song work, so it’s been great.”
Frustrations on the road can also lead to new material, such as Something Real’s “Helpless Wanderer.” “Moments when we get stuck in a snowstorm, and feel like we’re going crazy after ten hours in the car,” Rose says. “We take a lot of that in stride, but it does make you feel like a helpless wanderer sometimes, like ‘Are we ever going to get there?’
“Stepping onstage is the reward for all of that driving, for all of that practice. Yeah, it’s a pleasure to be able to take the stage after all of the work that leads up to it.”
When the group tours for longer stretches, the musical connection can become magical, like second nature, according to Rose. “We try to treat every show exactly the same, and for the most part we do,” she claims. “But there are certainly some shining moments when we’ve been together for a long time, when it’s like pushing a button. You just get up there and you do your thing, and you do it better than you ever have before. And it’s just because you’ve been doing it, sometimes for several days and weeks or years in a row. It’s like pushing a ‘go’ button. We have to be able to do that right now.”
Molly Rose mentions The Steep Canyon Rangers’ recent song “Stand And Deliver.” “‘Now’s the time, like it or not, stand and deliver,'” she quotes. “We feel like that right now, that it’s the time to literally stand onstage and deliver everything that you’ve promised to people,” Rose says. “We had a successful Kickstarter album…check. That album came out and got great reviews…check. That album charted for 22 weeks on the AMAs…check. Now it’s time to go out there and stand and deliver, and that part feels really good.”