WHQR Gallery • 254 N. Front Street
4/2, 6:30 p.m. doors;
7:15 p.m. show
In 2008, a relatively unknown duo won the Oscar for Best Original Song. The moment their song, “Falling Slowly,” was announced, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova became instant household names, solidifying the modern-day power of the girl-meets-boy musical twosome. Following the success of other famous couples, like Captain and Tennille, Sonny and Cher, Ike and Tina Turner and Johnny Cash and June Carter, instrumentalist Emily Frantz and songwriter Andrew Marlin joined forces to form the folk sensation, Mandolin Orange.
A couple of years ago, Frantz and Marlin met at the Armadillo Grill during a bluegrass free-for-all hosted by Big Fat Gap in Carrboro, NC. From there, they started experimenting and playing together at a couple of pickup gigs. It wasn’t until March 2009, performing at a house concert in Plymouth, NC, did they consider their time together on stage as a legitimate act. They started breaking down blues covers, as well as a few original tunes, and then the name came a few months later.
Marlin supplies the mandolin in Mandolin Orange. He learned to strum by writing his own material, and he’s a self-taught guitarist who holds the pen for the duo’s songwriting. Frantz adds sweet harmonies and rhythms on guitar and fiddle, with the occasional lead vocal. She imitated others and took lessons from teachers to mold her passion for music. Together, their dedication and talent is echoed through their instruments.
The band’s debut full-length, self-produced album, “Quiet Little Room,” is a testament to their chemistry. Heartfelt lyrics and mellow arrangements make the record a composition of rustic Americana. Frantz and Marlin’s voices blend together amid acoustic guitar melodies and subtle electric guitar chords, while the fiddle flows in and out.
Taking a pause from recording their new album, Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin took a moment to tell encore how one plus one comfortably equals two.
e: While growing up, what was the major draw to music?
Emily Frantz: I grew up singing my heart out to Disney tunes in the car. Along the way I was force-fed Suzuki violin lessons, which I couldn’t be happier about in retrospect. I started choosing to play music when I was invited to fiddle in a bluegrass band in high school, which definitely is influenced by North Carolina and the South.
Andrew Marlin: I grew up listening to all the women-folk in my family play piano, mainly old hymns and the occasional ragtime number from my grandma. I bought a guitar when I was 14 and immediately took to classic rock, gradually gravitating toward folk music. Emily and I both grew up in NC, so bluegrass and folk styles have probably influenced us for our whole lives.
e: Where do you get the inspiration and material for songwriting? How has writing as a duo changed your writing style?
AM: As far as songwriting inspiration, I don’t have a go-to method or system. It helps when I’m writing the songs to know how they will be delivered. Emily has great arrangement ideas, and that’s where the songs take on more of a duo identity.
e: What was it like recording ‘Quiet Little Room’? What did you take from that experience to apply to future albums?
EF: [It] was recorded mostly at Rubber Room Studios in Chapel Hill, with just the two of us present—producing, engineering and playing all the parts. It was an intense work environment, and we were very happy with the sounds that came out of it.
The second album, which is mostly all recorded, has a very different approach. We’re working closely with Jeff Crawford and James Wallace of Arbor Ridge Studios, who are also our bassist and drummer. We did a lot of live tracking with them over the span of a week last December, up in a cabin in Franklin, NC. This album has much more of a collaborative feel, but maintains parallels with the first one. Release date for this one is early fall; we can’t wait!
e: Wilmington Unplugged has been supporting local musicians for a couple of years, and they are presenting your show at WHQR. How did you get involved with them?
EF: We hooked up with [coordinator] Billy Mellon through a friend of ours, Big Al Hall [musician local to Wilmington]. We played Shakori Hills [GrassRoots] Festival with Big Al in spring 2010. This is the fourth show we’ve worked on with Billy since, and each one has been a blast and a success. What he’s doing for local and regional musicians is invaluable.
e: Do you feel that Mandolin Orange has made a name for itself yet, or are there steps that still need to be taken?
EF: We’re super excited about the path we’re on and the experience we’re having. We couldn’t ask for better support from fans, listeners, other bands and promoters in this region.
Wilmington Unplugged will present Mandolin Orange Saturday night at the WHQR Gallery, downtown Wilmington. Due to reserved seating selling quickly, rumor has it there could be a follow-up performance Sunday April 3. Be sure to check in on their Facebook page.