When Tiff Forsythe answered her phone, she heard a question on the other end that seemed to be circulating a lot lately: “Would the Barnraisers be interested in playing a show?” She politely declined all requests since the bluegrass outfits’ last show in December 2013, as the band was on hiatus. Today, though, something was different. A new idea had been formulating in the back of her mind for a while, and something about this particular call struck her.
“Well, the Barnraisers can’t play, but my new band Manteca would love to,” she blurted.
She hung up with a commitment to play a show in a little over two months—with no band, no songs, and no idea how she would pull it off.
The Barnraisers have been a mainstay in Wilmington just shy of 10 years. The husband-and-wife duo, Adam and Tiff Forsythe, accomplished a lot in those years. They not only garnered a large local fan base, but they opened for well-known acts like The Avett Brothers, Shovels and Rope, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Tommy Ramone. Plus they headlined numerous shows and festivals. The idea for a side project had been brewing for a while though.
“I had been wanting to try more of a rock sound,” Tiff notes. “It seemed like it would be fun to test myself vocally, too.”
The pressure soon ratcheted up when she found out Manteca would be opening for Kid Congo of the Cramps—a band the Barnraisers revere and frequently cover. Also on the bill: one of her favorite artists, Dex Romweber. Suddenly, Manteca—a name she grasped from a can of lard she saw in her mama’s kitchen—became very real.
“I kind of freaked out,” she quips.
Her first call was to Lincoln Morris of local band Onward Soldiers. She met Morris years earlier when he asked her to provide backup vocals for an album he was producing. Since, they had remained friends. For over a month they worked on assembling a group of players, including James Sardone, of Jimmy Nations and Loose Jets and Jeremy Summers of Medusa Stone. Their first practice consisted of introductions, with Lincoln being the only common denominator between the members.
“I was a little intimidated working with such a great group of musicians”, Tiff says. “They are so well rounded in their musical backgrounds and I still consider myself a musical novice.”
That intimidation soon vanished after their first practice—something she describes as a “super relaxed vibe—very laid back.” Working under such time restraints, Tiff set their agenda very simply: put together a 25-minute set. “That’s really as far as we have things thought out,” she added.
After only four practices, the band is still finding its sound—”ccountry-tinged rock with a little honky-tonk thrown in,” according to Tiff. The new group gives her a break from her banjo and the constraints of singing bluegrass, too.
“[Rock] doesn’t need to be as pretty vocally as bluegrass,” she says. “I can really wail a lot more!”
So far they are working on a few cover songs and a few originals written by Ms. Forsythe. She has brought in a few older songs that weren’t right for bluegrass and is also working on brand new songs inspired by the new group dynamic.
“I give them a little bit of a song and they just run with it,” she says. “I would bring in some lyrics and chord progressions and they would take it from there, fleshing out the songs. They make it look effortless!”
Tiff is cautiously optimistic about this new venture. “We’ll see how it goes, how it gels” she says, “and go from there. We’re just going to get up there and see what happens.”
Curious fans of The Barnraisers can find out for themselves if it all comes together on September 23rd at TheatreNOW.
Kid Kongo, Dex Romweber Duo, and Manteca
Tuesday, September 23, 8 p.m.
19 S. 10th Street – $10 advance/$12 door