By Brian Tucker
The Caroliners’ Mark Jackson has a sense of humor writing songs, adding a laid-back attitude that pairs well with the band’s easygoing rock sound. Humor isn’t as direct as a song title might suggest, like “Butter Up My Biscuit” as opposed to the seemingly loaded-with-wisdom “Words My Momma Said,” from their debut album Blue Ridge Beauty.
“I wrote (“Words My Momma Said “) about realizing that a lot of the bad habits I’ve gotten myself into before are definitely temporary. I’ve got to find more time for vegetables and exercise,” Jackson said. “Butter Up My Biscuit” is a great example of me not taking writing seriously, making fun of myself through lyrics. I could have made it a bit more professional but I get tired of writing moody songs. It’s fun to goof around with lyrics every now and then.”
Both songs are gems from an album filled with them. Carefree and free flowing, the lyrically rich and disparate material highlight a mood marrying country and rock acts from the 70s like Faces (Jackson bears familiarity with that band’s Ronnie Lane), Jackson Browne, and Gram Parsons. Sing-along choruses, colorful guitar leads, and smart song craft make Blue Ridge Beauty feel like it’s been here all along. Formed in summer 2018, the five member band has crafted an analog sounding album in a polished digital era. They recorded with Trent Harrison at Hourglass Studios in Wilmington.
“I know how talented Trent is, but I still walked away surprised at his understanding of sound production and equipment. He also helped direct our performances throughout the process to get the sound we wanted out of them.”
The warm sound runs through the album, built on rolling piano, upbeat but restrained guitar work, kindly gentleman singing, Victoria Hayes’ cool back-up vocals, and great storytelling. They nail it on “Last Time,” a stinging country-rock number driven by Matt Rushin’s warm guitar work and Bob Russell’s slide playing. Jackson paints a fine portrait before breaking it all apart, singing “We ain’t gonna spend the night talking, we ain’t gonna spend it on TV, I was going to spend my night on you, and you were gonna spend yours on me.”
“Last Time” is the oldest and most personal song on the record,” Jackson said. “The song also might be my favorite. I try not to take writing too seriously because music is supposed to be fun, but if you’re looking to be relatable as a lyricist; break-up songs are an easy road to go down.”
Title song “Blue Ridge Beauty” was performed on The Penguin as a duo, holding up nicely without a full band and translating itself into something different musically beyond its bluegrass-meets-Grateful Dead feel on the album. There’s strength in the material, but the radio performance illustrate strength in performing as well.
“I get a little nervous before pretty much any of my performances but I love playing so much I don’t mind. I get easily distracted so those nerves help me out a lot. I think most people would agree that having some nerves is a good thing, considering it keeps you on your toes. I definitely don’t take performing for granted and feel very lucky that I get to do it.”
First, how many band members?
Jackson: We have five full-time members consisting of myself on vocals and rhythm guitar, Matt Rushin on lead guitar, Victoria Hayes with vocals as well, Sean Potter on the drums, and Conrad Hinsen Jr. on the bass. We do, however, have a fantastic keyboardist named Joel Lamb who joins in playing with us as much as he can. He’s a great musician and an even better guy who helps out a number of local artists.
What type of sound did you want? The band has feels like country and 70s rock.
I’d say your interpretation of our sound is pretty spot on. The EP certainly bounces between those two genres. The majority of the band has a rock-oriented background but everyone brings new ideas to the table whether we’re recording, rehearsing or playing live. I grew up listening to alt-country and honky tonk and our bassist grew up on bluegrass, so I’d say that’s where the country side of our sound stems from. As someone who was playing as a solo artist for quite a while before starting this band, I love having multiple perspectives on my songs.
Following forming in the summer of 2018 did songs come quickly?
A good portion of the songs we play live and half of the songs on the EP were written during my solo days before starting the band with Matt last summer. We’ve added quite a few new songs since starting the band though. Even if I’m going through a tough time writing new songs or just finishing new songs, I’m always writing. You never know when you’re going to look back on an old idea and realize it’s good.
The debut EP, all original material
It is all original. We’re all really happy with the way the tunes turned out. Trent Harrison and the folks over at Hourglass Studios are what really make us sound good. I was pretty confident about how the songs would sound on the other side of recording but one song, “Oh Magnolia” was a pleasant surprise for me. I didn’t know how things would turn out with “Oh Magnolia” because it was a newer song and we hadn’t gotten around to rehearsing the vocals at all. Victoria and Joel really did a great job coming into the studio and knocking those harmonies out.
Was the band set to go when you entered Hourglass to record?
We had recorded a single with Trent months before recording the EP and that really helped everyone walk into the studio with an idea of how things were gonna go as a band, we had a few things to work out and finish, “Oh Magnolia” being a good example, but we all knew the tunes pretty well heading into the sessions.
I’m a fan of laid back 70s music, and “There She Goes Again” lands right in that vibe. Are you fans of 70s bands like Faces?
I love Faces. “Debris” is one of my favorite ballads and we’ve definitely covered a couple of their songs before. Anytime folks tell us we resemble those types of bands it’s quite an honor. I’ve always been a fan of songwriters like Gram Parsons, Jim Croce, and Jackson Browne so we’re cut from the same cloth.
“Last Time” is great, and the slide guitar adds something bittersweet.
“Last Time” is the oldest and most personal song on the record. The song also might be my favorite and Bob Russell did a great job on the slide guitar throughout the EP. I try not to take writing too seriously because music is supposed to be fun, but if you’re looking to be relatable as a lyricist, break-up songs are an easy road to go down.
What do you remember about the first show the band played?
We had an absolute blast our first show as a band. It was at Goat & Compass which is a spot we love and it turned into quite the night. We were lucky enough to have a good group of friends come out so that made the whole thing fun. I’ve always loved performing and it’s even more fun now with the band up there with me.