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Their combined ages barely exceeds the age of one member of the Rolling Stones, yet when Cumberland Blue performs suddenly age, musical labels and everything else dissolves into a formidable wall of sound unlike anything else in contemporary music. Their unique blues/rock vibe is captured on the band’s debut EP Awakening. The six-piece band calls Nashville home, but like Jack White, King of Leon and Sheryl Crow, Cumberland Blue is expanding the perception of Music City. “We are literally rooted in the blues, but our sound has come far from there,” says lead vocalist Chloe Kohanski. “It’s taking the blues, but definitely putting a more modern twist on it with an emphasis on rock and a little bit more of a gritty sound. We started with blues and we’re changing and evolving.”
“We never wanted to stereotype ourselves into one genre,” adds guitarist Hank Compton, “because we never want to really attack one age of people or one class of people. We want to appeal to a very wide spectrum. Music is an art, but it’s also a second language for us, so we want to be able to speak to everybody.”
With one listen, it’s obvious the members of Cumberland Blue are exceptional communicators. Anyone who hears Cumberland Blue expects to encounter a sextet of seasoned musicians with decades of experience. The truth is a different story. At 20, Kohanski is the eldest member of the group and the only female. Rounding out the Cumberland Blue sonic attack is bassist Rocky Block, keyboard prodigy Yates McKendree, drummer Duncan King and Grant Smith on fiddle and mandolin. The band formed in 2012 when the young musicians were preparing to represent Nashville at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN.
“The reason we got together was for the International Blues Challenge,” says Kohanski. “That’s how we all found each other and started this band. Different cities have different blues societies and we’re a part of the National Blues Society. We competed here in Nashville and then we were chosen to represent the Youth Blues challenge in Memphis. We did that two years in a row actually.”
Though their roots are in the blues, Cumberland Blue has evolved and expanded their sound. “The longer we were together the more we got to know each other, the closer we became, the more free we felt to do other stuff,” says Smith. “We all just began pushing in a new direction.”
Each member of Cumberland Blue brings a unique skill set to the band. “I started playing drums, literally before I could walk,” says 19-year-old King, a Nashville native, who counts the Foo Fighters and Led Zeppelin among his influences.
Smith is also a native Nashvilian. “Growing up I was around different kinds of music my entire life,” says Smith. “My dad started me out playing classical violin when I was four and I’m 15 now. I played in my first band when I was 10-years-old. It was a bluegrass band. My musical influences are Roy Buchanan, Jimi Hendrix, and this old blues fiddle player, Papa John Creach. I really like him. I steal a lot of licks off of him.”
Compton grew up just outside Nashville in Nolensville, TN and his father is producer Paul Compton. “Because my dad is in the business I’ve grown up around music my entire life,” says Compton, who cites John Mayer, Joe Bonamassa, and Tedeschi Trucks Band, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles among his influences. “I started playing guitar when I was about four or five and then I branched off and wanted to do other things like drums, and piano. This is the first band I’ve played in.”
McKendree grew up in Franklin, TN and began playing music early. “I started playing piano at around three-years-old. My biggest influence, for sure, is my father who is also a professional piano player. Other than him, my main influences are James Booker and Billy Preston.”
Like his bandmates, Block began playing music early. “I started playing music as soon as I could hold a stick because my father [Billy Block] is a drummer, so I started playing drums actually, and then my little brother quickly became better than I was so I figured I’d learn how to play everything else,” the 17-year old Nashville native says with a grin. “I honed in on bass the last few years and that’s where I feel the most comfortable. As far as influences, I’m a John Mayer fan and also D'Angelo and Erykah Badu. And anything Pino Palladino plays on, I’m a huge fan of.”
Kohanski is a powerhouse vocalist with a soulful edge. “I’ve been singing pretty much since I was five,” the native Nashvillian says. “I was raised on contemporary Christian music. I knew nothing else until I got into this band. I had really never really listened to blues. Once I heard it I was, ‘What is this beautiful music that I can actually sing?’ because I have a lower register singing voice. I started diving in and my musical influences over the last two years would be Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, Anne Wilson and Susan Tedeschi.”
That wide variety of influences and talents coalesces on Awakening. “As a band, we wrote all six songs,” says Block. “Every single song is an original.”