And with its debut album, “Back to Life,” Arnold Hill sets to change the tone and tempo of what folks might expect on a given night onstage at their nearby bars and breweries in our mountain communities.
Formed in 2011, the Jackson County band is named after a road in Sylva where the musicians lived and practiced. In method, Arnold Hill adheres to the playful nature and creative possibilities that reside in a trio. The unique formation can be a tricky line to balance, where you have enough space to explore musically, but also the same amount of space to expose vulnerabilities.
But, for Arnold Hill, it uses the trio setting to radiate an air-tight presentation. With a thick thread of catchy alternative rock running through its core, the band doesn’t shy away from its country and singer-songwriter influences either on “Back to Life.” The 10 song LP finally takes the group out of the live realm and puts its skill set to the test in a professional studio — something strongly proven on the record.
Smoky Mountain News: With “Back to Life,” tell me about the songwriting process and what the band experienced and ultimately took away from the sessions?
Sam McCarson (bass/vocals): The album was recorded this past July and August at Giraffe Studio with record producer/engineer Andy Bishop in Hendersonville. All of the songs on the album were written both years and weeks before the album was recorded, but we played about 12 gigs in two months prior to recording which made the process go smoothly.
By the time we were in the studio, we had the instrumentation basically perfected and that gave us the ability to fine-tune our vocals and solos, instead of doing take after take of the basic structures of the songs.
SMN: What do you see when you look at and listen to all the local groups here west of Asheville? What makes this scene unique, and what will ensure its survival moving forward?
Heath Brown (drums/vocals): We’re incredibly blessed to know and have shared stages with many of the bands in Western North Carolina. I think it’s amazing that this area is finally being recognized for the amount of talent in this part of the country.
The best part about the music scene here is that I haven’t felt like it’s a competition, which can happen in most cases elsewhere. If someone from one band needs something, someone else is going to help that person. We’re a community within a community — the support is overwhelming in the best way possible.
Smoky Mountain News: In an uncertain era of the music industry, what is it that keeps you going and inspired to push ahead and overcome the tough challenges of being a musical act that records and performs in the digital age?
Mike Yow (guitar/vocals): One of our songs from the album, “Barroom Troubadour,” is my story of what happens when the music you’re playing becomes less important than the crowd you’re playing for. Americana doesn’t care about what will appease the masses. It cares about the ones who care to listen.
The best thing about our shows is that there is always at least one person who comes up to us after the show, raving about our original music. Just one person who is willing to hear us and enjoy us makes the show worth playing.
SMN: What does the live setting spark within you, and also within your band?
HB: Playing live music is, without a doubt, my favorite thing to do in the world. I will complain about having to load and unload drums, but when I’m actually playing and people are responding then it makes it all worth it. It is my absolute comfort zone and it is where I am myself. I can be expressive and get out any emotion that I have while playing music.
The best part is that we all know and read each other so well that it becomes more of a show for the audience. We’ve been friends for so long and have spent so much time together, that we can laugh and sing onstage and that energy translates to the listener — live and in the recording booth.
Want to go?
Arnold Hill will be hitting the stage at 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, in The Gem downstairs taproom at Boojum Brewing in Waynesville.
The trio will also perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, at the Lazy Hiker Brewing taproom in Sylva; at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Nantahala Brewing outpost in Sylva; and at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at Elevated Mountain Distilling in Maggie Valley.
For more information on the group, visit www.arnoldhillband.com. You can purchase/stream “Back to Life” on all online music services.