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Pedaling Forward:

The Apache Relay
Also playing: Sam Quinn and Farewell Drifters
Soapbox Laundro Lounge
255 N. Front Street • $10 adv/$12 door
Saturday, November 6th,
Doors, 8 p.m.; show at 9 p.m.

musicThere may or may not be too many people on this bike. It appears to have successfully achieved locomotion—the angular momentum has propelled the bike past its moment of inertia into lateral stability. However, the seat-to-passenger ratio is much lower than its designers intended.

The riders of the bike are The Apache Relay, who will be returning to the Soapbox upstairs on Saturday, November 6th. The photo was taken by Rachel Williams, and (from left to right) depicts members Kellen Wenrich, Brett Moore, Mike Harris and Michael Ford Jr. riding a tandem along a Tennessee road.

I’m not sure where I first saw the picture, (probably downstairs in the Soapbox Laundro Lounge), but it immediately stood out to me, long before I knew with which band to equate it. The iconography has preceded its subject, giving them a presence all the way out here on the coast.

“I mean, obviously it’s a quirky and interesting image,” Moore, who plays keyboard, mandolin and guitar in The Apache Relay, says. “The thing that’s endearing about that picture is that it represents us at this point as four really close friends. There aren’t any egos or anything. We’re really trying to operate as a family. So, riding a two-seater bike with four people really wouldn’t be that unusual in our world.”

Before falling into the world of The Apache Relay, which is based out of Nashville, Tennessee, Moore was raised right here in Wilmington. He was a local until the age of 18, when he left in pursuit of his ambitions.

“I really couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to do what I wanted to do,” Moore says, “or play the music that I was interested in. I wanted to take it on a serious level and really couldn’t find anyone who shared that dream in Wilmington. That’s why I had to leave to accomplish that. Fortunately, when I got to Nashville, it didn’t happen immediately, but through friends of friends, I ended up meeting people who were kind of in the same thing.”

The Apache Relay began as an acoustic instrumental trio, featuring Moore with Wenrich on fiddle and Harris on lead guitar.  Soon, they were hired as singer-songwriter Michael Ford Jr.’s backing band and immediately went to work on their first record, “1988,” released in September 2009 under the name Michael Ford Jr. and The Apache Relay.

“We met Michael,” Moore says, “and literally two months from then, made our first record. I barely knew Michael Ford at the time, and everything was very new. I hadn’t really made a full-length record before or spent that amount of serious time recording.  Going into it, we were on edge.”

To produce his first album, Ford Jr. sought the help of Doug Williams, known for his work with the Avett Brothers. “Doug is this hilarious guy,” Moore says. “He’s really quiet. He’s definitely a studio rat: he’s a genius as far as an engineer and producer goes. So he sorta lightened the mood a little bit, but at the same time, really brought out the best in us, and pushed us as far as we could go for a band that played together for two months.”

Given the sound of The Apache Relay at the time of recording, working with the man that produced “The Gleam” (2006) and “The Second Gleam” (2009) makes sense. “1988” is a compilation of Ford Jr.’s songs—his crisp vocals laid over very full folk instrumentation that never strays far from acoustic guitars, mandolin and fiddle. Over the next year though, the group transformed.

“We toured on [“1988”] for a year,” Moore says. “We barely knew each other when we got together and made that record, but through the process of touring, we got together and realized that, as much as we enjoy acoustic music, we really love playing indie rock, and music like Radiohead and Wilco. Once we got to know each other, we were like, ‘Wait a second! You like that, too? Oh, I like that!’ It kinda grew from there. We started writing as a band and playing more rock-influenced music. That’s when we decided to drop Michael’s name and just be the Apache Relay.”

The folk instrumentation is still there, just more adapted. Moore’s primary instrument has gone from mandolin to the keyboard, acoustic guitars are joined by electric, and the four-piece now tours with a rhythm section.

“It’s pretty remarkable, looking back and listening to it now, seeing how far our music has come,” he says. “How much it’s progressed sonically now. We still have an absolute reverence for acoustic music, but it’s just become more of a rock band, in a good way.”

Still a very young band, The Apache Relay will assuredly meet more changes as they grow together, pedaling forward down the road to their future. “Honestly, I think  we just really want to be on the road,” he says, “because of our mentors and people in the industry we look up to—people like the Avett Brothers, who are certainly experiencing a ton of success now.  People outside of North Carolina, who haven’t necessarily heard of them, don’t realize they’ve been working their tails off for the past decade, playing shows to practically no one. We’re really in this band for longevity, and we don’t want it to fade out. We want to invest in it and create a body of work that stands the test of time. We kinda realized that the bands that do that had to work at it. There’s no short cut that they took.”

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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