(extended version of an article published in Star News, with additional Q&A below)
By Brian Tucker
For Jason Andre to get to The Midatlantic he needed a mandolin, a Costa Rican back porch, and the friends he made working as camp director for WB Surf Camp. Andre and assistant director Steve Schroeder found themselves across the world, playing music that originated on southern and rural back porches.
“(Steve) and I were in charge of the international travel camps, spending weeks at a time together. He brought his guitar and I brought my mandolin. At the end of the day we’d sit on the back porch drinking Costa Rican beer or distilled rum, playing Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons songs, songs we really enjoyed. Occasionally I’d bring out something I was working on. That was the snowball that started things rolling.”
Inspired largely by bluegrass, The Midatlantic’s music combines it with Americana and folk rock, with lyrics about the ocean, spiritualism, life, love, and emotion. No surprise the album is titled Sound over Water with songs titled “Dance Below Sea Level” and “Sing Round the Storm.”
The band performs an album release show Friday, the opening night of the three-day Carolina Pine Music Festival. They’ll play with Rebekah Todd & The Odyssey, Mike Blair & the Stonewalls, and Beta Radio, a duo that last performed locally in February.
The festival is one of the biggest in town since the days of W.E. Fest or the recent Southbound & Down. Producing live performance videos and interviews for a few years, Carolina Pine put together a one-day music showcase last spring. Soon after they began planning showcases across three venues in downtown Wilmington.
Individual day passes are available but smart money is a weekend pass for twenty bucks. The majority of acts (almost thirty) are local and playing Americana, bluegrass, and acoustic rock music. There are other genres sprinkled in – hard rock (The Scoundrels Reunion), hip hop (Fuzz Jaxx), blues (Randy McQuay), and jam band (Elephant Convoy).
Nearly a decade ago Andre was a solo performer with world flavored instrumentation, having recorded and produced two albums and a soundtrack for a documentary (Red Fish). The year-plus hiatus between playing solo and the 2014 EP debut of The Midatlantic included false starts, experimental groups, and even a commercial jingle. But old songs “Down the River” from “Red Fish” look like a through line to The Midatlantic. The jumped-up energy and bluegrass feel is square with the band’s sound.
“Once I picked up the mandolin I started writing songs again, writing in a different way and getting excited,” Andre said. “Down the River,” (I thought), this is a good song, I could play this the rest of my life.”
Back home a band formed. Fast forward to 2013 The Midatlantic are driving around in a van listening to the songs from their self-titled debut EP. Its release in February 2014 began a successful year. After a heavily packed release show at Satellite Bar & Lounge the band would win Best Americana act at the Carolina Music Awards, win the Hourglass Studios EP contest, open for Steep Canyon Rangers, and play a well-received show at FloydFest.
For a new album they expanded the EP, re-recording it “from the ground up” and adding eight songs. Andre took on role of producer and kept things on track. The process took most of the year given everyone’s schedules.
“It has been a burden but a good one, a good learning experience for me, learning how to manage more efficiently the band as a whole and people as a whole.“
Additional Q&A with Jason Andre
Talk about the recording process.
Andre: The recording process was interesting because right before we began our keys and cello player Jesse Bond bowed out due to other life responsibilities. Last summer we brought a violin player on board, Will Maxwell, to round out the sound. There was a really good overlap period where we had both of them and the sound was awesome and perfect so we had Jesse record his parts on the album even though he was no longer performing live with us.
But we also had a really great addition with Will who also provided some harmonies. We are pretty stoked though, because Jesse will be performing with us for the last time for the album release next week. We started recording in January at Hourglass Studios. Due to schedules and trying to deal with five different people and careers it took us well into the fall to get all the tracking done. So yeah, long time.
It’s a full length album this time.
Andre: We won the Hourglass Studios EP contest which got us ten days in the studio. We used that as the backbone to get things moving, getting drum track, guitars, mandolin, vocals, bass, and we used extra time for me to go in and edit some of the material. We recorded a bunch at my house. We did a lot of the violin and bass tracks, a lot of the background vocals.
We had multiple microphones on multiple instruments. Some of that stuff was done out of my house. Our guitar player Steve, his uncle Drew did the harmonica down in Florida and sent it to us. Our keys player did parts digitally at his house. So there was a lot of going back into the project, laying things out and getting them all synced. A lot of back end. I don’t think there was not necessarily there was any time off, (extra instrumentation). It was consistent over the course of eight months.
The album is more textured than the EP.
Andre: Very much so. We had to debate whether we were going to redo the five songs from the (debut) EP. We felt strongly enough that the violin and third harmonies contributed enough where we wanted them to. We felt strong about the original five songs and added eight more on top of that.
How do you see this band in relation to what you were doing seven or eight years ago? Its left field of what you used to do.
Andre: It’s a completely different animal, different direction. I was doing my solo thing and incorporating all the instruments I played and the world travel feel to it. I stopped playing for about a year or so, experimented, made a (radio) jingle, tried an experimental group that didn’t work out.
I was playing music with the guys I met at Surf Camp. I picked up the mandolin I started writing songs again. I was writing in a different way and getting excited about them. Looking back in hindsight, that song from my old stuff, “Down the River” that was the one song from all my past that was an inspiration. (I thought), this is a good song, I could play this the rest of my life. It has that bluegrass feel and we play it a lot at live shows. It’s never been re-recorded.
We tried playing stuff from my solo album but not much of it really stuck. As soon as we started barreling down the avenue of Americana and folk rock, similar to what The Avett Brothers were doing – bluegrass influenced, everyone got excited with that idea. It’s definitely a heavy influence and where we’re going.
Sounds like a happy accident, meeting the guys at surf camp.
Andre: I and my assistant director at the time working at these surf camps we were put in charge of all the international travel camps. We’d travel three and four weeks at a time together, to Costa Rica, and so on. He’d bring a guitar and I’d bring my mandolin. At the end of the day we’d sit on the back porch drinking Costa Rican beer or distilled rum, playing songs that we really enjoyed. Occasionally I’d bring out a song I was working on. Steve would strum along and that was the fuel for it. That was kind of the main snowball that started rolling.
What did you learn between the EP and making the new album?
Andre: I produced my own albums but never in conjunction with a studio and using another person to mix my own stuff. Learning the production side of things more, which I had a good idea of, but never managed other people in those regards – trying to manage time, schedules, and making sure everyone had a say, and everyone was happy with their parts.
Like I said we re-recorded almost all the bass and violin parts. The guys weren’t happy with their parts, for them it was the first time in a real studio. Going back and really working out their part, and then the more comfortable relaxed environment and not being under the gun of paying for studio time. Everyone second clicks, we’re counting dollars signs. It also helped for me to learn personally everyone’s personality too. You know the people play with to an extent but you don’t spend all your free time with them either. Learning their musical ability.
Not everyone is happy with their playing; they’ll want to change it again in three months. You have to have deadlines, and learn to do that and support fellow musicians. Let them know they’re playing their best and that we’re going to keep moving, we’re going to get things done.
What’s the transition from playing solo to working with five or six players?
Andre: Its way harder, it’s dealing with different personalities, different opinions. You don’t have time to get together everyday or every other day to listen to this stuff. A lot of times it’s me sending out things via Dropbox for everyone to listen to, making sure they’re listening to it on multiple listening systems, not just crappy computers or headphones, then getting feedback, and then having the experience of production and mastering.
Certain things they don’t realize will happen months down the road. They haven’t gone through the process of producing a professional full length album. I have. Everybody’s worried. I have to explain some things. learning all those things has been a burden but a good one, a good learning experience for me, learning ho to manage more efficiently the band as a whole and people as a whole.
Is your lyric writing similar to what used to do?
Andre: The more spiritual aspect of things, or Christian references, I’ve definitely departed from that in a way that it’s more talking about life, love and emotion. Trying to express those things in a realistic way where there are some similarities in the analogies and metaphors. I’m a Christian artist making music that’s not necessarily Christian. I’m just a dude that’s been some pretty heavy relational things and seen some friends got through some really heavy tings. This is what’s come out of it.
Sound Over Water full album playlist: