It’s amazing how well so many couples collaborate in the music industry nowadays. Not too many married couples can agree on dinner, let alone what makes for a cohesive album. Somehow Mandolin Orange, Tedeschi Trucks, Shovels and Rope, and Wilmington’s own Stray Local manage to make it work.
“I think it makes so much sense why we see couples playing music together,” Chatham Rabbits’ Sarah McCombie observes. She should know; she shares the stage with her husband, Austin.
“Being a couple and knowing each other intimately allows you to be vulnerable and real with each other.”
Sarah and Austin live in a mill house in historic Bynum, NC. Before making a monumental shift to music, Austin was a financial planner and Sarah was a full-time music teacher at a Durham Montessori school in Durham.
“We both loved our work but performing our music and honing our craft has always called to us,” she says.
“We were overexerted at our jobs and unable to devote any energy or time to playing music together,” Austin adds. “It was a risk to leave our careers, but it felt like more of a risk to stay where we were, doing what we were doing, neglecting to give our dream a fair chance.”
Since the North Carolina duo took the plunge to go full-time with their music, they found solid ground working with each other. Whether trying out uncomfortable (and even sometimes awkward) harmonies or sharing the business end of making music, it brings them closer. “It’s incredible to see how our strengths and weaknesses come into play,” Austin notes, “and how we sharpen each other.”
Their story of going “all in” caught the attention of PBS’s “My Home NC.” Over the last month, a camera crew has followed the couple to capture their everyday lives as bandmates, entrepreneurs, and husband and wife. “Our goal while we’re being filmed is to be as natural as possible,” Austin says.
Filming also coincides with recording their first full-length album. As well, PBS will follow the couple to Wilmington—Austin’s hometown—to film their upcoming seated show at Bourgie Nights this Friday.
“We can’t wait to see many of Austin’s hometown friends and family,” Sarah adds. “We are so happy our Wilmington community will be a part of the story!”
The episode featuring Chatham Rabbits is set to air online August 23. It will play on local PBS stations throughout fall 2018.
“Being on camera is such a funny thing,” Sarah describes. “You worry about things you don’t normally care about, like the washing machine running in the background or your dog doing something weird in the side of the frame. You have to let go and avoid getting flustered. Through it all, we’ve learned to adapt, and as cliché as it sounds, just be ourselves.”
Chatham Rabbits have filmed multiple music videos in Wilmington. Austin grew up near the Intracoastal Waterway, which gave him a deep appreciation for nature. He often writes about it now.
“Walking around barefoot on sandbars at low tide, digging for clams, throwing a line in the water in hopes of bringing in a red fish—those things really attached me to the land,” he details. “Living close to the waterway in Wilmington made me cherish the place I called ‘home.’”
From the show, the couple hopes to introduce people to their music, but also a story which might inspire others to “do something that fires them up.” “I hope people see that our music and our new lifestyle is a genuine reflection of our passion to make the most out of life,” Sarah continues. “I also hope that viewers get a kick out of the quirky, small-town parts of North Carolina that we hold near and dear.”
Sarah and Austin met in college, just before the start of senior year. She was studying English and women’s studies at Peace College. Austin was a marketing and design major at NC State.
Specifically, they met at a Mandolin Orange show at Cat’s Cradle. Sarah was opening the show with her former band, The South Carolina Broadcasters, and Austin was in the audience.
“It’s hard to say if music or our relationship came first,” Sarah muses. “They were honestly very hand-in-hand. From the first night we met, we were sharing songs we’d written, learning from each other. For us, it would be very difficult to have the music without the relationship and vice versa.”
Five years later the couple have found themselves working with Mandolin’s Andrew Marlin on their first full-length, “All I Want From You,” slated for an October 2018 release. Recorded at The Rubber Room Studio in Chapel Hill, with producer Jerry Brown and friends, Marlin plays all of the mandolin parts. Marlin and wife/musical partner Emily Frantz also have provided invaluable moral support.
“When deciding whether or not to make the huge decision to quit our jobs, we sat down with them and talked it out,” Austin details. “It’s so encouraging to have role models in the music scene.”
“This album has been a long time in the making,” Sarah notes. “It features songs we’ve written together, some pieces penned separately in the past year, and songs that we wrote individually before we even met.”
An emerging theme so far is (unsurprisingly) the fundamental human desire for something or someone, or just to be somewhere different. Songs about satisfaction, desperation and a constant “chase” for greener pastures juxtapose moments of wanting everything but nothing all the same.
“We’ve touched on the beauty of the moment but also the simultaneous elemental, almost primitive, yearning for another place or situation,” Sarah clarifies. “The title, a line from our song ‘Holy Dirt,’ reflects this. It’s a double entendre of sorts. In one light the phrase, ‘all I want from you’ can sound dismissive and diminishing—apathetic even. In another light, ‘all, I want from you’ signals a deep appetite for more.”