Amy Speace, Emily Barker,and Amber Rubarth are all successful Americana solo acts who, upon a chance meeting via mutual acquaintances, discovered a shared musical sisterhood that resulted in the band Applewood Road. The trio is preparing to hit the states in Sept. for a performance at the Americana Music Festival, so AXS caught up with Amber Rubarth by phone to discuss the band's formation and approach to writing and recording.
AXS: You guys are getting ready to play a show as part of Americanafest and to celebrate the American release of your debut album.
Amber Rubarth: Yeah! We've all been doing our own things this year but last year we released an album in the UK and it was amazing. We got to play Glastonbury and tour with Mary Chapin Carpenter. It was a really great year. But we hadn't released it in the US yet so we're finally doing that and playing a show on Sept. 12 at Americanafest and getting the trio back together for that.
AXS: You've all forged successful careers as solo artists. How did Applewood Road come about?
AR: It was kind of a happy accident. Emily was looking for people to write with and Amy was recommended. The two of them had gotten together to write and they weren't really feeling it so they went out for coffee and Amy said “hey, my friend Amber just moved here” so I went out with them for coffee and we decided to write together. And the next morning I woke up with this three part harmony in my head. I write a lot in my dreams. That was the song that became “Applewood Road.” I brought it to them and we wrote the words and a bridge together. It was supposed to be just one song but we went and recorded it and everyone liked it so we decided to make a project out of it.
AXS: You have two American members and one Australian. So how did you end up as a band that is primarily known in the UK?
AR: -laugh- Good question! Emily's from Australia but she's been living in England for the last 12 years and her manager is based there and was really instrumental in the project. We recorded the album in Nashville and there's a label called Gearbox based in London that really liked it so we released it on their label. So a lot of our team happened to be in London. Amy and I have both toured Europe and the UK a lot so it felt natural. But it's funny that none of us is British!
AXS: Talk a bit about your history with the Americana Music Festival.
AR: We played a showcase last year at City Winery. All three of us have done shows there individually. I think Americanafest, for this project, feels like home even though we haven't spent much time here. It feels like what we're doing as Applewood Road has a home because Americanafest exists. It was a scene that didn't exist twenty years ago and now it's just such a thriving scene that is so focused on songs. It feels very in line with what we're doing in Applewood Road.
AXS: The harmonies are really what you notice first about Applewood Road. How do you guys find time in your solo schedules to get together to write and arrange those harmonies?
AR: We actually don't spend a lot of time on them. We only wrote “Applewood Road” together in that first morning we met. The rest, we were all in different places so we would individually put songs into a folder and worked on how to make them cohesive and something that sounded right when we were all together. When we were together the second time to record the album, we had four days to rehearse and then recorded the album in three and a half days. So everything you hear was done in those eight days. Musically when you're with people, sometimes there's just a harmony. When we get into a room, our voices just fit together without a lot of managing. We just got lucky!
AXS: In recording the album, you made some interesting choices to go single-mic and two track. What drove that decision?
AR: I just love analog. All three of us have done a lot of all analog recording. This was just a decision we made in the studio. It just felt right. Sometimes when you get into the studio, there's something that gets lost from when you're in a room together. And we hadn't played any shows together. It helped everything from physically looking at each other to not worrying about a mix because the three voices are equal. It felt natural to strip it down that way. We had a few musicians chime in for a song and the mix is so easy because you just go “scoot back a couple of feet” if you're too loud or “come closer.” I think the whole project feels like it had a simplicity it was born with.
AXS: You mentioned guests and you got some good ones. Fats Kaplin, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Telisha Williams. Some strong names there.
AR: We were lucky. They were all pretty last minute. We just called up a few friends and that's who landed on the album. That's just Nashville. It's a place where we can call up Aaron Lee Tasjan and be like “hey, want to play on the album?” and he shows up the next day. Nashville is one of the only places I know you can do that and get musicians of that caliber and ones who are just very nice and really into music. We had no rehearsals. They just come in and you let them loose to make something beautiful.
AXS: You have a solo album, Wildflowers in the Graveyard, coming soon. Tell me about that.
AR: Yeah. I did it with Matt Andrews, who has worked on Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings' albums. It's coming out Sept. 29. It was mostly just the two of us making it. I'm really happy with it. It's all analog, stripped down, focused on the songs. The whole theme is about the cycles of life and death and rebirth. The last couple of years I've been focused on a film we've been working on, American Folk.
AXS: Let's talk about American Folk. This is your first starring role, right?
AR: It's my first acting of any kind! I grew up without a TV so I have barely seen any movies. I'm the least likely actor in the world! The writer of the story has a lot of music in the film, so he wanted to have musicians play the lead actors rather than have actors play music. It was me and Joe Purdy in the lead. It's set during 9/11 and the kindness that people showed with each other. We think about terror when we think of that time, but there was a real togetherness and unity that was very specific to those few days. It's honoring the core of folk music and how the origins of folk are community and the power of sharing music with other people. I see that in Americana too. There is a sacred power to music that's built around the community of it and not the person on stage being higher than the people in the audience. It's coming out Jan. 26.
AXS: Anything else you want to talk about today?
AR: Yes. Emily Barker just put out a new album called Sweet Kind of Blue that she's been touring around and will be performing that at Americanafest. And then Amy Speace has been touring a lot. She's has been doing the Patreon thing and putting stuff out for that too.