By Ashley Lucas
Per the gentle persuasion of a friend, I was recently introduced to new Roanoke band, Appalachian Soul. Having a penchant for soul and R&B music, it wasn’t a hard sell for me to fall immediately in love with the groove and moving lyrics. Appalachian Soul is a new project for veteran Roanoke songwriters, Phil Norman and Will Farmer. The two have been performing together for years as part of an acoustic, “not-quite bluegrass” band, Blue Moonshine. Wanting to expand their sound, they added Mike Parker on bass and Breyon Fraction on drums. They’re set to record an EP this fall, and if word of mouth keeps their music traveling, it will be a happy highway playlist for all of us.
Their song “On Your Own Now,” which was written by Farmer and Norman this past winter, actually helped inspired the sound for the band. That’s the power of a song: it can totally define a musician’s moves. And it surely lives up to the hype. When I first heard “On Your Own Now,” I couldn’t stop tapping my foot and dancing in my chair, and by the end of the song I was singing along with the chorus. It was stuck in my head for days, and I was totally fine with that. Listen to “On Your Own Now,” and read Appalachian Soul’s story behind the song:
Describe your songwriting style.
Phil Norman (PN): I’m a big believer in hooks, and often start from little phrases and melodies that get stuck in my head. Lyrically, I think I tend to use conversational and direct language, more than I use colorful imagery. I also try to be concise lyrically, and capture a feeling in a few verses and a 3-minute pop song form more than, say, Bob Dylan might!
Will Farmer (WF): I almost always start with a melody or chord progression and work to find the hook from it. Lyrics are always a challenge for me, as I like to have a framework for the song which limits my freedom. However, recently I have started with a chord progression and then recorded whatever words come out and then dissected the best part of that to form the lyrics for the song. It is always a work in progress.
Describe your songwriting goals.
PN: There’s no greater gift for me than to see someone in the audience singing along, to know that one of my songs is part of someone else’s life. Beyond that, I think the Beatles said it well: I’d like to write a swimming pool.
WF: I have mostly written for myself and never worried about the band or audience. With our new configuration, I am opening the door to find more accessible songs for the audience that are easy to move with.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
PN: This could be a long list! Some big ones: Paul Simon, Lennon/McCartney, Indigo Girls, REM, Van Morrison.
WF: Jimi Hendrix, Lennon/McCartney, Ryan Adams, Darrell Scott
How long did this song take to write?
PN: This one was pretty quick. We got together one evening and Will had the opening lick and chord progression. The opening lyric and melody came that evening, and I took it home and finished up the lyric over the next couple days. The song really came to life when we started playing with Mike and Breyon.
Where was it recorded?
PN: This is a live recording from our performance at WTVF in May.
Story behind the song:
PN: I think sometimes we forget that we can only control our own choices, our own behaviors. Even in a deeply loving relationship, our only real control is over ourselves. There’s a progression to the narrator’s story here, each verse he is slowly recognizing his own reactions, his emotions, his anger, and gaining more self-control. I think the story in this song is that we fall into patterns in our relationships, some of them better than others. To change those patterns, it isn’t up to our partners to change, it’s up to us to recognize our reactions and take responsibility and control. Sometimes that means leaving someone else on their own.