Everybodyfields - Living the dream

In the spring of 2005, Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews of the Everybodyfields were at a crossroads. David Richey, the dobro player who had helped shape the band's folk-bluegrass sound, had recently decided to jump ship. Quinn and Andrews forged on and continued playing dates, but it took several months to find a new musical direction. "We were on the road for about a year after David left, just putting bands together as we went along," Quinn recalls. "It was hell on earth, trying to get players practiced up in an hour to play a two-hour gig. Finally I said to Jill, 'Everything's pretty fucked up. Why don't we just make a record about everything being kind of screwy?' And she said, 'Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.'" That sort of easy rapport has been at the heart of the duo's musical history from the beginning. The two met in 1999 at a summer camp, where both were serving as counselors. Quinn was already writing songs and playing guitar; Andrews had yet to pick up an instrument, but she had dabbled in singing. "It turned out that at different times we had been in the same band, in Johnson City," says Quinn. "When Jill was in high school she sang with a group I played with in college. So we knew a bunch of the same songs. The first song we sang together was 'We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning' -- the Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris duet. Right from the start our voices sounded really well together." Inspired by Quinn, Andrews bought a guitar, learned three chords, and set about teaching herself to write. From the start, she was inclined toward ballads drenched in melancholy. She describes the learning process as "years in the making," but by the time the Everybodyfields recorded their 2004 debut, Halfway There: Electricity And The South, she felt on sure footing. Better still, the chemistry that drove the duo's vocal harmonies spilled over into their songwriting as well. "For the most part we write separately," says Andrews, "but the themes of our songs tend to intertwine. We both write real downers. I'm a pretty emotional person, and I think that's what shapes my songwriting. It's mostly about relationships, and things that happen to me personally. I pay close attention to the effect a song has on me. If I write a sad song and it doesn't make me cry, I'll trash it. And the same goes for happy songs, although I don't write many of those." Indeed, the Everybodyfields' first two albums centered on dour ruminations and relationships gone awry. The presence of Richey's dobro, however, coupled with an occasional upbeat Appalachian vibe, tempered the sense of pathos. Not so on the duo's new album, the aptly titled Nothing Is Okay, which is awash in languid tempos, strummy guitars, solemn keyboard figures, and weepy fiddles. Ironically, it was the addition of electric guitar and pedal steel that proved most important to retooling the Everybodyfields' sound. "We really wanted to try something new," Andrews explains. "Things turned around when we ran into Megan McCormick, who started playing electric guitar with us. When she introduced the electric lead instrument to the band, that changed the dynamic -- or increased the dynamic. Having that instead of an acoustic dobro opened up our songwriting. We no longer felt boxed into being a bluegrass trio, or whatever we were before." Andrews and Quinn recorded Nothing Is Okay at Ben Surratt's home studio in Nashville, producing the tracks themselves with Surratt as engineer. High points include "Aeroplane", a soaring heartland ballad that showcases the duo's scintillating vocal harmonies; "Leaving Today", an airy, introspective folk ditty framed in plucked acoustic guitar, brushed drums, and splashes of fiddle; and "Savior", a whispery country weeper that could pass for something off Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Session. Indeed, Andrews' throaty soprano often brings to mind the Junkies' Margo Timmins, while Quinn shares with Grant Lee Phillips a predilection for anthemic ballads fitted with a cinematic scope. "We didn't have any sort of template in mind for the album," says Andrews, when asked which artists have most influenced the duo's sound. "Mostly I was just nervous about having so many different instruments to choose from. Just sitting there with Ben and Sam, figuring out where to put the electric guitar, and where to put the fiddle, was stressful. Once we got into it, though, everything worked out really well." As for the future, Andrews says that as long as people keep coming to the Everybodyfields' shows, and keep buying their records, the duo will keep making music. Quinn seems even more committed, pointing out that he hasn't had a real job in three years. But what about that album title: Is nothing really okay? Andrews points out that it's all about keeping things in perspective. "Just last weekend a woman came up to me and said, 'Jill, whenever you're tired, just remember: You're living my dream.' I thought that was pretty nice."