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Every now and then a musical endeavor starts as a lark, but clicks so well, it takes on a life of its own — one that deserves to be nurtured. That’s what North of Nashville bandmates Jay Basiner and Andrew Martelle discovered when they began duetting in-between gigs with their regular band, a Maine outfit called This Way.
Pursuing their passion for honky-tonk and the Highwaymen, they quickly found themselves outdrawing their regular gigs — and having far more fun. They finally gave in to the muse and made it official. And now, they’re releasing their self-titled debut, an album that revels in the gospel of Willie, Waylon, Kris and Cash, as well as their musical brothers and sisters from across the vast Americana landscape. North of Nashville (April 29, 2014), features 10 tracks filled with Martelle’s fiddle and mandolin and Basiner’s lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica and percussion, and of course, their lively harmonies.
Their roots influences, natural chemistry and irresistible appeal are abundantly evident in songs such as “Eyes for Me,” “One Night of Pretending,” “The Working Man” and “Hooked on Me,” but every song courses with passion and heart. Songwriter Basiner confesses most were written in the throes and aftermath of a divorce, which might help explain their mix of emotional vulnerability and swaggering bravado.
Though he didn’t start playing guitar and writing songs until he was 19, his piano and violin lessons began at age 6, then became “consumed” by drums. He banged skins in bands for 12 years, including some spent studying journalism and music at St. Michael’s College in Burlington, Vt.
“I owe the music that speaks to me to my father,” says Basiner, whose dad, also a professional musician, grew up in a family of music-loving railroad workers. “Guys like Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Roger Miller, the Kingston Trio and Hank Williams were a big part of my dad’s upbringing, and became a big part of mine.”
Martelle, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s in education from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, grew up playing classical violin. “When I got to college, I discovered all the joys Music City had to offer, and discovered my love for country music in all its forms: Waylon, Merle, Garth Brooks, Charlie Daniels, and most importantly for my playing, Vassar Clements.”
A school teacher by day, he became a honky-tonker at night, playing Nashville’s Broadway tourist joints for tips.
“I was able to learn the language I hadn’t grown up,” he says. He carried it back to Maine, where he joined This Way, the band Basiner had formed in 2008 with his best college buddy. The band recorded three albums and toured nationally before the pair decided to expand their horizons.
“Andrew and I wanted to play and tour more than the confines of a five-piece band would allow, and we wanted to start a more traditional country project,” Basiner explains. “We began a weekly residency at a local Portland bar and the thing just exploded right out of the gate, so we knew we were on to something worth pursuing.”
They left the band behind in 2012 and hit the road, touring in a black Suburban named Foxy and honing their sound while opening for acts including Dierks Bentley, Lake Street Dive, Phil Vassar, Aoife O’Donovan, Freedy Johnston, Chatham County Line and Uncle Kracker. In 2013, the Portland Press Herald named them a 'Band to Watch' and they were nominated for a 2014 New England Music Award as 'Live Band of the Year'.
They love playing together so much, they can’t seem to stop. Basiner says they’ve played gigs stretching as long as eight hours. Martelle says they love kicking back in the hotel after shows, sipping bourbon and playing classic country “till the sun comes up or someone tries to knock down the door because we’re too loud.”
Turns out they do, indeed, have an outlaw streak. Maybe it took This Way to point it out, but with North of Nashville and their new self-titled album, they've found their true direction.