For the past few weeks, it seems there are few topics of conversation discussed more than House Bill 2 and the untimely death of Prince. Both came up on the phone with Chatham County Line’s Dave Wilson (guitar, harmonica, vocals) and John Teer (mandolin, fiddle, vocals). On the road, they have been preparing for another performance at the Brooklyn Arts Center (516 N. 4th St.) on May 5, which also will feature Wilmington’s The Midatlantic.
“I felt like [Prince] was one we were going to have for a while,” Wilson says. He just heard the news of His Royal Badass’s passing before our interview. “He was just freaking awesome and could put on a real concert, whereas a lot of people can’t.”
“His music speaks for itself,” Teer adds.
Teer remembers being a freshman in high school and just starting to play when a friend told him about what a “badass guitar player” Prince was. Though he was skeptical of the pop star’s instrumental talent, Teer was soon convinced. “He was such an elegant, incredible, innovative guitarist, but the cool thing about his life to me was not only the music but everything behind the scenes he never wanted to take credit for: donating money and being kind. He never wanted to publicize that.”
Wilson and Teer are one-half of the four-part Chatham County Line from Raleigh, NC—complete with Chandler Holt on banjo, guitar and vocals, and Greg Readling on bass, pedal steel, piano, and vocals. CCL has been touring for roughly 16 years and almost as long they’ve hung the NC flag behind them onstage. The group has eagerly told audiences about the inherent beauty, artistry and music throughout their home state, as the flag drapes behind every show. As of late, their sentiments have been overshadowed by HB2. Though many national acts have made headlines by canceling NC shows to bring awareness to the legislation in question, Wilson and Teer agreed that taking down their beloved state’s flag was the loudest way they could voice their solidarity.
“We realized the flag was not representing what it always had for us, which is a beautiful place with a rich, musical history,” Wilson explains. “At this moment it is representing a backwards view of the world. So we just took it down, and it’s going to stay down until somebody figures out how to be a human being in the legislature.”
“We’re very proud North Carolinians,” Teer says, “and a lot of people who know the band do understand that and understand this statement and respect what we did to raise awareness and promote conversation.”
Listeners will hear about social justice issues in songs like “Birmingham Jail” (“IV” 2008) or “Ghost of Woody Guthrie” (“Wildwood” 2010). It reflects the way CCL feel about the world as a whole. Still, they’re not so much a political band and don’t really create music for social change per se.
“Music, to me, is an entertaining thing,” Wilson says. “It’s also on a psychological process for me as a writer to work through things in my own life—but whether this stuff will surface in the future is really unknown.”
There’s an album with 11 new tracks on its way, slated for release this September. CCL are finalizing the album artwork and have settled on a title, but for now Wilson says its name is a “triple, double secret at the moment.”
They approached their seventh studio album with the experience and knowledge of how songs transition from recording to the live stage. Often times bands are in different rooms to prevent sounds from bleeding into another’s microphone; however, they typically set up in one room circled around a mic as they do for live shows.
“There’s a few things we might go back and add,” Teer clarifies. “There’s piano on the record and things like that . . . the only time Greg’s able to play live piano with us in on our Christmas Electric Holiday Tour . . . otherwise, I try to mimic his very stout melodies on the piano, with mandolin or fiddle.”
On the other hand, the studio also acts like a canvas, where they’re able to paint broad strokes of songs and fill an album in with color and dimension that just can’t be replicated live. “A lot of times we have these sketches like an artist would have of these songs,” Teer says. “Dave typically writes and has the blueprint of the song. Then we come in and add a few things here and there to make it a little more cohesive. You can create a lot more in the studio with cool sounds and experiment a little bit more.”
“Once we get the tune worked out we try to play it as much as possible and record it as if we’re playing live,” Wilson adds. “So songs [from the album] will change somewhat on the stage, but probably not as much as they used to.”
As CCL make new records, they try to appreciate where their music and songs are going to be heard and experienced most: on the stage. CCL has been testing a couple of new tracks on the road. Concert-goers will hear them at BAC this Thursday.
Teer says they didn’t knit-pick with the music on this new record. Rather, they let creative ideas flow in the studio.
“A lot of the songs definitely have a different feel than from previous albums,” he divulges. “I think we’ve consistently progressed with each record we’ve put out and we love to step forward with new ideas and make it fun.”
After almost two decades, Wilson notes the band is less inclined to fit into a traditional definition of bluegrass—circa 1940’s Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. Now the word “bluegrass” has come to encapsulate bands like The Punch Brothers and others who use more modern influences but some of the same instrumentations.
“Those guys were influenced by country blues and folk music that made them create the music of their time,” he says. “So we as 30-some-year-olds are influenced by the music of our time, which just happens to include bluegrass, but also includes Prince, David Bowie and all these other artists that have come along since.”
Wilmington’s been a second home for Chatham County Line for many years, as they’ve played everywhere locally from the Soapbox to Ziggy’s By the Sea to the Brooklyn Arts Center time and again.
“We’re really looking forward to getting back there with just the acoustic show and making the most of that church,” Wilson says.
“We love Wilmington,” Teer adds. “We love the people; they’ve always been very kind and the crowd just gets bigger every time we come.”