Interview: Escondido talk Americanafest and their constantly evolving sound

With nearly 300 bands scheduled to perform at the 2017 Americana Music Festival, it's easy for some of the younger artists to get forgotten among the more established names. But in past years, fans who have looked beyond the top lines have been rewarded with an early look at current buzz acts like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price. One of the most promising young acts at this year's Americanafest is Escondido. The Nashville-based duo made up of Jessica Maros and Tyler James have wowed festival audiences over the last year with their genre-defying music. AXS caught up with Escondido by phone to discuss their upcoming Americanafest appearance, their new album, and how they developed their unique musical sound.

AXS: We're speaking with you today because you're preparing to play the Americana Festival. Have you played it before?

Jessica Maros: No, this is our first time. We're super excited about it.

AXS: Being based out of Nashville, I'm guessing you've heard about Americanafest before.

Tyler James: Yeah, it's our scene. The venue is right down from my house. It's a fun party, a lot of people coming into town who are into the same kind of music. People from the UK and Europe and all over the world. People have their eye on Nashville and it feels like this genre really has picked up a lot of steam in the last decade.

JM: I am pretty excited to be part of it this year. I love this lineup. A ton of our friends are playing. I'm excited to go out and see the shows.

AXS: You guys are playing The Cannery on Sept. 16 on a lineup with Jamtown and Quaker City Night Hawks. Not a bad group to be sandwiched in the middle of! You have some history with The Mercy Lounge, but have you played The Cannery before?

TJ: Not officially. I have in different bands but in Escondido we haven't. Our first show as a band was in the Mercy Lounge in 2012. (Cannery and Mercy Lounge booker) John Bruton has been an important player in the music scene since I've been here. And it's still going strong.

AXS: You mentioned the Americana scene blossoming and I feel like Escondido is a perfect band for Americana because you're a band that people seem to have a hard time putting a genre label on. What do you call yourselves?

TJ: We usually just say “alternative” or “desert rock.” When we put out our first record and people started calling us “Americana”, that was the first time I had heard the term. We didn't set out to make an Americana record. We were just influenced by American roots music, Neil Young, The Band, Ennio Morricone and the like. Over the years, we have definitely branched out from that, into alternative rock, indie, more modern influences. Our first press release, we called ourselves “desert sex”. But they don't have a dropdown menu in Itunes for that! -laugh-

JM: I've always been familiar with Americana. I've been a Patty Griffin fan for a long time. I've always just seen it as the non-mainstream country, just down home American music. I was always honored to be put into that genre with those folks.

AXS: You mentioned Morricone and that was the first thing that caught me when I saw you. Your songs sound like Clint Eastwood might walk out on stage any minute!

JM: -laugh- That's awesome!

TJ: When our band started that was a focal point for us. We wanted something in that vein but in a 3 minute pop song.

JM: Our new record branches out into a bit of a newer sound. We're progressing.

AXS: Talk to me a bit about the new record. What can people expect?

JM: We're releasing a single on Sept. 8 called “Darkness”. So people will be able to hear something before the show. Then at the Americanafest show, you'll hear a bunch of new songs. The album is called Warning Bells. We're working with producer Rob Schnapf, which was great. He brought a third element to help me and Tyler do what we do. It still sounds like Escondido. It just has an added flair.

TJ: I produced the first two records, so that's a big difference. You worry when you bring in a producer based on his past work. You think “oh man, our recording is going to sound like that”, but it ended up sounding like us. I'm excited about it. We have everything from super-chill ballads to straight up rock and roll.

JM: It's a bit more psychedelic. We play around more with the instruments, with a more psychedelic country feel.

TJ: We never set out to specifically sound a certain way. We're not terribly precious about where a song goes.

AXS: You spent part of the last year supporting The Lone Bellow, who is another really young band that has broken through recently. What did you learn working with them?

JM: Oh man. I love that band so much. First of all, their live show is insane. It's so incredible. I love their energy, their positivity, and their work ethic. They ended up becoming really great friends of ours. We just instantly felt like part of the family.

TJ: Seeing the power of a transformative live set. Some bands are album bands and some bands are focused on live stuff. The Lone Bellow excels in both ways. They had a really great flow to their set and dynamic. I watched every show and my jaw dropped.

AXS: You guys have played quite a few festivals. How do you tailor your live sets at a festival show where you're getting walk-up traffic vs. a club show where people have paid to see you?

JM: When it's our own show, you get to do a lot more intimate things, which I like. I like to read the audience and gauge what is needed in that moment. Some of my favorite moments are when we can get down and just sing an acoustic song to make people feel like we do when we write the song. That's harder to do in a festival show. For those, we tend to be more fun and put on more of an upbeat rock show.

Escondido will be playing the Cannery Ballroom on Sept. 16 as part of the Americana Music Festival and Conference, held Sept. 12-17 in venues throughout Nashville.

Related: Five must-see legends at the 2017 Americana Music Festival.