News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Music: Exebelle & The Rusted Cavalcade
BY ANDREW LEAHEY
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
If the four members of Exebelle & the Rusted Cavalcade shared a single record collection, it would be a strange thing to alphabetize. Queen would come right after Gram Parsons, and Uncle Tupelo’s “Anodyne” would be sandwiched between albums by Thin Lizzy and Gillian Welch.
As far as Exebelle is concerned, those bands make perfect sense together. After listening to one of the group’s five EPs (or taking a peek at the unfinished recordings from Exebelle’s current project, an eclectic double-album) they may make perfect sense to you, too.
“We’re an Americana band at the ground level,” says guitarist Phil Heesen, who splits songwriting and singing duties with his three bandmates, “but we’re trying to build a skyscraper on top of that. We have four different writers and four different voices, so anything we do is going to include a pop element, a rootsy element, some folkiness and maybe a few references to the weird stuff I learned in music school.”
In Exebelle’s world, the boundaries between country, pop and rock ’n’ roll tend to disappear. Multi-tracked electric guitars—the sort of thing you might expect from a ’70s prog–rock band—rub shoulders with acoustic mandolins. Twangy melodies give way to thick stacks of vocal harmony. Different influences come and go, depending on which member wrote the song and who’s singing lead.
“We’re not the first band to do this,” explains Kerry Hutcherson, whose contributions run the gamut from pedal steel guitar to harmonica.
“Gram Parsons and the Byrds reinvented country music back in the ’60s. I don’t mean to put our band into that category, but it’s an aspiration of ours to try and take all the music that we respect and somehow combine it in a way that makes sense to the casual listener.”
Spend some time with Exebelle’s songs and you’ll start to see four distinct personalities emerge.
Heesen is the guitar-slinger, responsible for most of the band’s heavy riffage and muscular pop–rock songs. Kerry Hutcherson is the modern-day folk singer whose lyrics show an appreciation for Woody Guthrie, Loudon Wainwright III and Todd Snider. Bass player Ryan Owenby writes songs in the down-home, old-time tradition, and pianist Ben Willson—the most recent addition to Exebelle’s lineup—helps bridge the gap between past and present with his 21st-century indie–rock influences.
“Ben joined us when the band had already been together for two years,” Hutcherson explained, “and he was doing music that was much more eclectic and modern. We had to find a way to adapt his style to this roots-based, Americana sound of ours, and while we were trying to get all those pieces to fit together, we developed a sound that mixed everything together. It centers around American music—where it comes from, where it is now, where it’s going—and mixes in everything else.”
“Everything else” is the very thing that separates Exebelle & the Rusted Cavalcade from other flannel-wearing, cowboy-booted country acts. The guys may have twangy roots, but it’s the stuff that grows skyward from those roots—a mix of genres, songwriting approaches and musical personalities—that draws the eye.
Andrew Leahey knows good twangy music when he hears it—he plays it himself.