by Ziggy Merritt
Though admittedly new to it, I have never been given a reason to doubt the stirring appeal deeply embedded within the roots of Americana, a genre and a philosophy of songcraft embraced by a growing number of artists coming out of Nashville. Gospel, country, folk, and bluegrass all have equal pull in setting it up as a melting pot of sorts, a way for artists to embrace and reflect music truly rooted in the oral history of America. The folks behind Roanoke (Joey Beesley, Taylor Dupuis, Zach Nowak, Kyle Breese, and Jo Cleary), one of the most promising up-and-comers in this scene, are ready to contribute to that history by telling stories of their own. With their self-titled debut coming out this Friday, I had the opportunity to learn how they craft their own unique sound within the crowded field of americana, while bringing the natural sense of empathy that the genre calls for to their personal lives.
“We all met working downtown at BB Kings Blues Club,” says Dupuis of Roanoke’s pieced together origins. “We were all new to town looking to collaborate. We started hanging out and playing music together, and Joey and I started singing together. Our voices ended up blending really well together and soon singing together turned into writing together, and we realized we could have something really interesting.”
Eventually through a series of mutual and childhood friends alike, Zach, Jo, and the newest addition of John would round out Roanoke’s eclectic lineup, bringing together a more bluegrass instrumentation featuring banjo, mandolin, and violin with rich and blended harmonies provided by Beesley and Dupuis. “We all bonded over our love for genuine, honest music, and soon after became a family,” Dupuis adds.
The attention to honesty ends up lending itself well to the ethos of the Americana/folk blend that has seemingly defined much of the band’s current output. “It’s great because Americana music is influenced by so many genres.” Dupuis says, who in her own word, gives some insight into the raw concept of Americana. “It has the emotion of the blues, the storytelling of folk, the powerful impact of rock, and the relatability of country. Some songs are written to make you dance or sing along, while Americana can of course do that, I feel that it is primarily written to tell a story, and most importantly to make you feel; by using honest poetic lyrics, and progressions, instrumentation, and harmonies, that will make you want to cry, or bring you back to a memory, or even live someone else’s story.”
Likewise the story behind Roanoke’s journey to find their voice differs from member to member, each origin coalescing into the inevitable endpoint of their shared life in Nashville. For Dupuis, this all began with the blues. “I went to college in Chicago and fell in love with the blues,” she says. “My favorite blues songs were the ones with the muddy rootsy sound, like Muddy Waters. I fell in love with the emotional storytelling. I moved to Nashville and completely immersed myself with old country tunes and folk music of all sorts. That soon led me to the discovery of Americana music.”
Over time she fed this newfound passion with artists representative of the genre ranging anywhere from Jason Isbell to Willie Watson. “I found aspects of their music that gripped my soul and that wouldn’t let go,” she continues. “I decided to take these aspects and create something of my own. Roanoke was a great way to achieve that raw, emotional, honest music, and incorporate all of the genres I grew up listening to, into the Folk and Americana aspect of the band.”
However for co-lead vocalist Joey Beesley, how he was eventually led down the same path as Dupuis differed. “To be honest I never imagined I would be in a folk/Americana band,” he says. “Not that I didn’t enjoy the genre I just didn’t know about it growing up, and honestly I wish I had because though I was proud of my songs I just didn’t really know where they would fit in.”
With Roanoke, Beesley seems to have found a panacea for this, resulting in a passion that fittingly matches Dupuis. “It wasn’t until I found Americana, country and folk music that I really began to write organically,” he says. “Anyone who has had a truly honest conversation knows that someone’s honesty and vulnerability brings out the same in others. Listening to the work of trailblazers like Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, The Civil Wars, really inspires honesty within your own music.”
In keeping with this strong tradition of honest and emotive storytelling comes one of Roanoke’s strongest tracks from their upcoming album, “Jordan”. “I started writing ‘Jordan’ after seeing Alison Krauss perform at BB Kings” says Dupuis. “She sang a three-part hymn like song that just completely drew in the entire room. I decided that I wanted a song like that.
As Dupuis professes, “Jordan” is, at its core, a song about faith and forgiveness sung in the style of a gospel. “I became very interested with the concept of forgiveness, and how different people find it,” she says. “I feel that many people are always searching to be forgiven, and the two characters in the song, one that has been forgiven, and the other on the path to forgiveness, ultimately reveal that you cannot find peace, unless you find forgiveness within yourself.”
Yet as crucial as the song ended up being to the final product of their debut, its inclusion was something the band only collectively decided on after much of their album had already been completed. “It was actually completed after we finished tracking,” says Dupuis. “We decided last minute that we had to have it on the album, so we went into Sound Emporium and recorded with Mike Stankiewicz, who also mixed the album, and he really helped us bring the track to life.”
With their passion project in play and their debut edging closer, it seems unimaginable that the members of Roanoke would find time to contribute anything else. Yet Dupuis, a Michigan native, felt compelled to address and contribute in any way to the relief of families affected by the ongoing crisis in Flint.
“I grew up 45 minutes away from Flint, I have friends and family there, and it just really means a lot to me to have the opportunity to help through music,” she says, noting Roanoke’s track “Light” currently offered through Cadence & Cause who will donate the proceeds from their single to directly aid relief efforts in Flint. “I think that raising awareness is key,” she continues. “People need to know about the harmful effects of environmental negligence, and policies will fall short if people are not aware of the danger, and more importantly if they are not taking action.”
Roanoke’s self-titled debut will be released this Friday on May 13th. Meanwhile consider donating to Cadence & Cause to support families affected by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. You can also check out their performance of “Heavy Goodbyes” just below.