Interview / Review: In Love with The Everybodyfields

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MP3: The Everybodyfields – Aeroplane

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MP3: The Everybodyfields – Everything is okay

I’ve been struggling to write something about The Everybodyfields for a few months now. The first time I saw them, in a nearly empty art gallery in a gritty inner-city neighborhood of Pittsburgh, maybe I didn’t fully believe what I saw and heard. Maybe it seemed outlandish to say that this band whose name I had never so much as read before that night was led by the two best singers I had ever seen in person. In the same band!

Photo By Sandlin Gaither

Maybe it was just a good night for Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews as they delivered spine-tingling off-mic harmonies in the close room before swapping acoustic and bass and doing it again. And again.

The scene couldn’t have been more different the next time I would see them on stage, just a couple months later. Thousands packed the picturesque main street that marks the border between Virgina and Tennessee (the band’s home state) on a beautiful late summer afternoon. Apparently, the ‘Fields had established themselves as heroes of sorts during the previous year’s Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival. As they set up, an obviously mildly stunned Andrews stopped and observed incredulously, “There are a lot of people out there!”

Then she and Quinn proceeded to wrap them all (at least as far as I could see) around their fingers with the skill of only the finest singers and writers in an absolutely riveting performance. The funnel cakes and beers could wait. It was as if the world had been stopped by these two twenty-somethings singing some sad county songs.

Just another good night? Hardly.

“When it’s a good night, it’s a really good night,” Quinn would tell me, as modestly as possible, another few weeks on in Cleveland.

The Everybodyfields know they are good. They exude it. Not to suggest that Quinn and Andrews aren’t a couple of the friendliest people you’ll meet. Musicians who are full of themselves don’t squeeze into a storage room packed with instruments backstage at the Beachland Ballroom for a quiet space to talk to some blogger.

But great musicians know when they are taking part in something special. The pair have been singing together for nearly a decade and performing as The Everybodyfields for “About five years, but we’ve been saying five years for two years now,” Andrews says.

However long the two have been together, it sounds like it has been a lifetime. The greatest harmony teams don’t meld together as a result of practice or discipline. Many are families. Other seem to be fate.

“We didn’t have to learn to sing together, really. It just kind of works. I can sing with this girl and she can sing with me,” Quinn explains.

While Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris are the touchstone for male-female harmonies in the past two generations, and a clear influence on the ‘Fields, there is a different character to the Quinn-Andrews pairing. Gram and Emmy’s greatness comes about as the result of almost a tension between the two voices. They are rarely completely congruous. There is a certain imperfection in the match the makes the pairing singular.

It is the coherence, rather, that is operative in The Everybodyfields’ harmonies. At their most striking, the two singers almost share a voice. Almost before I can finish asking my question about vocal influences, Andrews nearly exclaims “The Jayhawks!” who share the same type of uncanny match.

Musically, the band has more than ably settled into an expansion from its initial austere guitar-bass-dobro lineup to a dynamic mix featuring Tom Pryor’s expertly played pedal steel and Josh Oliver adding complementary keys and electric guitar. Jamie Cook on drums is the newest addition, fully fleshing out the band’s sound.

While the growth of the group was “a natural progression,” Andrews says “We were nervous about it at first.”

And among some old fans more attuned to traditional music it hasn’t been entirely well received. “I’ve seen people walk out,” Quinn says.

Overall, though, “It’s helped us gain fans, I think,” according to Andrews.

Last year’s Nothing is Okay (Ramseur Records) was the group’s first release embracing the new, full-bodied sound, and has earned rave reviews and a palpable buzz in the Americana scene. Breaking new ground on the record instrumentally also refocused the pair’s songwriting, Quinn says.

“It really opened up the songs. I was tired of writing songs about fictitious mountain people. I want to write songs about my life. I’ve never been in a coal mine.”

His “Aeroplane” and “Don’t Turn Around,” two of Okay’s first three tracks, still read a bit like a broken dream sequence steeped in American Gothic, though with a new depth of feeling perhaps owing to a more confessional tack and greatly aided by the expanded instrumental palette.

Andrews’ clear strength, to be blunt, is sounding lonely as hell. And she does it incredibly beautifully. “Wasted Time” and “Everything Is Okay” are combined in an absolutely heartrending medley of jilted lovers’ tales, while “Savior” fascinatingly takes the perspective of the person walking away.

Quinn is no slouch on the loneliness front either on his trio of “Be Miner,” “Birthday” and “Tuesday.”

“We started out twangy-sad and it’s still twangy-sad,” despite any changes, he says.

As great a record as Okay is, in person The Everybodyfields are simply unreal. Not to be overly effusive…but they’re perfect. Breathe in the echo of the voices and the low hum of the effortlessly plucked strings of the bass Quinn and Andrews pass between them. Stand in awe of the instrumental break on “Aeroplane,” where Oliver and Pryor trade off searing solos while Quinn rings out exclamation points on his acoustic. And just try not to fall in love with Jill Andrews—in her blonde pigtails, pattern dress and calf-high boots like an Opry starlet of the 1950’s—as she wraps up “Everything Is Okay” or the aching barroom ballad “The Red Rose” with the earnestness of someone trying not to weep.

Not that there isn’t some levity in the band’s set given Quinn’s offbeat humor and a couple of poppier new numbers that seem to owe to “non-stop Beach Boys for three months,” as he related, perhaps an indication of more stylistic stretching on a new record currently in the works.

“I have a feeling they’re going to hate the new record,” Quinn says of the adoring press and fans the band seems to be picking up everywhere these days.

Hate The Everybodyfields!?! I, for one, couldn’t imagine it.

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