The last time we caught up with North Carolina Americana outfit Mandolin Orange was exactly one year ago this week. At the time the band, comprised of Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin, were getting more comfortable than ever before. They were currently supporting Willie Watson as a duo (sans a backing band… something that wasn’t a norm at the time), promoting 2013’s This Side of Jordan, their first album on Yep Roc, after a string of independent releases. Since then they’ve spent a ton of time on the road (with numerous Philly stops), and recorded their follow-up, Such Jubilee, which hit shelves earlier this month. Like This Side of Jordan, the album maintains the band’s trademark blend of sonic traditions of the American South (folk, country, bluegrass, etc.), but with a particular strength for storytelling, and a restraint in regards to unnecessary musical flair, that allows the majority of the tunes to also fit the category of “popularly palatable balladry.” Mandolin Orange are currently back out on the road and will be playing Johnny Brenda’s tonight. The tour takes the band through early August and includes a plethora of major festivals, such as DelFest, the Wanderlust Festival, and Pickathon. The other day I got to chat with Emily Frantz about how the band has spent the past year.
Izzy Cihak: The last time I talked to the band was a year ago this week. What have been the highlights of the band since then?
Emily Frantz: Last year was a pretty awesome year of touring for us. We were able to get out to almost all of the places around the country (and beyond) where we hadn’t played yet. We also got to play some big festivals last summer, right after we recorded Such Jubilee, and I think that put some pep in our step. A few highlights were Newport Folk Festival, Pickathon, and Redwing Roots Festival.
Izzy: And you’ve played Philadelphia a handful of time since then, so I’m curious: What are your thoughts on the city? Any favorite experiences?
Emily: We really like Philadelphia. It seems to have a lot of true character, and feels a little more under-the-radar than DC or New York. There’s a cool energy. We passed through last week and got to go to a Phillies game (they won!) but we are still yet to have a real cheese steak. We need the local recommendation!
Izzy: You recently released Such Jubilee. How do you think the release compares to previous albums, both in terms of sound and the process of writing and recording it?
Emily: I think the songs on Such Jubilee are super strong. I don’t think they are quite as unified thematically as the songs on This Side of Jordan. That could have had to do with all the touring we were doing over the time period when they were written, but that’s just an after-the-fact notion. But so far it’s been keeping it interesting for us playing them live. The songs feel like they have a good amount of lyrical and sonic variety, which is fun for us on stage. I really like the way they compliment the TSOJ material.
In terms of recording process, we did Such Jubilee with just the two of us and our comrade, Josh Oliver. In the past we’ve had a lot of other hands involved, but during 2014 we were so locked in as a duo from all the touring. That felt like the best way to record at the time because it reflected what we were fully steeped in. We tracked most of them live just the two of us, then added on overdubs where we heard ideas afterward.
Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to the release, whether from critics, fans/audiences, or just friends and peers?
Emily: Not that come immediately to mind. Obviously we love it when people love the new record, critics and fans alike, but most of our conversations with people about the tunes are at shows, and I guess relate more to their experience hearing the song(s) live.
Izzy: You’re playing Johnny Brenda’s this week, which I’m quite excited for. What can be expected of the live experience? This’ll be my first time seeing you outside of a sit-down, dinner theatre style venue.
Emily: We’re excited too! I think because our music is lyrically heavy and not particularly raucous, people see sit-down venues as being the most fitting setting for our shows, but we kind of disagree. We do enjoy playing those rooms, but also really love playing traditional standing clubs. The folks who are coming to our shows have been so awesome, and really come to listen, whether they’re sitting or standing. When the crowd stands we’re just able to get a lot more energy from them. It feels a little more like an exchange, as opposed an output of music, so we’re really excited for the Johnny Brenda’s show.
Izzy: You’re going to be playing a lot of really cool festivals this summer. Are there any that you’re especially excited for or any acts that you’re especially excited to share a stage with or just get to see?
Emily: We love festivals! In general, our music sounds better inside a closed up room, but festivals offer so much more in the way of community, interaction, and getting to hang out with other bands whose names we always see around, but maybe never really get to hear or talk to. We are really honored to have DelFest coming up this weekend. We are huge fans of the Del McCoury Band and have heard that DelFest is an awesome fan experience as well. I heard something about a lazy river? It’s also a huge honor to be returning to Pickathon and Redwing Roots this summer, so we have a lot to look forward to.
Izzy: What do you have planned for after this round of dates wraps up? What are you hoping and planning for the second half of 2015?
Emily: We’re working on some exciting things for the fall! But honestly we’re just taking it 48 hours at a time right now. We did a lot of “grassroots” and DIY touring for several years, so getting to play in all of these awesome rooms to consistently full crowds is not something we take for granted. It is a huge deal to us and we’re just trying to soak it up and do the best job we can!