Everything Is Free with Greg Parker
April 2006

I would like to take a slight detour this month from the self-centered direction that this column has taken. Instead, I would like to draw your attention to a new band that, if you live east of the Mississippi, will probably pass through your vicinity at least once this year. More than likely, they’ll be stopping at a night club, where you can see their set for a relative pittance. If you’re smart--and I assume you are if you’re reading this--you should take the opportunity and go.

I first saw them in July 2004. That weekend I was back in Knoxville, my hometown, to play a show. It was a banner evening--a lot of old friends came out, and R2-D2, who happened to be working at the club as a dirty T-shirt holder (upon closer scrutiny I concluded that he was probably relieved of his beer cooler duties several years earlier, thus proving that there can be, in fact, no end to a fall from the top), even joined me onstage for my last set.

I stayed behind the next day and hung out with my good friend and fellow Whitewall Records mogul Adam Hill, who was playing that night at Patrick Sullivan’s, the sister venue across the street. After Adam played his set, this band from Johnson City, a growing town northeast of Knoxville, took the stage. I could barely hear them above the crowd, but they sounded pretty decent. The group was comprised of a guy and a girl who switched off between acoustic guitar and bass, with the guitar player always singing lead, the bass player singing harmony, and a dobro player off to the side. They called themselves the Everybodyfields, or something. Again, I could barely hear them.

Almost exactly a year later I got a call from Douglas Corner Café here in Nashville (they take out regular ads in our alternative weekly with captions like: “Even Garth Brooks Played Douglas Corner” or, with a bit more aplomb, “Even Jon Bon Jovi Played Douglas Corner”) asking me to open a show that Thursday for a band from Johnson City called the Everybodyfields. I accepted, and was interested to hear what they could do in a much quieter room.

Nothing I strained to hear the year before prepared me for the mastery I witnessed that evening. Jill Andrews and Sam Quinn, the leaders of the group, gave us riches in song after song. Jill’s voice, filled with both innocence and knowledge, melded in harmony with Sam’s high and lonesomeness for an effect that was otherworldly. Dobro player David Richey, who was apparently off on some kind of South American coastal excursion at the time, and has since left the band to pursue another musical opportunity, was replaced this evening by a local fiddler, who filled in those gaps where words fall short.

We traded discs--they got a copy of my EP, and I got a copy of their 2004 debut, Half-Way There: Electricity & The New South. You may be thinking that it sounds like a better title for a doctoral thesis than a record by an undergrad-aged folk group. Regardless, the Everybodyfields showed that they were actually more than halfway there. Songs like “Hobarts,” “The Red Rose,” “Silver Garden,” “So Good,” and “T.V.A.” (for which Sam won the bluegrass songwriting prize at the Merlefest festival last year) are all unqualified gems.

(Forgive me, but I’m beginning to feel a bit like James Lipton from TV’s “The Actor’s Studio.” I keep hearing him reading this line in his dulcet, reverential tone: “One cannot utter the phrase ‘aesthetic genius’ without instantly thinking of Jill Andrews and Sam Quinn.”)

I saw them again at the same venue several months later (flash to 2010: “Even The Everybodyfields Played Douglas Corner”) and felt like melting into the floor throughout their set. They are one of the few groups I’ve seen that take the old bluegrass approach of singing and playing behind one condenser microphone. When they huddle close together, this one microphone amplifies all of the voices and acoustic instruments with remarkable resonance, and it gives their whole performance a much more intimate feel than if they were each segregated to a different part of the stage. (Why don’t more people do this?)

Between songs they were just as naturally winsome, with Sam telling a story or joke that seemed to have no end or point in sight, but nevertheless, always made perfect sense by its conclusion (at least to me), and always had the audience in stitches throughout. Jill, the straight one in the comedy duo, won our hearts by occasionally poking a bit of tactful fun at Sam’s flights of fancy. David was back on dobro for one of his last tours and didn’t say much, content to play the absolute perfect solo in every song. A different female fiddle player filled in beautifully behind them.

This was their Nashville CD release party for 2005’s Plague of Dreams. Where Half-way There bogged down in places with slow tempos and long songs, Plague of Dreams showcases a new economy and variety to Jill’s and Sam’s writing. Only one song clocks in at more than three-and-a-half minutes, and the tempos, melodies, and styles deviate enough from song to song to keep us interested, but not so much as to undermine the cohesiveness of the record.

Thematically, Sam is the rolling stone trying to find his place in the world on numbers like “Magazines” and “Arletta,” and eventually discovering it right under his nose on his swan song, “Good To Be Home.” Jill mixes it up, giving us honky-tonk romance on “Baby Please,” alienated skepticism on “Can’t Have It,” and a would-be bride’s lament on “Angels.”

All of the above songs are big winners, and there are other songs, like Jill’s “By Your Side” and Sam’s “Fade Jeans Blue,” that are purely sublime folk-pop, and with any luck, will end up on a movie soundtrack soon.

What I admire most about the Everybodyfields is that they have such a strong grasp on what makes a song work in an age where fewer and fewer artists have a clue. Even the Americana genre--despite its supposed back-to-basics ethos--suffers from the prevalence of artists who lack an understanding of musical rudiments like melody, harmony, rhythm, hooks, lyrical economy, etc.

If ever a band was an Americana band, it’s the Everybodyfields. They should be, and hopefully will be, the poster children for this increasingly uninspiring genre. Jill and Sam have taken their cues from Bob Dylan; The Band; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; and Gillian Welch, and have made music that is instantly enjoyable. What they have accomplished thus far is no small feat, and I’m excited to hear their growth in the years to come.

The ultimate goal of this introduction (yes, that’s right, this is, or was, an introduction) is to set up an interview I conducted with Sam in early March. The goal of the interview--through high-minded questions that would only allow him to plunge into the darkest recesses of his soul--was to get Sam to provide us with a window into himself, and ultimately, into his art and creative process.

What follows are some of the most profound insights in the history of the English language.

Everybodyfields Greg: So I hear you live in a camper. What’s that like?

Sam: It is a nineteen foot, nineteen sixty-nine Fleetwood that I got off of eBay for six hundred dollars from Wapakoneta, Ohio, home of cosmonaut John Glenn. I went to pick it up and inside the guy's house is this mountain lion on the kitchen cabinet. The beast jumps to the top of the refrigerator and makes that good ol' cougar sound before jumping back to the cabinet-top and then over a useless blockade to keep it from the other room. Its tail holds a similar girth to a peach can, and is pure muscle. It was at this point that I thought about what going through the rest of my life without a face was going to be like.

Greg: When did you meet Jill and David? When did the Everybodyfields begin?

Sam: I first lay eyes on the lovely and talented Miss Jill Andrews in the summer of the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-nine, at a summer camp in Townsend, Tennessee--The Backdoor to The Smokies. She was singing at the time and was keen to the eyes. I was nineteen, could play guitar and was not a slobbering moron (no offense to the slobbering morons, it just wasn't my bag). We discovered that the band I was playing with at the time had been a band that she sang with in high school. She met David in College (college) and used all these things that I had shown her to play with another guy. I went to see them play one night and got so pissed off that I went backstage and demanded my way in. The rest as they say...

Greg: What is an everybodyfield?

Sam: An everybodyfield is a name I attributed to my backyard at one time. There was a spot there where you could get between two hills and no one in the house could see you. I used to take my car down there, close my eyes, cut the wheel all the way, and drive in circles drinking beer for hours at a time. Oh, if I could go back now, that summer seemed to last forever. And if I had the choice. Yeah I would always want to be there. Those were the best days of my life.

Greg: What’s the funniest or most interesting thing that’s happened to you all on the road?

Sam: Just before we took off to go up to the Great American Northeast, my good buddy Ryan took out a cheese cleaver and stabbed me through my right hip. From that day forward, I was bleeding through my underpants, my undershirt, my over-shirt, and my gig pants. This is also where my guitar lays. It's what the scholars call a real shit pickle. Tired of ruining my already moth-eaten wardrobe, I decide to cauterize the wound with a red-hot charcoal. So we doused it with moonshine and let it rip. Greg, I am a male and I cannot have the experience of giving birth, but I swear to you, the pain I felt that day can be matched by few things.

Greg: Did Jill really carry you two miles when you were passed out during that festival in Dickson? You’re quite a big bigger than her. To what do you attribute this impressive show of physical strength?

Sam: That was quite a day/night/morning. I can't really get into the details of what happened at the Americana Folk Festival, but I can tell you that it started with an "m" and ended with an "ushrooms." That night, like so many other Lord, I was saved by Jill Andrews, whose strength is greater than any man may expect, and she really deserves a hand for all she does. (Insert hand.) The next day we get a call from one of the festival promoters telling us that they found our CD's and our money bag on a table in one of the fields. It's always great to see the old Honor System rear its ugly head. But I believe Jill's plans were to take me back to the campsite, sever my hands and feet, and attach horns to my already shaven face as an offering to the Sabbatical Goat Lord, Timmy.

Greg: I read that you all played in Sri Lanka. Why?

Sam: Tea. Everybody loves tea. Tea...and court. Jill killed someone there too.