As America ushers in the new year, the household mantra, “Out with the old, in with the new!” inevitably will resonate in the back of many minds. Michigan-based Americana outfit The Appleseed Collective (TAC), on the other hand, have embraced the old, adding their own new sheen to traditionalist American music some would consider a relic of the past. They will be hitting the stage at Bourgie Nights on Thursday, January 22.
Formed during what they deem the “Great Kombucha Prohibition of 2010” in Ann Arbor, the troupe began with Andrew Brown (guitar/vocals), Brandon Smith (violin/mandolin) and Vince Russo (washboard/percussion). Current upright bassist Joe Fee joined the group later. They started by playing speakeasy parties in their home.
“The FDA cleared the shelves of Kombucha Tea because it had traces of alcohol in it,” Brown says. “Everyone was drinking it, so we protested by having Kombucha speakeasies, accompanied by ‘20s jazz music.”
As the term implies, Americana is roots music, but TAC took that description liberally. Brown sums it up as: “progressive string swing, or a pre-World War II fusion, with a modern songwriting tilt. We are trying to take old influences and put them into a more modern format.”
Their innovative take on Americana was a success. “We weren’t sure how big [speakeasies] would become,” Brown comments. “Two-and-a-half years later, we were playing for 3,000 people at the Ann Arbor Folk Fest.”
Like most artists, Brown attributes the band’s progress to a rich musical background, a hard work ethic shared by all the members, and a very supportive local scene. At first listen, one would think the band had some sort of formal musical education, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I grew up listening to my dad play, who was a Motown musician, but I really didn’t start playing ‘til I was 18,” Brown says. “Brandon grew up playing old-time fiddle in a high-school ensemble, and me and Vince just grew up [going to] high school together. I pretty much sucked at guitar when me and Brandon started playing.”
Spending countless hours rehearsing or jamming together refined TAC’s sound, as well as a collective effort to spend a lot of one-on-one time with their instruments. “We put ourselves through our own version of music school, drilling rudimental things like scales, arpeggios, etc., and we play all the time,” Brown tells. “When we have downtime on the road or between gigs, we sit down and work things out together. We also actively seek out musicians that we respect. If I’m in New York City, I’ll seek out guitarists that I listen to and try to get a lesson with them or at least hear them live somewhere.”
This method of constant musical immersion is also where ideas are introduced and songs ultimately are written. “It’s definitely a collaborative approach,” Brown details. “The [tunes] come mostly composed. We bring the song to the band, then we proceed to mess them up.”
From a songwriting perspective, Brown couldn’t be more excited with this writing process. He and Brandon cull most of the material for TAC before it is introduced to the rest of the band. Then, the other members of infuse the song with their own unique spin.
The troupe’s hometown of Ann Arbor has been a major force of momentum, too. It’s a place very accepting of up-and-coming bands, which fostered the group’s sound and success.
“It’s just like one big family,” Brown says. “[It’s] not so oversaturated and cut throat as, say, Asheville. Everyone is very supportive. Without them, we wouldn’t be coming to Wilmington.”
Consequently, their relationship to home is symbiotic. They support small businesses rather than corporations. “I believe there is a revival of authenticity across the nation, and the age of mass production, hopefully, is coming to a close,” Brown says. “People crave handcrafted and artisan-made. Back in the day, things were appreciated more. It was a finer time. We want our music to have the same feel, connecting to the people we meet on the road.”
Likewise, being relatable is not an issue for TAC; the gypsy-music mongers have a way of drawing a crowd. Yet, they connect with each one of their listners wholly. Their music is just as dismantling and restless as it is friendly, welcoming and nostalgic. It brings to mind rural country roads and small-town general stores with the chipping sign just above the door reading “Est. 1905.” As well, there is immediate contrast. “The Inability to Feel” off “Young Love” (2014) embodies darker tones and a trudging, almost laborious tempo. It’s the antithesis of the light-footed nimbleness apparent in tracks like “Novelty Item,” (“Young Love”), or the quaint knee-slapping lilt of “Madly Crazy Darlin’” off “Baby to Beast” (2012). Released just last December, their latest effort, “Live at The Ark” features the eclectic four solidifying their musical prowess in the studio, which is just as convincing, if not more so, than their sound onstage.
Currently on tour in support of the new album, TAC has been hard at work over the last two years, they spent most of 2014 on the road. “We’ve toured down to South Florida every winter,” Brown says, “Michigan to Colorado, then to San Francisco.”
With no intentions of slowing down, the band stays true to their word and are as prolific as ever. “We have two albums worth of material to record,” Brown continues. “We’re young and ready to work. Next year I expect to barely see my own bed. One of my bucket list goals is to get this band over to Europe before I die.”
They will showcase their dedication and contagious sound this week at Bourgie Nights, alongside local act The Brothers Egg.
The Appleseed Collective with openers The Brothers Egg
Bourgie Nights, 127 Princess St.
Thurs., January 22, 8 p.m.