From western North Carolina comes a dynamic duo who have proven their success in various down-home genres, and are sure the raise the bar yet again with their latest album, “Flying”, released September 17, 2013.
With a bluegrass and gospel foundation, Darin and Brooke Aldridge create an edgier sound in “Flying”, combining the best of neighboring genres into a unique sound they describe as a “more of an Americana-Country-ish record with a bluegrass influence”.
Certainly, with the growth of their band and their modernized sound that still stays true to the traditional qualities that are the reason audiences love bluegrass music, in the next chapter of the band’s journey, the inevitable success of “Flying” will showcase yet again the talent and genius that is within the music of Darin and Brooke Aldridge.
I had the chance to sit down with them after their CD release party at the Willie Nelson Museum in Nashville, TN to talk more about their latest album, “Flying.”
How did you two meet?
B: Well we actually met, well we met in church. I was playing with a group with the local folks there in my hometown, and we had actually emailed, I guess 3 or 4 years prior to that, the time of meeting face to face. But, I just emailed him mostly about music stuff, ‘cause I knew he was big into the music business, you know. He had always gotten to travel around with people since he was just out of high school and uh, so I was just questioning him about stuff like that, and how it was to be on the road all the time as a musician. And then later on when I was playing with the local group of guys there in my hometown, he came to fill in for a guy that was out in our band. But he, all along, you know, he knew that I played and he wanted to meet me, so that was our first encounter, I guess, of actually meeting face to face.
D: Our families, you know, are from Avery county both, where she’s from.
D: We moved off the mountain, my family did, for jobs down toward Charlotte and so they all tried to hook us up for a couple years, you know, and just to meet.
So did you get together first or form a music group first?
D: I just met her that day when I filled in with them, and we started, you know, just hanging out, going to church, and singing and playing together, and just the rest went on down the road.
What song or album inspired you as a child that made you guys decide that you wanted to do music?
B: Um, hmm, let me think for a second on that one.
D: Pretty hard to come down to one song. I guess, for Brooke and I both, we grew up in a family of singers and, you know, of all styles of church music to classic country to bluegrass and…So we’ve just heard so many through the years, as far as I’m concerned. And I clogged and always had a guitar strapped around me, trying to play something, since I was little, you know. “Hee Haw” was always on, you know, so I guess through growing up, and I know Ricky Skaggs was a big influence, I guess, some of the early, great albums he put out, you know, right at the highlight of his bluegrass career, as he started into his country career, you now. “Highways and Heartaches” album was very influential on me, ‘cause I had kinda cross of both worlds and country boy would come out and all that stuff and it just exploded, you know. But of all those records. I guess I say one I remember of that being, as a child, being one of my favorites, you know.
Where was your very first public performance, and how old were you, and what did you perform?
B: I grew up singing in church with my sisters, but I guess as far as outside of church, probably would have been, probably in the talent show in school. They used to have a, just a annual talent show every year, and then if you made it in the Top 3 there, you went on to the county-wide talent show, so that was, like, everybody, you know, of course, in the county. A very small town where I grew up, but it was really cool to get it to that, you know, that selection of people and talent in our town there. But, my parents always put me in a lot of singing competitions and things around North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee. Anywhere that they could find something, you know, to get me out there in front of people, I was pretty much involved in.
D: I was probably 9 or 10. I guess I sang at the local county fair for a talent show they had over there and I sung, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys … I just loved their sound, you know. When I was smaller and I wanted to sing and I heard one of those records in a movie or something and just, you know, that harmony and style of singing just really opened my head to singing.
Who are your musical influences in your sound?
B: Well, I’ve always loved Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride was a huge favorite of mine when I was younger and still is, and she’s still going strong, and that’s what I love about the country artists from the 90s. Not all of them are able to still produce great things, I guess it’s just hard to keep up with the music business, you know, but I think she’s one of the greats still. Sara Evans, Rhonda Vincent was always a huge bluegrass inspiration of mine, too. Sonya Isaacs is hard to beat, so that’s a few of mine.
D: All them great singers.
B: All them good singers, that’s right!
D: For me it was, like I said, Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill was probably the two biggest, always playing and being a musician from bluegrass to country. You know, like The Beach Boys had a big influence, The Eagles, and I watched a big documentary on them and just thought what great music they all put out and collaboration of country, rock, and folk music, you know, and I’ve always enjoyed that. Of course, New Grass Revival, Sam Bush, Bill Monroe and all those guys. Steve Wariner, a bunch of good ones. Hard to beat. How about you, Becky?
Becky: Me? Well, big fan of Alison Kraus and Eddie Stubbs, definitely one of my favorite fiddle players. Kenny Baker, and Stuart Duncan is my all-time favorite fiddle player. I actually got started playing fiddle because my parents had a bluegrass band and I wanted to sing in the band, and they said, ‘No, with bluegrass music, you gotta play something.’ And that has been the norm until more recently the bluegrass audience has been more friendly, you know, to folks that don’t sing and don’t play an instrument. And, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that because the voice is an instrument just as much as a fiddle or a banjo or whatever. But my parents told me I had to play something to be in their band. So I said, ‘Well you don’t have a fiddle. I’ll learn to play fiddle.’ I really picked it up so I could sing and write and get to perform the songs that I write, so…Nashville Bluegrass Band is another influence of mine. Simon and Garfunkel got me through high school. James Taylor, Gillian Welch, oh my gosh, changed my life when I heard it, when I heard her Revival record with David Rawlings, that changed my life. Darrell Scott’s another big influence, on the writing side of things, and performing. Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, love them.
You mentioned at your showcase that your new album, ‘Flying’, is different than what you’ve usually done. How is it different?
D: Our first record was an all-Gospel project. But it did have piano, percussion on it, some things. And then our next two were produced by a Nashville guy down here, named Jerry Salley, a big songwriter, and we did a lot of country duets, just more bluegrass-style stuff. So this one’s more of a Americana-Country-ish record with a bluegrass influence, I guess you could say.
B: Yeah, a little more edgy than what we’ve done in the past.
What made you decide to kind of switch it up?
D: Well, it’s just something we’ve been wanting to do for awhile. And Becky’s come in the band; we’ve got a lot more talented players in our band now, we’ve just grown over the years as a new, kind of a bluegrass-style of a band, I would say, that can be versatile. So, you know, anytime that you want to grow yourself as artists and keep on trying new things you broaden your horizons, and that’s what we did with ‘Flying’.
There are some phenomenal collaborations in the songwriting on this album. How did you meet all of the songwriters and choose which songs you wanted to use?
B: Well, we were fortunate enough to work with Jerry Salley on two of our projects in the past, and he introduced us to a lot of people at that time. Just with making a name for ourselves as well, we’ve been very fortunate to meet people and get emails all the time about people wanting to send their music to us. I guess once you establish a name, all kinds of people want you to do their stuff. So, that’s one way.
D: Yeah, we just had a lot of piles of songs sent over to us, but we kind of went with a certain theme and, look, for this record we recorded probably fifteen songs and ended putting ten on the album. One of the songs that I wrote, which was a Gospel record song, but we just didn’t put it, we’re going to save it for another one. And Ms. Becky [Buller] coming in with her songwriting abilities and some folks that she knew too, was a big help as well, you know. And we did, I guess, one cover of a Nancy Griffith tune, ‘Outbound Plane’. Through our record company, Mountain Home, does a publishing company there as well, and they pitched us a few songs, which we picked one or two from.
What goes into the decision process when you’re choosing songs? You said you recorded fifteen but then you only used ten.
B: It’s just how the songs fit with the album, you know. We had several Gospel songs picked out for this album, then later decided, you know, to save them for a future all-Gospel album, perhaps. It’s just all about arrangement.
D: We had a couple classic country songs that we recorded. We just didn’t think that that fit with the rest of the songs, so we’re going to, maybe, use that for something else another time. We had a great song that Dierks Bentley and Jamie Johnson wrote. It was a killer, old classic duet-sounding song but…it had pedal steel and telecaster on it and all, but we just didn’t think it, you know…when it played down it was like, “well that’s different compared to everything else”, so we just want to save it for something else also.
Is that how you ended up deciding on the cover song you chose by Nancy Griffith? Because it fit?
D: Yeah, we just picked that one out. We’d come up with a theme of what all the songs meant and what the album meant and come up with that one. It was hard.
B: It really was, it took a while.
You mentioned that you have played at Merlefest in North Carolina. What other music festivals have you played for?
D: Oh, we’ve played from Minnesota to Oklahoma…
B: …Kansas, Texas…
D: …Florida, Canada, and all in between.
Which one was your favorite?
D: That’s hard to pick.
B: I love Merlefest.
D: Yeah, that’s a great one.
B: I mean, it’s a hard festival to beat. It’s close to home, it has, like, thirteen or fourteen different stages. There’s just so much going on, it’s hard not to have a great weekend of music, you know. It’s huge.
D: A lot of big, thriving music festivals is all real good, and just a bluegrass festival … Her home state out in Minnesota had the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Festival was a very cool venue.
B: Texas was good.
D: Looking forward to next week. Raleigh has the Wide Open down there and Fan Fest. It’s the first time in Raleigh, so it’ll be great.
B: And it’s already sold out!
Becky, how did you meet the band and become a part of it?
Becky: Well I’ve known Darin and Brooke for awhile. Darin longer than Brooke because I used to tour with Valery Smith and Liberty Pike, and he used to tour with The Country Gentlemen, and so we’d see each other out on the road every so often and we’d jam and pick. Then I met Brooke through the IBMA [International Bluegrass Music Association] conventions, so that’s been really nice getting to know her better. Getting to know them both better! And, when they were looking for a fiddle player, they sent me an email asking if I knew anybody, and I wrote back and said, “Well…”
D: I didn’t think she would play with us. I asked her if she’d fill in.
Becky: I said, “I’d love to fill in. I’m sort of having a baby here pretty soon, so I don’t think I could do full time, but I can help out.” And he said, “Really? You’re interested? Come on over!” So I joined their group back in January, and then they let me go on maternity leave, that was very nice of them, and I’m really enjoying it.
Why did you decide on ‘Flying’ as the title of your album?
D: Just because it spoke of the direction that we were going, and the theme for a lot of the other songs, what they meant, ‘Butterflies’, ‘Outbound Plane’, help me out here girls…
B: ‘Higher Than My Heart…’
D: Yeah, ‘Higher Than My Heart’ that Becky wrote. A lot of things, just, going up, you know?
Yeah, that makes sense. How long did the entire process take, from when you decided that you wanted to try out a new sound to releasing the album?
D: We recorded, you know, a couple days at a time, broken up over, probably, just about 3 weeks altogether.
B: It went pretty fast, actually.
D: If we had stayed in there day after day it probably wouldn’t have taken that long. Maybe ten weeks by the time we mixed, mastered everything. A couple days of tracking, couple days of doing instruments, couple days of vocals, couple days of mixing and mastering.
How did you get involved with the recording studio that you recorded it at?
D: This one is actually the first time we’ve ever done a full project at our record company. Our record company has its own studio there in Arden, NC, right outside of Asheville, so we did the whole project there this time. Before, we’d either come out here to Nashville and recorded and went back and mixed and mastered there or just did a few vocals there, but this time we did everything from scratch.
I guess that probably made things easier for you.
B: Yeah, it was nice.
Becky: Van is an incredible engineer.
B: Van The Man.
Becky: He made it just so easy. He made me feel like I could fly, to go off of the album title! But he really did. He really made it a fun experience.
B: Yeah, he’s real easy going, so it was a lot of fun.
You are both teachers in North Carolina. How do you balance that career with your music career?
D: It’s tough.
B: Well, I have a really great principle that loves music and just realizes my dreams and ambitions. And my heart’s there with the kids, too, but my longing and my soul’s longing I guess has really always been for my music, so she understands that. So it’s good, and I have to give her a few CDs every now and then.
D: Brooke graduated from Appalachian State University and she’s got a degree in teaching and it’s a shame to let that go to waste as well, you know. We both love to teach and it’s something she always wanted to do. I teach with the School of the Arts in Gastonia, and I guess teach instruments of guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, or whatever, you know, so I kind of can put mine off and say ‘Well I’m gonna be in Nashville this week and won’t be able to teach, so I either make up the day or see you next week.’ Everybody’s understanding.
B: Yeah. But we both love kids. And, well he doesn’t just deal with kids, he has adults that come to him, too.
D: I’ve got from 6 to 86.
B: That’s right. But, you know, it’s kind of our way of giving back.
Do you guys work with any charities at all?
D: We do, with the Children’s Miracle Network a lot, and Walmart. And our sponsor, Sun Drop, does a lot with them. So yeah, we do that a lot, with The Red Cross, and a couple more down on in our neck of the woods, too. Always doing something we can to help out.
Darin and Brooke Aldridge and Becky Buller were such pleasant and down-to-earth musicians, and what began as a media interview eventually flowed into what felt like catching up with old friends. After our meeting, they returned to North Carolina to perform at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass, which took place in Raleigh during September 24-28.
You can get their new album “Flying” and learn more about Darin and Brooke Aldridge at their website.