We’re just about through catchin’ up when Ben Roberts reminds me that today is the anniversary of the ’20 East Nashville tornado. “Scary stuff, man,” says one-half of the husband & wife duo Carolina Story. “That’s sort of how I think about the last year and the pandemic– March 3rd, the tornado.” Settled just outside of Music City in Kingston Springs, the Roberts have had to navigate the pandemic as both parents and artists, juggling creative efforts with raising children in extraordinary times. Carolina Story released their sophomore effort, Dandelion, in September of last year, elevating their close harmonies and Americana style to new glory. It was an evolution the couple had been keen to share on the road, but the staggering and grinding halt of the live music machine put any chance of touring on hold indefinitely. Thankful for the time they’ve been able to spend with their family, Ben and Emily are nevertheless ready to return to performing with a five-night run of small, socially distanced dates that begin in Macon on Tuesday, March 9th. For Ben and Emily Roberts, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with fans, friends, and each other as artists– and hopefully, a chance to try out some new material along the way. Seating will be extremely limited, so don’t wait! Get your tickets now to see Carolina Story LIVE on The Creek Stage!
AI- How’s the family? Everybody stayin’ healthy?
BR- Yeah, everybody’s good, man! Everybody’s good. My son’s in kindergarten and back in school and all that. My little one’s three. She’s at ballet practice today, right now, so Emily’s with her.
So it would make sense that it’s time to start doin’ things again, right?
I think so! I think we’re gonna try!
The show on [March] 9th, this is gonna be your first one back?
We played a private thing and then we did one deal in Nashville. But as far as like goin’ on the road and really doin’ it? Yeah, this would be the first time in 14 months.
In our last conversation, I know you two were very excited, more than excited to have your new music out with a full band– but I’m assuming that this adventure will just be the duo, you and Emily?
Yeah. That’s just the best way to keep it safe and with stuff bein’ limited capacity as well and hotel rooms and all that, man, it just seems like a little bit of a logistical nightmare [to have a full band] since we’re not completely out of the COVID woods yet. We just wanted this to go off without a hitch, so we figured just doin’ it the two of us would be the safest and best way to do it.
When we spoke back in the fall, you guys said you were actually working on new music and even mentioned being ready to cut another album. Will you be tryin’ out new material on this small tour that you’re about to embark on?
Yeah, that’s a good question! Emily and I were talkin’ about that last night. We were like, “Oh, you know, maybe we should practice a little bit (laughs)! Get our sea legs back!” But we were like, “What do you wanna play?” Obviously, we wanna play a lot off of Dandelion, the majority of that, and maybe a couple older ones. I said, “Let’s relearn some of these covers that we were learnin’ during quarantine, and if you want, let’s maybe learn two or three of these newer songs. Get ’em down pat and have some fun and play ’em on this run!” So I think that’s what we’re plannin’ on doin’!
Tell me about these covers you’ve been learnin’. Was this just like a fun exercise for y’all durin’ the pandemic or are these just songs that you love and have been wantin’ to play?
A little bit of both. We started doin’ this sort of cover series, and we didn’t have mics or anything. It was just usin’ our iPhone doin’ this little cover series. I think we got up to 15 or more that we did. We really started shinin’ a light on it and tellin’ little snippets of stories of how certain bands or certain songs influenced us when we were growing up or even recently. Some examples would be, we did “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins; “Karma Police”, Radiohead; “Polly” by Nirvana… Lotta ’90s stuff, but even like some Gram Parsons…
I can totally hear you two doin’ the Gram and Emmylou for sure!
Yeah! Gram and Emmylou and some Neil Young, some Jewel… So really a pretty eclectic bunch of songs. It’d be fun I think, to relearn some of those and just have fun live with some of that.
Despite the much bigger, grander sound on Dandelion, have you guys in your current writing found yourself gravitating more back to just the basic husband and wife harmonies? I mean, at your core, that’s what you are, but it’s also a little different than the bigger sound that you worked so hard to get on Dandelion.
I think the way it’s shaken out with the [new] songs, we’ve probably got eight, nine, ten songs that we’ve written. We’ve written more than that but these eight to ten, we feel like are a part of the next thing. It’s almost like those songs, they tell you what they want to do (laughs)! They really are like little kids– like our own kids! They develop their own personalities! On Dandelion, we had a couple songs like “Carolina” and “Time Well Spent” and they were more intimate and acoustic-y and we love doing that. So I’m sure that we’ll have some sparse stuff thrown in there, but at the same time, it feels like we’re gonna be pushin’ the envelope even more than on Dandelion in some ways– and pushing ourselves sonically. I don’t quite know exactly what that means, but we’ll find out! There’s some of these, the arrangements and the chord progressions and even lyrically, that are similar to Dandelion, but they definitely feel like they’re takin’ another step, another leap like we did. We’re not interested at all in makin’ a Dandelion 2.0. I’m sure there’ll be some similarities, but we’re interested in seein’ how far we can push this bad boy!
Tell me about your co-writing. That was something I know you were excited to be doing more of. Have you, in fact, been doing more of that?
I have! I’ve been writin’ a lot with Paul Moak, who produced Dandelion, who we’re going to work with again. I feel like we’re still in that great little phase with him that continues to evolve. He just understands. We just seem to have a grasp on one another and we feel safe with him. So I’ve been writin’ a whole lot with him. And our drummer Nathan [Sexton], we’ve been writin’. Yeah, I’ve been co-writing with a lot of people. Wrote the other day for the first time with an artist, a songwriter, producer named Sean McConnell.
I was just talkin’ about him with Garrison Starr a couple of days ago.
Wow (laughs) That’s so cool!
Ashley Ray is a big collaborator with him as well, and she just thinks he hung the moon.
That’s who I wrote with! I wrote with Sean and Ashley!
We wrote a really awesome song called “Crooked Lines” that is kind of inspired by that Matthew McConaughey biography, Greenlights, and yeah, man, it was a blast! So I’ve been doin’ some co-writing and tryin’ to write with new people, just to see what you can come up with. But also gettin’ down in the lab and just writin’ by myself a whole lot with Emily’s input and as a bit of an editor.
Well, I’ll tell you, Ben, it is an honor to have you guys startin’ back up again and makin’ Macon— heh, makin’ Macon– your first stop (laughs)!
I’m gonna steal that (laughs)!
Oh yeah? You go ahead. I didn’t think it was good enough to steal, but you go for it (laughs)!
It’s pretty good!
Tell me what the word is goin’ ’round with your other friends in the music business. I know lots of folks have been doin’ just what you’re about to do– small regional tours to test the waters, some to decent success, some not so much. What are you hearin’ and what are your concerns personally about getting back out?
I think it matters where everybody is in their career too and their popularity. Some friends, they sell too many tickets to get back out there right now (laughs)! But man, concerns would be just keepin’ our audience safe. It’s good to know that our bookin’ agent and management have been talkin’ with venues and makin’ sure protocols are in place, but, you know, Emily and I both had COVID in late November, early December.
Yeah, so we still got those antibodies coursin’ through our veins so the science says. And I believe it. But we’re still takin’ all the protective measures and maskin’ up and socially distancing. I guess one of the big concerns would be just the amount of travel that we’ll be doin’ and bein’ proactive in bein’ safe. But, yeah, we’ve talked to some artists and friends that have done these smaller things and they’ve been successful. And it was really good for their mental health to get back out there and do what they do and play the songs for the people and reconnect with some fans. I would like to think that music lovers and concert-goers are itchin’ just as much as we are to get back out there and enjoy this thing we call music together.