Just in September I spoke with Jason Andre of The Midatlantic, prior to their performance at the Hourglass Studio Showcase. They were celebrating their work with Hourglass producer Trent Harrison, and had sent off the record for final mixing. This Friday, they’ll be celebrating in a different fashion: at an album release party for their full-length album, “Sound Over Water,” as part of the Carolina Pine Music Festival, which takes place through Sunday.
“This means I can sleep and go back to a normal life,” Andre jokes. “It’s been a really long work-in-progress, but it’s been really exciting because I’ve working with these guys for two years.”
The Midatlantic, formed in 2013, blends progressive folk and bluegrass with a touch of rock and jazz. On drums, guitar and banjo is Ben Sciance, alongside Allan Upham on bass, Will Maxwell on violin and vocals, Steve Schroeder on vocals and guitar, while Andre often takes lead on vocals, mandolin and guitar.
In their short two years together, The Midatlantic has gained a significant amount of success and momentum atypical in this industry. “Having been a solo artist for years, I know it can be hard to get traction,” Andre says. “We’re all decent musicians in our own right, but our chemistry together is what makes it appealing. When we play together it’s one of the funnest [sic] experiences I’ve had playing music . . . and I think that translates well to people who are watching.”
Though they’ve been playing most “Sound Over Water” songs live throughout the past year, recording them granted an opportunity to produce them in ways simply impossible to do live. The hottest topic of debate amongst the band was how to record the album. Originally, they wanted to record altogether to reproduce their live sound. When they started back in January, however, tracking one instrument at a time seemed like the best option.
“That’s because of five people, five schedules, different lifestyles,” Andre explains. “Really, six, because we had a keyboard player who bowed out around that time but still wanted to record. . . .We could also add other things in.”
There are certain nuances The Midatlantic feature on this record that they just can’t do live, whether it’s with additional instruments or guest performers like recent UNCW grad Preston Luce on cello or Andre’s father, Keith Andre. The patriarch has joined in on guitar a few times live and played slide guitar on a couple of songs for the album.
“Steve’s uncle, Drew Schroeder, came in and played harmonica, which we never have live,” Andre explains, “and our bass player brought in a ukelele on a song that he’s been itching to do. So, [with] the studio versions of songs you can make them bigger, you make them thicker. Beautiful intricacies and layers that are exciting.”
Andre and his bandmates like to keep things simple: sticking to one instrument and getting command over that instrument. Nevertheless, some members adopted new sounds specifically for this group. Upham switched from bass guitar to standup bass. Sciance learned to play guitar and banjo aside from his knowledge on the drums. Andre picked up the mandolin.
“The mandolin to me is not my original choice,” he admits. “I’ve been a guitar player my whole life, but I started writing songs on it and fell in love with it.”
Andre has been the lead contributing songwriter in the band, but “Sound Over Water” features a couple of songs the group wrote together—often by accident at rehearsal. Collaborative songwriting with Sciance often matured with his little diddlies on the banjo, and added fuel and structure.
“There’s no real formula to it,” Andre adds, “but it’s been fun collaborating together to bring out a more unique sound with the band.”
Without giving too much away, the studio album allows songs to be what they were meant to be. The last tune of the album, “Take Me,” represents maturity for the band. It was the only song that wasn’t finished when they started recording—and one that everyone had a hand in at one time or another.
“A lot of our well-received songs are high-energy—I mean, we like to dance as much as we like to play instruments—and this song’s a little bit different from that,” Andre tells. “It’s mellower, and a nice bow to tie the album together.”
Andre’s also excited for the album artwork, created by local graphic designer Brian Reid, also known as “Doc.” Reid has worked with other musicians and contributed designs for the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh. An ever-so-slightly turbulent ocean is met with copper skies and rolling clouds on the horizon, as the word “Sound” sits on a horizon with “Over Water” resting in the illuminated sea below.
The band has been working closely with Carolina Pine Festival founders and coordinators Anna Mann and Will Daube. The album release party is more intricate than any event The Midatlantic has done, with professional lighting and set design. “I haven’t known Anna very long, but what she’s doing is pretty exciting and it’s a huge task—an overwhelming task that I would never do!” Andre quips.
Mann and Daube started the Carolina Pine Music Series about two years ago on YouTube. The duo upstarted Carolina Pine Productions, which focuses more on event and video services. Ideas have constantly circled around them for what else they could do to support the local music community.
“So we decided to throw a small festival in May,” Mann says. “It was one day and we had nine musicians. This [upcoming festival] is nonstop, in your face, local talent all on the same bill.”
On any given night, talented musicians can be found at a local watering hole, but Mann says this is different. With almost 30 individual acts—28, to be exact—over the course of three days, the lineup crosses multiple genres of music. In addition to The Midatlantic’s album release party on the first night, Mike Blair and the Stonewalls, Rebekah Todd and The Odyssey are all on the day’s bill, along with folk-indie influenced Beta Radio. “They haven’t played a big show in Wilmington in a long time,” Mann adds. “I actually had them on my iPod for about a year before I realized they were local.”
Mann says the lineup was the easiest part of planning. Wilmington’s talented and passionate music community is full of people who just want to share their sounds. “I reached out to a few of the musicians on the bill, but most of them reached out to me and Will,” she says.
The first day of the festival will be held at the Brooklyn Arts Center featuring The Midatlantic, along Rebekah Todd and the Odyssey, Mike Blair and the Stonewalls and Beta Radio. Folk’s Cafe coffee will be around for purchase, as will Vittles Food Truck, parked out front, serving hungry diners.
Funky Fresh Food Truck takes over day two at Satellite Bar & Lounge. Performances will be by Will Daube, Driskill, Heather Rogers, Mac and Juice, Sean Thomas Gerard, and a half-dozen more.
The third and final day will be at The Art Factory, closing out the festival with Randy McQuay, The Paper Stars, Brothers Egg, and Stray Local, to name but a few. The Big Red Food Truck from Willoughby’s will be selling grub, and Cafe Zola’s coffee will be served, too.
“I’m super stoked about being able to have the third day at The Art Factory,” Mann adds. “[It] is definitely a hidden gem that we’re trying to help shine a light on. We’ll have two stages there, and [local brewery] Waterline Brewing is opening inside the building as well. They even built a deck off of the old loading dock that will serve as one of the stages.”
There’s been a learning curve to getting the festival off the ground. Sponsors, including Crystal South Surf Camp, Exhale Yoga and Wellness Studio, South End Surf Shop, The Dixie Grill, and Finkelstein’s, have been invaluable. The support from the local music, film, business, and arts communities in town has been surmountable, too.
“We want to be able to show off as many local things as possible (music, art and businesses). That’s really what it comes down to,” Mann says.
As an all-local collaborative event, it was only natural to bring in other artists—who secured free vending spots for all three days. Nick Mijak, who’s responsible for the festival logo, will have work for sale. Emily Martian, Emily Wismer of Lady Pilot Letterpress, Gaines Bailey Pottery, and various others will be selling wares, too. “We have incredibly talented artists in Wilmington and it’s often hard to find them,” Mann adds.
There’s more on the horizon for Carolina Pine Productions post-festival. Mann and Daube are already planning for 2016 and a whole new list of videos for their YouTube series. For a full schedule of this weekend’s festival, visit http://www.carolinapineproductions.com.
All tickets for the first day and release party come with a digital download of “Sound Over Water.” A pre-party starts at 4 p.m. and doors open at 6:30 p.m.