Say there were a couple of college-age guys from Kentucky looking for a potential bandmate. Driving to Belmont and wandering around until they found somebody lugging a guitar case, somebody who looked like he might be on their wavelength wouldn't be the worst strategy in the world. More direct than a Craigslist ad, at least. That's pretty much how brothers Joshua and Clayton Britt stumbled upon Zach Bevill, and the seeds for Nashville's Farewell Drifters were sown.
"I mean, it kind of was like that," Joshua says. "I don't know how it worked out. It was meant to be, I suppose. He was carrying a guitar and he looked like one of us. I've always been kind of shy. It took a lot of guts to ask. ... But I sort of worked it up and picked him." When he says "one of us," he means it literally: "Everybody always asks us if he's our brother."
Resemblances aside, it's pretty remarkable that a chance meeting some four years ago could lead to as lasting and well-suited a partnership as it has. The Britt brothers weren't interested in playing just any music. "We weren't really into country music," says Joshua. "We didn't really like it or have any connection to it." Nor did they have rock in mind — of any flavor — though they'd each fooled around with it in high school. The moment of truth, he says, was when he and Bevill "both started talking about, like, Simon and Garfunkel."
The Farewell Drifters of today play crisp acoustic pop steeped in the sunny disposition of the '60s — the '60s of The Beatles' and Beach Boys' gilded harmonies, and the Dillards' and Byrds' easygoing take on things folky and bluegrassy. They've just released Yellow Tag Mondays, hard — and utterly winning — proof that a lot has changed for them in the past few years. "I mean, we all were really serious about it, but I don't know if anybody took us serious," Joshua says with a laugh. "I've been serious about it since I was 17, or 16."
First came an intensive study of Beach Boys and Beatles records — particularly their secrets of sparkling vocal arrangement — and a way low-key gig in Bowling Green. "Rather than working up the courage to try to book ourselves anywhere," he says, "we just started throwing house concerts in our apartment. We had 30 or 40 college kids that would come out, sit in our living room and watch us play."
They wrote first one batch of songs, then another, tossed both out and wrote a third, which they recorded for their self-released 2007 album, Sweet Summer Breeze, with Joshua and Bevill sharing the lead singing and songwriting duties. The lineup's changed since then. Joshua's still on mandolin, Clayton on lead guitar and Bevill on rhythm, but Dean Marold replaced their original upright bassist, and they traded banjo for fiddle with last year's addition of Christian Sedelmyer.
"I think the original reason we had banjo wasn't because we were trying to fit a form or anything," says Joshua. "I just happened to have my great-grandfather's banjo in my closet, and a friend of mine learned it. We didn't know anything about bluegrass or anything. ...We were always so into that '60s pop music, that kind of arrangement. You know, banjo's kind of a little too clunky for that. It's a little too folky for us." Banjo hasn't entirely disappeared, though. The Drifters still bring one on tour, and Bevill whips it out for a few songs.
But as far as performance goes, it's not the playing — whatever the instrumentation and however polished it's become — that really makes the band: It's the singing, something all five of them participate in. They've taken their harmonies to a new level on Yellow Tag Mondays. The buoyant, midtempo number that opens the album, "Love We Left Behind," features a dazzling passage during which the singers split from even-toned unison singing into bright three-part harmony. Beneath the melody of the courtly love song "Dream of Me Tonight" glide gentle, well-placed "aahs."
The Drifters' amiable sound has gone over well at folk and bluegrass festivals and small rock clubs. The curious thing about it is they seem to appeal equally to their peers and the baby boomers who grew up listening to their influences, which is not necessarily the case for other likeminded bands they admire, like Fleet Foxes. "That exact band I tried to show my father," says Joshua. "He was like, 'Eh.' "
"We played in New York City, and it was nothing but people our age and it went over really well, and then we've played for the NPR crowd," he says. "We did that again in Syracuse, and it was just like the biggest response we've ever had. It was amazing. But it was like no young people there. I've often thought that the same people that like this kind of music now ... that are a little bit older grew up with The Beatles. It's not like people grew up with Bill Monroe anymore. People that are into us are people that grew up with The Beatles and just modern music doesn't do it for them. And our music at least has some of that stuff in it, maybe. I mean, I hope."
JoJo was recently profiled in a pretty good article on Buzzfeed about artists getting boned…
This post just introduced me to Justice Yeldham. Holy shit.
Never heard of any of these artists?
Awesome!Love everything Jerry puts out. Definitely check out the Tue Mommies bandcamp for more golden…
the no droning rule is fucking dumb