“I couldn’t play sports and stuff because of all the running, so luckily I found music,” Haney said. “I seriously think this is why I’m on the planet. My legs are messed up, but my hands aren’t, so it all makes sense.”
Alongside another Canton native, 20-year-old bassist Jason Surrett, Haney and 17-year-old lead singer Joe Lasher Jr. and 22-year old drummer William Beverly have been turning more than a few heads with their original compositions that seamlessly blend country, rock and Appalachian folk.
The quintet just released its debut album, “Devil in a Jar,” to local acclaim and an ever-growing interest from the nearby Nashville music industry. And when the band hits the stage with all cylinders firing, it’s the only place they want to be.
“[Being onstage,] it’s a place I can’t explain. It’s the biggest high you can get,” Haney said. “I guess I’m just trying to get to ‘that place’ where you’re not actually thinking about what you’re playing — you’re feeling it. As long as I’m feeling it, I’m in that place.”
“I’m right there [with the audience],” Lasher added. “Nothing is more exciting than to see just one person loving your music and letting it take them somewhere — I want to see that happen.”
Together for the better part of the last year, the onstage chemistry of Joe Lasher Jr. and his group is undeniable. Their vocal harmonies, guitar chords, bass riffs and percussive abilities are impressive, especially considering half of the band can’t even legally drink in most of the venues they play.
“[We’re] just learning the ‘business side’ of this, and it’s big and complicated. I would like to make a living writing and performing music, and with the help and support of all the people that are loving it so far, I think we can make that happen,” Lasher said. “It’s my hope that folks will find something in our music that they can relate to, and, of course, we want them to want more.”
Recorded at Crossroad Studios in Arden last November, “Devil in a Jar” is an 11-song LP containing the essence of the ensemble, one which easily conjures comparisons to mainstream country and hard rock acts currently overtaking the radio dial. The tone is as catchy as it is unique to Western North Carolina.
“I guess I’m a ‘hook writer,’ at least that’s what they tell me,” Lasher said. “I come up with some kind of catchy lyrics and then build around that. Fifty percent of the time, I pull from guitar licks I’ve had for a some time and add to that, then go from there.”
Coming from a long line of musicians, Lasher aims to harness not only the past, but also bridge it into 21st century tastes.
“I come from a musical family,” he said. “My grandfather is still part of the oldest gospel quartet in North Carolina, the Skylanders. My mom sings like an angel, and my dad played in the rock band Mother Soul. My dad gave me my first guitar at eight years old, and I loved it.”
“I’ve always had a guitar around the house, since before I could walk actually,” Haney added. “When I was about 15 or 16, one of my friends came over with a guitar and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ Now here I am, doing it for a living — I couldn’t ask for more than that.”
And with his natural abilities and keen sense of Appalachian musical history, Lasher is also well aware of the sacrifices, even as a teenager, in order to grasp long-term dreams, onstage and off.
“It’s pretty crazy, I won’t lie,” he said. “It’s hard playing shows on the weekends while your friends are at the ballgame or hanging out. I have given up a lot of good times to go after my dream. Most of the music industry folks that I’ve met are very excited and accepting about my age, and that helps.”
Reach for the stars
On Feb. 1, the band held an album release party at Highland Brewing in Asheville. With hundreds of proud and curious music lovers in the audience, the stage lit up with the pure intent and clear vision of four musicians looking to make their mark.
“I want [the audience] to feel satisfied and amazed,” Beverly said. “I want them to be excited and desire for more. I want them to think how great everything sounded and looked, and to possibly even think about picking up an instrument and start learning.”
“I want them to remember it — that’s the main thing,” Haney added. “I hope we’ve moved them musically. If they’re moved, they’ll remember it.”
And even with their newly minted record out, the band is already planning its follow-up. For them, if you’re a musician, you play and make music, and there’s never a moment to waste as long as your instrument is in your hands and the creative juices are flowing. It’s a sentiment and work ethic that has been passed down through the generations in Southern Appalachia.
“I think it’s awesome to be part of that [musical heritage]. We’ve got tons of bluegrass guys around here, Marc Pruett, Raymond Fairchild — they’re legends,” Haney said. “And I’m hoping to blaze my own trail here. I’m a 21-year-old kid who was never supposed to walk, and I’m playing the guitar with the soul of a 70-year-old blues man, while still keeping the fire of the 21-year-old. [We’re] a unique sound, and I hope it really impacts people.”