If you haven’t taken a road trip through the beautiful state of Tennessee, you’re missing out. I love long drives in the car, but I grew up in central Illinois, often driving up and down I-55, yawning at cornfield after cornfield, dodging (and hitting) deer along the way from Springfield to Collinsville and back again. Every trip was the same; there isn’t a “when you get more north/south/east/west, it starts to turn pretty” excuse for Illinois’ roads – pretty much blah all the way around. And sometimes, I come to expect that for every road trip I take, which of course, is a mistake.
A huge mistake, really. I found this out again last June while my wife and I made our way from St. Louis to Chattanooga, stopping in Nashville, and passing through Manchester while Bonnaroo was in full force. Once you get into southeastern Tennessee, it starts to turn into scary, windy, and wildly scenic natural beauty. There is no cruise control – too many “look at that, oh wow” moments going on for the car to do the job. Complicated, but worth every second of your attention span.
When I think of southern music, or simply songs about the south – Ryan Adams’ “Oh My Sweet Carolina” or Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind” – I think of this natural beauty, the kind that makes you want to believe that everything is right in the world, that good will always be a little smarter than evil.
And the everybodyfields, who hail from Johnson City and Knoxville, Tennessee, do seem a little smarter than most. They like to describe their music as “harmony-driven songs about leaving, losing, and home,” which I believe, because southern music is honest and beautiful.
The truth is that the everybodyfields make it and play it like no other band I have heard in quite a long time.
“Being located in the south, we’re privileged to be around a lot of great music,” says guitarst, bassist, vocalist, and songwriter Jill Andrews. “It seems like there is a stronghold in the mountains – North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, those areas. Maybe there’s more solitude, you know? More ways to be creative because you’re not surrounded by people and things all the time.”
The story of Andrews and Sam Quinn of the everybodyfields is furiously engaging: you get twisted around while you’re witnessing the beauty of it all. There are no straight roads, and there is no turning around once their songs have gotten a hold of you. Much like the beautiful harmonies that the two create, there is always give and take.
And through their first three albums making music together, Andrews and Quinn have done plenty of giving and taking.
Time Will Forget Your Name
The first time I saw Jill Andrews, she was sitting near a music venue’s bar in St. Louis, Missouri. It was moments before the everybodyfields were to tune their equipment in preparation for their show at Lucas School House, a concert I had circled on my calendar for weeks. And although I had arrived to the venue later than I wanted, it was just enough time to catch a glance at Andrews, who was chatting with her friends, drinking a Miller High Life. She smiled, laughed; everything was okay.
A few days before, she had called me at home for a scheduled interview, finally getting a few minutes to speak. We had tried to connect a few times before, but something had always come up — the first time she was practicing a Beatles cover with Quinn; the second time I wasn’t home, and she left a lengthy, apologetic voicemail. The time we actually connected she was driving to Kentucky, in a great mood to talk about anything.
“I’m a very social person,” she admitted on the phone.
For Andrews and the everybodyfields, things have a way of always seeming to work out. I’d imagine that she wouldn’t exactly phrase it that way, only because in the short time I’ve gotten to know her over phone, e-mail, text message, and live performance, I know her story isn’t easy – it’s just so brutally honest, that it shows up everywhere on their latest album, Nothing is Okay.
“I always wanted to be a singer,” Andrews tells me. “My goals in life were to be a singer, to write my own songs, and to play an instrument. And Sam (Quinn) was one of the people who really helped me realize that I could do that. I don’t know if I ever envisioned that we would have CDs, and that we would be in a band together. But I know that the first time we sang together, it was pretty magical.”
That magical moment occurred when Andrews and Quinn met when they were both 19 and camp counselors at Wesley Woods Camp, long before the everybodyfields existed. At the time, Andrews couldn’t play the guitar; she had never even written a song. But she could sing, and for Quinn, he had never heard a voice sound so comforting, so exact in a sense that it was the one he wanted to hear sing with him.
So they sang together – Gram Parsons’ “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning” – to be exact. And since that time, there have been plenty of ashes to be swept; they linger like dried tar in every song on Nothing is Okay.
Love’s Not a Savior
“I had a feeling, and now it’s gone,” Andrews sings on “Savior,” one of the many songs about heartache on Nothing is Okay. She’s a sweet alto, a voice so pure that if Bob Dylan were to write another Desire, he would be smart to recruit Andrews to play an Emmylou Harris-type role to bring it to life.
Because that’s what Andrews does with her voice, especially when she sings with her band mate Quinn on songs like “Don’t Tern Around” and “Aeroplane.” The only catch is that the words that they sing together aren’t about their love for each other, but rather the way their failed attempt at love made them feel toward one another.
“I’m so grateful, and you’re so tired of me,” Andrews beckons on “Wasted Time.”
“The best you can hope for is to go in your sleep,” counters Quinn on “Aeroplane.”
The everybodyfields were formed when Quinn, after a brief falling out with Andrews, spotted her singing with a talented dobro player, David Richey. Their first two albums — Halfway There: Electricity and the South and Plague of Dreams – stuck to basics, carried my simple songs like “So Good,” “Leaving,” and “By Your Side.” 2007’s Nothing is Okay i
s a different animal; it’s a collection of tunes that mostly play as a conversation between Andrews and Quinn as they figure out how to stay friends while keeping the band together.
The songs were written while Andrews and Quinn were living miles apart, away from the quiet hills of Tennessee, on both sides of the U.S. Writing, in general, isn’t easy for Andrews.
“It’s hard for me to write songs – I have to be pretty inspired to do so,” Andrews tells me. “I have to be really focused, not answering my phone. When it starts rolling, I need to not interrupt it. I interrupt things like that a lot!”
Whether it’s Andrews (“When you turn around and don’t see me/ Why don’t you see me?”) or Quinn (“I know you’ve found him/ And those legs around him”) who is doing the writing, the message throughout Nothing is Okay is the same: through turmoil, some things change and some linger, but you have to move on.
And somehow, the everybodyfields are moving on, making the best music of their lives.
I Can Be Lonely Anywhere
“One of my favorite singer-songwriters is Gillian Welch…and Lucinda Williams; I just got recently got into Lucinda. I wasn’t a fan at first…I wasn’t a fan at all! But I don’t know…she’s just really grown on me,” says Andrews while driving to Kentucky.
Let it be noted that Jill Andrews sounds nothing like Lucinda Williams when she sings. But I could name many of Williams’ songs that I could see Andrews singing – tunes like “Those Three Days,” “I Lost It,” “Lonely Girls,” or “Are You Alright?”
“The first album of hers I heard was Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and I just didn’t really like it,” Andrews adds. “And then I heard Live at Fillmore West, the double disc. I just heard a couple tracks from that, and then I heard a couple tracks from Essence, and then I went back to Car Wheels, and I’m completely hooked on everything now. She’s just real harsh, she’s a hard pill to swallow. But she’s amazing.”
Andrews’ gem on Nothing is Okay is a Lucinda Williams-type weeper, a sad song called “Lonely Anywhere.” Once tabbed by NPR as their “Song of the Day,” Andrews’s song actually wasn’t directly about Quinn – and it almost didn’t make the album.
“Basically, I wrote that song in the studio while we were recording the album,” Andrews tells me. “I’m glad it took us a long time to record the album, or else that wouldn’t have been on there. But it was just…it was a night where I felt like I was doing everything I could to be happy, and there was one person I couldn’t make happy, and he was dragging me down with him. Way, way, way down…and I don’t know if I really want to get too detailed about it, but I felt like I could write a song that night, and I don’t know why. And the person just wanted me to hang out with him and drink, and I said, “No, I’m gonna go do this!” And he got really mad at me.
Really, really, really mad at me. I just started feeling really trapped.”
Such a simple song, “Lonely Anywhere” nails the feelings that hover everywhere on Nothing is Okay. We’re given Andrews’ reassuring voice – “We need to keep looking into each other’s eyes” – even though we get the sense that she is also doubtful in every line of the song: “If you ever can see past you, I’ll keep some days clear” and “I walk in, you walk out of rooms, everywhere.”
“I can be lonely anywhere,” Andrews continues to sing.
Once again, it’s southern music at its best, full of brutal honesty.
Live in St. Louis
So there Jill Andrews was, sipping on her Miller High Life, looking as though she was having the time of her life by the bar. When she rose from her stool and started to proceed toward the stage to tune her guitar, she seemed as focused as ever, ready to deliver with Quinn and the newest members of the everybodyfields, Josh Oliver (keys, electric guitar) and Tom Pryor (pedal steel). They’ve since added a drummer to the mix, Jamie Cook.
It’s hard to describe an everybodyfields show; I guess I’d say there’s a lot of sharing going on – vocals, guitars (Andrews and Quinn trade acoustic and bass), and jokes. There are even surprises, like covers of Lionel Richie’s “Stuck on You” and Neil Young’s “Helpless.”
And then there are moments that leave you amazed. Like when Andrews and Quinn, even though they swore they had played the last song of the evening, hopped back on stage, sat at end of it, and tried their best to re-create a summer camp moment like the one that first joined them together.
Without any amplification, they took on and nailed Gram Parsons’ “Love Hurts.”
I still remember the moment very clearly, partly because it happened right in front of me, but mostly because I was frozen – I didn’t move an inch. It was one of those concert memories that I’ll never forget – one guitar and two pure voices in perfect tune, punctuating a night of great music that simply didn’t want to end.