For Wilmington-based Americana duo Beta Radio (BR), a burgeoning music career was something they never considered. In fact, they never intended their music to be heard past the ears of friends or family. Little did they know, their songs had been spreading across the Internet, gathering a considerable audience all up and down the East Coast. Currently on tour, the two will cap off their string of shows by bringing their quaint atmosphere to Bourgie Nights this Friday, February 13.
After meeting at a summer camp as kids, Benjamin Mabry and Brent Holloman bonded over the sounds of Simon & Gerfunkel and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Reconnecting in Wilmington, they began writing music together. After college they developed the tranquil harmonies and folksy pop songs, heard on their first CD, “Seven Sisters” (2010). It was recorded in Mabry’s living room and gathered a lot of hits through Internet streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify, before the band even played a show.
“It happened backward for us,” Mabry says. “Usually, you start out touring to promote your sound, but we both have regular jobs. We’re unable to be on the road a lot. In the last four to five years, we’ve maybe played 10 shows. The whole process was very organic. We didn’t expect the first record to be heard. I guess we didn’t realize the caliber of songs we had.”
Their sound naturally drew listeners, which established a built-in audience. They even caught the attention of the producers of the TV series “Hart of Dixie,” which used the tracks “The Man Grows” and “Widow at the Wake” off “Seven Sisters” (2011) on the first two episodes.
By the time BR released “Colony of Bees” last November, they already had eager fans. Recorded both in their homes and at Logan Manor Studios in Wilmington, “Colony of Bees” was a two-year process. The album is layered with percussion, three-part harmonies, a string and brass section and more. It’s a full sound that the band went to great lengths to achieve.
“We took it at a song-by-song basis,” Mabry says. “We hashed out the backbone of the songs first. When we got to the studio, we started adding the muscles and flesh.”
They hired Rob Moose (Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Joshua Bell, Sufjan Stevens, Vampire Weekend), a sought-after violinist, guitarist and music arranger to compose and record the strings. On tracks like “First Began,” the background hums gently add a fuller sound that was absent in “Seven Sisters.” The quality of the songs demonstrate BR’s maturation as songwriters. “In our eyes, the recording is what lasts,” Mabry comments. “The album is the transient experience to us.”
But how they go about a performance with such a lavish studio sound is still a pertinent question. “On the Frame” features a chorus of banjos, which Mabry admits could never be properly done live. “We like lush songs,” he says. “When we record, the live show is rarely a consideration. With that in mind, we put great care in rehearsing. We find the soul of the song, and that’s what we bring to a performance.”
They recently added a new concept to their touring: doing house shows. Pools of fans responded; some even offered their homes as makeshift venues.
“Out of the 14 shows we’re playing, only three of them are actual venues,” Mabry comments. “We don’t have to deal with a promoter or a band manager. If someone wants us to play, they get up with us. We don’t have to split our earnings or anything.”
In conjunction with their recent tour, the band was recruited by JAOPRO, a film company based out of Knoxville, TN, who wanted to use their song “Either Way” off “Seven Sisters” in a film. Instead of accepting money, BR requested to film a music video for their song “East of Tennessee” (“Colony of Bees”). The result was a weeklong trip from Wilmington to Boone and back, capturing BR as candidly as possible. “It’s a montage of us being us,” Mabry details.
The video is an honest and accurate portrayal of BR. Their sound is welcoming and intimate, and “East of Tennessee.” BR will be bringing the same mentality to Wilmington this Friday and are considering making it a two-part performance, since the first performance is likely to sell out. Holloman’s wife will be joining in to complete the three-part harmonies.
Bourgie Nights, 127 Princess St.
Friday, February 13, 9 p.m.