A Christmas gift: The everybodyfields reconvene to play Knoxville for the first time since parting ways in 2009
By Steve Wildsmith (email@example.com)
When the everybodyfields — yes, lowercase E — called it quits back in 2009, it wasn’t with a whimper or a bang.
It was more of an evaporation, a gradual extinguishing of the flickering flames of musical and personal chemistry that had bound Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews together since they bonded at Camp Wesley Woods in Blount County.
Since working together that summer, the two managed to build a respectable career and a loyal following as purveyors of pure American heartache — gentle, languid and rootsy songs, most of them ballads, built around Quinn’s high lonesome warble and Andrews’ honey-sweet alto.
But their personal relationship was often fraught with storms, and by the time they gathered in the studio in 2009 to work on the follow-up to 2007’s “Nothing Is OK,” the turbulence overshadowed the brilliance.
And so the plug was pulled. The recordings were shelved. And Quinn and Andrews went their separate ways.
They still moved in the same circles and played to the same fans — Quinn with his first post-everybodyfields project, Sam Quinn and Japan Ten, and Andrews as a solo artist. They even shared a mutual sideman, former everybodyfields multi-instrumentalist (and Blount County native) Josh Oliver. And eventually, whatever personal issues that led to the band’s dissolution were put aside, and a renewed friendship blossomed again.
Ironically, that renewal could very easily have prevented the everybodyfields from ever getting back together, Quinn told The Daily Times recently. So when Leah Ross and Eric Blevins of the respected Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion approached Quinn about the everybodyfields reuniting for this year’s festival, he was hesitant … especially when Andrews agreed and the first rehearsal date quickly approached.
“I remember thinking, ‘Maybe this is a bad idea. Maybe I should not do this and continue to be friends,’” he said, describing the process of putting the band back together as “getting on a horse that’s thrown you.”
“I didn’t want to screw that up just because we were trying to do one show,” he added. “Jill and I, we’ve had issues in the past, but at this point, it’s been long enough, so when Leah and Eric put the bug in our ear, it didn’t sound like a terrible idea like it would have two years ago.
“At that point, I’d been talking to her and had reestablished a rapport. I was hanging out with her and her kid (Andrews has a son, Nico). So I asked her what she thought, and she said, ‘I’m not opposed to it … are you?’ And I said, ‘No, and it might even be a little bit of fun.’”
“Fun” isn’t exactly a word that would describe the band’s music, but the beautiful ache it evokes is the sort of bittersweet melancholy in which the brokenhearted and downtrodden want to linger for a while. At 19, they met in Blount County; back in Johnson City, a brief falling out was overcome, and in 2004 they introduced themselves to the world courtesy of the debut album “Halfway There: Electricity and the South.”
Anchored in folk and bluegrass but tempered with an ethereal, dream-like quality that reminded many of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, it showcased both those glorious harmonies and some stellar songwriting — Quinn’s track “T.V.A.” won first place in 2005 at the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest. With their sophomore effort, “Plague of Dreams,” they fleshed out their sound, and by 2008’s “Nothing Is OK,” they’d moved more into a realm of straight-ahead country-folk, with Oliver on board along with drummer Jamie Cook and pedal steel ace Tom Pryor.
“It was magical,” said Pryor, who along with Cook found post-everybodyfields work with The Black Lillies, another popular roots band based in the East Tennessee area. “Playing pedal steel guitar on all the ballads and all the heart-wrenching material was perfect for my personal technique, which is pretty much self-taught. I have a problem with crazy-fast speed licks and bluegrassy stuff where there’s a lot going on, so their material fit my style really well. I felt very comfortable making it even sadder.”
Whether singing from the perspective of a character, as on “T.V.A.” and its tale of a family forced to give up its precious land to make way for a dam-held lake, or built around personal experience with broken hearts, Quinn and Andrews seemed like musical heart surgeons, able to map out every nook and cranny of that mysterious organ for all of the secrets and desires hidden within. Their music reflected it, and fans reflected on a primal level.
That’s one reason both have enjoyed success independently from one another – fans recognize the artistry inherent to each, and the work they’ve put in since the everybodyfields broke up in 2009 was one of the reasons Andrews felt a touch of reluctance going into this recent reunion.
“It was a really hard decision to say yes to,” she said. “I’d been working on my own thing and still am, trying to make that my priority as a career — but I couldn’t come up with any good reason not to do it. Everybody that I talked to about it said, ‘That’s awesome! That would be great!’ But I was just nervous about it – nervous that the fans would be so excited they would look past what I was doing on my own.
“But I don’t think that’s happened at all. I think it’s just enhanced what Sam and I are doing and what the other guys in the band are doing and everything. It’s just another way of playing music and getting together with friends, and that’s a good place for me to be in now. It’s not something we want to start back up, but it’s fun.”
And, added Quinn and Oliver, it’s been unexpectedly emotional. During the first rehearsal, Quinn said, playing the songs felt natural, as if some primal muscle memory was driving his hands and controlling his voice. Some of the songs he hadn’t thought about, much less played, in years, and the weight of their beauty struck him hard.
At Rhythm and Roots in September, Oliver felt the same thing, he said.
“The past couple of weeks with Sam and Jill have kind of made me think back to when we all played together and how we were just so tight,” he said. “I think we’re getting back to that point, and I’m just remembering how special it was. It makes me miss it a lot. The show in Bristol, I kind of had chills the whole show. I literally almost started crying because it was such a special show.”
Since then, the band has played a show in Nashville (actually, the Music City gig was a Rhythm and Roots warm-up) and opened at Smokies Stadium for The Avett Brothers — major-label Americana artists who used to open shows for the everybodyfields. Quinn jokes that the only reason he agreed to do the Avetts show was to fulfill a lifelong gig of performing at a ballpark, but he points out that playing Knoxville, as the everybodyfields will do Friday night at Barley’s Taproom in the Old City, almost seemed like a priority.
“We played the Bristol show, and that was something we needed to do because they were one of the first festivals that embraced us, and they’ve been really, really good to us,” Andrews said. “But this was our second hometown as a band. It’s an important place for us, and it was the last place we played, too. A lot of people were asking if we were going to play in Knoxville, and we all agreed that we needed to do that.”
Beyond Friday, however, there are no plans for further performances. That’s not to say the everybodyfields won’t reunite from time to time, but reviving the band as a full-time endeavor isn’t something Andrews or Quinn seem interested in. Quinn is working on a new album (which he said he’ll probably credit to Sam Quinn and Taiwan Twin, as the Japan Ten moniker has been retired) and hopes to perform more in 2012; Andrews is cobbling together new material — independently and on occasion with other local artists — and is preparing a video for “Blue Sky,” a song off of “The Mirror,” released earlier this year.
Which makes Friday night’s show all the more special. The bulk of it will be everybodyfields material, but given its proximity to that biggest of holidays, chances are some Christmas merriment will be a part of the set as well, according to Quinn.
“We’ll have a few little specials in there and a few people joining us who are blowing through town,” he said. “And I’m sure we’ll do some Christmas camp songs. It sucks to hear those songs in November, but two days before Christmas, you can probably get away with it.”