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“I use my gut, and my gut don’t lie to me” is more than just a lyric in Twin Forks’ exuberant “Something We Just Know,” it is a kind of mission statement for the quartet. If you’ve ever been to a musical performance that made you lose all sense of time and place and give in to the cathartic feeling of clapping and dancing and singing along, you’ve already visited the sweet spot where Twin Forks have made it their mission to reside. “Whatever makes the audience stomp their feet and sing at the top of their lungs, that’s what I want to be doing,” says singer/guitarist Chris Carrabba. “I want to be generating that spirit from the stage. And there’s gotta be a way to do that whether the audience knows the songs yet or not.” Carrabba, mandolin player Suzie Zeldin, bassist Jonathan Clark and drummer Ben Homola are already well on their way, rousing crowds with their electrifying chemistry and anthemic folk-rock.
Carrabba figured out the guiding principle for Twin Forks before he even knew exactly what the project would sound like. During recent solo tours, Carrabba -- whose Dashboard Confessional grew from an intimate solo-acoustic affair to a bona fide arena rock band during the mid ‘00s -- says he was reminded how important that audience connection had always been to him as a performer.
He also knew he wanted to craft a sound closer to the music he’d loved as a kid -- classic folk, country and roots music. Growing up outside Hartford, Connecticut in an area he describes as “half-rural, half-city,” Carrabba developed an early fondness for acoustic singer-songwriters he heard on the radio -- Cat Stevens and John Denver and Gordon Lightfoot -- as well as the more obscure Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and Guy Clark LPs he found in his mother and step-brother’s record collections. “At the beginning of Dashboard, I wanted to write an acoustic record, but every time I played a D,C, or G chord -- which are called the ‘cowboy chords’ -- I would think about how Tom Petty or Cat Stevens or John Denver or Gordon Lightfoot did this already,” says Carrabba. “That’s when I started tuning my guitars all to hell and back, just so they sounded weird to me. I was probably playing DCG anyway, but I didn’t know anything about guitar, and that was how I could get myself feeling like I was in new territory.”
“When I started playing acoustic-based music, I wasn’t trying to avoid traditional folk because I didn’t love it -- I just loved it so much and didn’t wanna do an injustice to it,” Carrabba notes. “And I had other influences and I thought, why can’t I combine this punk and hardcore feeling with this classic folk feeling -- because they were both such massive loves of mine. But right now I’m more excited about utilizing the age-old, time-tested thing and trying to excel within the parameters of a traditional template.”
He still wanted to be in new territory, though, so when he started writing songs for the project that would evolve into Twin Forks, he wanted to add a new twist. So Carrabba spent three years teaching himself traditional fingerpicking technique. “There’s magic in that kind of playing, where you’re managing two guitar parts,” he says. “I have always found it fascinating and it just seemed like it was calling to me.” Equipped with that new set of skills, Carrabba started writing his most delicate, musically articulate compositions yet, temporarily setting them aside for he-didn’t-know-what. In the interim, making his 2011 covers album, “Covered In The Flood,” gave him the chance to explore his relationship with songs by some of his favorite folk and country artists, both classic and contemporary, including Clark, John Prine, Justin Townes Earle and Corey Brannan.
The covers LP was also the vehicle for Carrabba to start working with a few musician friends with whom he’d been wanting to collaborate: He asked Zeldin to sing back-ups on his cover of “Long Monday,” and Clark to help him record/produce it in his small studio. He and Homola had been talking about playing together for awhile, so he invited the drummer to join the developing project, as well. Last fall, Carrabba, Clark and Homola performed songs from that covers collection and a few of Carrabba’s new original tunes -- those delicate finger-picking songs -- at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. The experience was a major awakening. “Onstage at HSB, I realized, I have all this delicate stuff, but I like to party. I like the feeling of release and drive onstage. We only played it as a trio and we weren’t called Twin Forks yet, but as soon as we got offstage, we talked about all the ones we should have played that were closer to the ones we play now. It was instantly evident. We were elated. All we want to be is elated. Why else should we be getting onstage? We’re not up there to be some good-time charlie band, but we are not hiding the fact that we are elated to be onstage with you and we’re choosing the songs that are giving us the best edge to be able to do that.”
After Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Carrabba returned home with a new sense of purpose and a clarity of vision for Twin Forks. In the previous two years, he had been sticking to a temporary rule he’d imposed on himself as a songwriter: “I had made this rule that I would not say ‘love’ or ‘heart’ in my lyrics,” he explains. “I would talk about those things but I wouldn’t say them. So when I came home from that festival and I did write the first song and it did say both ‘love’ and ‘heart,’ they felt like the right words, after not having used them for so long. I let the songs happen and found a tempo that suits what Twin Forks became.”
“Something We Just Know” came to him first, and then, the flood -- another eight songs in the following eight days. Twin Forks began tracking the new songs whenever they could, between tours with other projects, in a multi-purpose space Carrabba had converted into a studio. Over the course of several weeks starting last fall, they managed to record more than twenty tracks that they plan to whittle down to eleven or twelve for the debut LP they plan to release later this year. “We tracked everything live, and I have this tendency to get really excited about what everyone is doing and I’ll make a little hoot or shout, and you can hear all those things in the final versions of the songs,” says Carrabba. “On ‘Scraping Up The Pieces,’ everytime I listen to it and hear Suzie laughing, I’m dying to remember what could have been so funny. Then we additionally multi-track, which we figured was a thoughtful way of approaching the record. You get the error-prone thing that has all the magic in it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chase a little more precision. But the goal is always to do our best to get it right in the same room with each other, looking at each other, laughing with each other. I think you can feel that all over the songs.”
It's said that a great band is like a gang or perhaps a family, united by music, sweat, passion, and blood. That is certainly the case with Matrimony, an exhilarating new band whose interpersonal connections run far deeper than your average combo. Fronted by the husband and wife duo of Ashlee Hardee Brown and Jimmy Brown, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based band are accompanied by Hardee Brown's talented brothers, Jordan and CJ, resulting in an intuitive collaboration that is both immediately affective and utterly their own. "MONTIBELLO DRIVE," the band's eagerly anticipated debut album, takes its title from the Hardee family abode, a bucolic homestead where multiple generations of friends and family all sang and played together. Fraught with collaborative chemistry and determined artlessness, songs like "Last Love" and "Obey Your Guns" ring out with Matrimony's astonishing communal spirit, their tight harmonies and intuitive musical telepathy born of true love and a shared lifetime.
"We have this understanding among each other that we don't always have to communicate with words," says Hardee Brown. "And that just naturally comes out when we're all in the same room, making music together."
The Northern Irish-born Brown initially made his way to the States via China, accompanying a real estate developer friend on a business trip that wound up in Charlotte. He played guitar in a fellow Belfast ex-pat's band while simultaneously working on his own songs with a rotating roster of local musicians. One of them, a certain Jordan Hardee, suggested Brown meet his sister Ashlee, herself a gifted singer/songwriter. The two hit it off from the jump, co-writing a song their very first time together, ultimately tying the knot in July 2010 in North Carolina. As they continued to pursue their respective musical careers, both soon realized that there was little point traveling separate roads when they should in fact be sharing the journey.
"It really wasn't about anything other than us wanting to be together," Brown says. "We realized that there wasn't much point in being together if we were both going to do music separately. So we decided to make music together."
Matrimony began their musical life as a duo, performing in clubs and cafes around Charlotte. Brown veered from electric guitar to acoustic, while Hardee Brown adapted her indie influences to fit a folkier frame. 2010's "THE STORM & THE EYE" EP was quickly recorded, earning the couple considerable local acclaim for their melding of rock, country, gospel, and the great Irish and American folk traditions. To replicate the EP on stage, Matrimony absorbed other musicians and friends into their live sets, coalescing with the official membership of Ashlee's brothers CJ (banjo, mandolin) and the aforementioned Jordan on drums.
"Both my brothers put their own spin on it, just with their own talents and musical abilities," Hardee Brown says. "Once we finally found that mesh, the band took the course we'd always imagined it would."
Matrimony performed relentlessly, sharing the stage with a diverse range of acts from Langhorn Slim to Passion Pit. They refined their distinctive sound by cutting a series of demos, both at home as well as with producer (and Interpol drummer) Sam Fogarino at his Normal Studio in Athens, Georgia. In July 2012, the band headed for Nashville to finally begin their full-length debut, this time with Jay Joyce (Brandi Carlile, Cage the Elephant, Eric Church) at the helm. The sessions had barely gotten underway when a mighty summer storm hit Music City and almost put the kibosh on the entire project.
"We were in the studio and this huge BANG happened," Brown says. "Everybody's ears popped, but we knew it was just lightning so we just kept working."
When Matrimony and Joyce eventually emerged, they were shocked to discover that the lightning strike had in fact sparked a tiny fire in a bird's nest on the home studio's rain gutter. Five smoldering hours later, the eave was well and truly ablaze.
"I jumped up on the roof with a hose and we started trying to put it out," Brown says. "But the flames would not go down, they were just getting higher, so we jumped off and called the fire brigade. By the time they got there the whole roof was on fire."
Matrimony returned to Charlotte while the studio was repaired, reconvening in September to resume recording. Fortunately, the sessions went without further natural disaster, with Joyce capturing the band's on-stage intimacy by recording most of the album live in the studio.
"It was really enjoyable," Brown says. "It felt like we were recording downstairs at our friend's house. I think Jay understood where we were coming from. It felt like he was another band member really."
The songs of "MONTIBELLO DRIVE" reverberate with memory and feeling, embodied in both the band's layered instrumental interplay as well as the Browns' individual talents for powerful, evocative lyricism.
"This record kind of sums up where we've been," Hardee Brown says. "We all grew a lot, just living there, so there's a lot of emotion that runs through the songs."
Brown points to his beloved's haunting "Giant" as the album's defining moment. "There's just some kind of magic on that one," he says. "Everything about it, the words are a little dark, it's got this section in it that's really vibing and cool, I just love playing that song."
"I think it's one of those songs that feels really genuine and really real," Hardee Brown says. "Just the fact that I was able to write a song that captures who I am as a songwriter and put it on an album like this means a lot to me."
For her part, Hardee Brown returns the compliment by noting Brown's buoyant "Southern Skies" as one of her personal favorites. "That song speaks a lot to where we are and how we grew up," she says. "Plus it's always fun to play live."
Having made an album that sings of home, Matrimony are now poised for life on the road. This band of lovers and brothers are keen to bring the sublime songs and extraordinary character of "MONTIBELLO DRIVE" to the stage, where their camaraderie and connection come full to the fore.
"We just want to write great songs and we want to play," Brown says. "It's not about anything else. We love traveling together and hanging out, there's no bigger dream for us than just being able to write great songs and play them as much as possible."
"Me and my brothers, we always knew we wanted to be in a band together," says Hardee Brown. "I guess it's worked out. Everything just fell into place."
Formed in the winter of 2010 by Alex Chase, Ryan Clark, and Jeremy Kiddle, and joined in the fall of 2011 by Bill Wald, and in the spring of 2012 by Daniel and Chelsea Kiddle. Refero presents an eclectic, enthralling experience that features honest, thoughtful lyrics supported by rhythmic, and melodic guitars. It’s music that provides you with the ability to soar above a landscape of unyielding drums punctuated by inspiring bass lines.