Upon reaching the top of the mountain, a handful of cars are gathered outside the Balsam Pillow Recording Studio. Owned by singer/songwriter Ray Lyons, the studio is home to state-of-the-art recording equipment amid a panoramic view of the majestic landscape that is Southern Appalachia. And on this day, Haywood County southern rock/mountain music group SmokeRise is headlong into piecing together what will become their debut single, “Cold Mountain Sky.”
Alongside lead singer/rhythm guitarist Andrew Rickman is Bryan Draughn (lead guitar), Jerry Frazier (bass), Billy Fetherolf (drums) and Tony Lafalce, Jr. (keyboards). Originating in 2012, the quintet has zigzagged around Western North Carolina, picking up fans show by show.
At the center of it all is 23-year-old Rickman, a robust persona with a voice that can howl to the heavens. If you have a stage, SmokeRise will play. It’s that attitude and work ethic which sets the band apart from past projects and other groups. Simply put, they want to bring quality, original music into the spotlight.
Smoky Mountain News: How did you get started in music?
Andrew Rickman: Middle school band. Pisgah High School marching band, where I did drum line there for four years. Picked up the guitar at 12, picked it up seriously at 18. Started a band and played bass, decided that wasn’t for me and decided to go solo. Met Bryan about a year and a half ago. We did some duet things. Through that, we met Jerry at the Rendezvous in Maggie Valley. Had some musicians play around with us, hired hands for shows, then found a couple guys that were serious, which were Billy and Tony.
SMN: Who are your musical influences?
AR: I like the classics. The Eagles, Journey, Boston and Lynyrd Skynyrd. A big one would be the Zac Brown Band — I just like the way he jams.
SMN: What’s the intent with SmokeRise?
AR: You’ve got five guys just trying to get original music heard. And to do that, you have to throw in a cover song once in a while. You get their attention with that, then throw in an original. What’s great about this band is everyone is a writer and has their originals. The song we’re laying down now, “Cold Mountain Sky,” Jerry came up with the words and Bryan and I did the arrangement. Lyrics first, then put music to it.
SMN: How does living in Western North Carolina affect the music?
AR: It’s the mountains. It’s definitely mountain music. When you say country nowadays, there are so many clarifications. It’s the music of these hills.
SMN: What’s going through your head when you’re singing?
AR: Nothing. It’s like a peace, to be honest with you. There’s no worries, no doubts. It’s just being yourself and there in the moment.
SMN: What’s the timeline with this recording session?
AR: We’ll be in the studio two days. Record all the first day, then spend the second mixing and putting it together. This single will be a promotional tool for us to book larger shows, and also just getting a chance to put our music out there and heard the way it should be heard. Hopefully, we’ll have enough time to come up here again and put down 12 songs and release an album.
SMN: What do you love about playing live?
AR: Energy. Adrenaline. Playing live, you get to be somebody else for a couple hours, and in a way you can integrate yourself into that. It’s about entertaining people and having a good time. It’s just me, it’s just who I am.
SMN: Where does that determination come from?
AR: From not wanting to fail. Just keep on keepin’ on. It is what it is. To move forward and never look back. It’s a breath of fresh air with this band. I’m blessed to have the kind of musicians with me in SmokeRise.
SMN: What do you want the listener to feel when they leave a SmokeRise show?
AR: Anxious to hear more, and bring more people to come out with them the next time. I don’t want them to ever leave one of our shows without hearing something new. A lot of bands go around and do the same show. We’re about changing it up, learning new songs and keeping it all fresh.
1: The inaugural Hayweird County Hometown Holiday Jam will be Nov. 29 at the Water’n Hole Bar and Grill in Waynesville.
2: “Land of the Crooked Water,” an exhibit of works by Joshua Grant, will host a reception on Dec. 3 at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin.
3: Owner of the Sun performs Nov. 30 at Tuck’s Tap & Grille in Cullowhee.
4: Grammy Award-winner David Holt will perform Nov. 29 at the Martin Lipscomb Performing Arts Center in Highlands.
5: “An Enchanted Broadway Holiday Show” performed by award-winning recording artists Lee Lessack and Joanna O’Brien will be Dec. 3 at Western Carolina University.