Years before forming the Americana duo Surrender Hill, songwriters Robin Dean Salmon and Afton Seekins chased their own muses as solo artists.
Salmon was an award-winning punk rock frontman who’d spent the first half of his adolescence in South Africa. During the early ‘80s, his family relocated to a longhorn ranch in Texas, where Salmon found himself listening to a cross-cultural mix of Bob Wills, the Sex Pistols, Marty Robbins and the Clash. He took up songwriting at 15 years old, launched the band See No Evil soon after high school, and later moved the group to New York City, landing a major-label deal with Sony Music in the process. A decade later, though, Salmon found himself drawn to the rootsy sounds he’d heard as a child on the ranch, where cattle workers would strum country songs after a hard day’s work. Inspired, he relaunched a career as an alt-country songwriter, eventually crossing paths with Seekins — his future bandmate and wife — while playing shows in Sedona, Arizona.
Meanwhile, Seekins grew up splitting her time between an Alaskan fishing village and an Arizona frontier town. Summers were spent in one location; school years were spent in another. Throughout it all, she honed her talent for dancing, eventually moving to New York City during her 20s and finding success as a choreographer. Unable to resist the need to pursue songwriting, she later headed back to Arizona, where she turned the contents of her personal journal into the lyrics of her very first songs.
Separately, Salmon and Seekins are strong, sharp-voiced musicians, with songs inspired by their colorful and unusual backgrounds. Together, they’re something bigger: a soulful, countrified duo whose music nods not only to America’s rural pockets, but also to the world at large. Surrender Hill’s new album A Whole Lot of Freedom, due out April 3rd, was recorded at the couple’s newly-constructed home studio in northern Georgia, with contributions from drummer Matthew Crouse (who also appeared on 2018’s Tore Down Fences), fiddler Wyatt Espalin, and guest guitarist Jonathan Callicutt. Of the 36 songs originally written for the record, Salmon and Seekins chose 18, turning A Whole Lot of Freedom into their first double-album. The tracks that made the final cut were, by and large, both melodic and mellow, influenced heavily by the arrival of their first child, Wren. The result is an album that’s both personal and universal, stocked with character-driven songs and first-person accounts. The album doubles down on themes of freedom and togetherness, written and performed by a duo of songwriters who’ve fought their own battles and suffered their own scars, only to surrender to, and find peace with, each other.
Like its name suggests, A Whole Lot of Freedom breaks down walls for Surrender Hill. This is the soundtrack to taking new chances and meeting challenges head-on, set to a backdrop of entwined melodies and rustic orchestration.
Today Glide is offering an exclusive premiere of “Turn This Train Around”, one of the standout tracks on the new album. The simple drum beat and sparse and twangy guitar immediately evoke the sound of the American West. Salmon handles the lead vocals, conjuring images of traveling across a barren landscape as he sings about a life of travel and making major changes in life. Seekins lends her own vocals to the track to give it shimmering harmonies. The imagery of of trains and driving across the desert definitely brings to mind the great road songs across outlaw country and Americana, and “Turn This Train Around” fits right in.
Listen to the track and read our quick chat with the band below…
What is this song about? Is there a story behind it or did something in particular make you write it?
This song was inspired by my travels west in 2009. I was going through a pretty rough time in my life. Midlife crisis, AGAIN, sort of thing. I think they started when I was 30!! Anyway, on that trip west, my jeep broke down in the Painted Desert in Arizona, which led to me visiting Sedona. When I got to Sedona, I felt a change come over me, and I knew that was where I was going to live. After four years of playing the music scene in Arizona, I met my wife and bandmate, Afton. We started performing together and recorded our first album, then hit the road east and ultimately settled down in the North Georgia Mountains.
Was this a music-first or a lyrics-first song?
This song came together all at once. I picked up the guitar and randomly put a capo somewhere on the neck and started playing this melody. Words started popping out, and Afton was in the kitchen and heard the first line, “I rode west and found myself in the Canyon,” and she came into the studio and we banged it out. It fell together pretty fast.
Speaking of the lyrics, what is your favorite lyric line from this song? Why is it your favorite?
I have a few favorite lines in this song. One is, “Coyotes in the night tried to bend this beggar to their will.” That line just flows off the tongue in a cool way. But my favorite has to be, “We laid our roots on the bank where an old man willow grows.” I grew up around willow trees in South Africa. So one day, not long before we wrote this song, my brother brought a willow over to our property, and l planted it by our stream. He was so proud of it. Early the next morning, we were sitting on our front porch drinking coffee, when our horse Ringo walked over to the willow and proceeded to demolish it and tear it out of the ground. So funny.
What is next for Surrender Hill?
I tell you what, there is a song called “Carry On” on the album. The chorus of that song pretty much says it all for us at the moment. “These days are good days and I hope they carry on, like a 1970s outlaw country song.” We will keep making records and traveling as much as we can.
Photo Credit: Andrew Pollock