Beginning as a group of friends playing bluegrass in San Francisco's Mission District, Front Country has since morphed into a touring powerhouse of song and sound, transcending their humble string band roots. The band's dynamic instrumental textures take flight with grace and gravitas while rooted in the relentlessly soulful vocals of lead singer-songwriter Melody Walker. Front Country's second and newest release, Other Love Songs, stands as their Roots Pop opus, once again breaking the bluegrass mold and proving the group's commitment to musical innovation.
We talked with Melody Walker ahead of the band's show with Bernie King & the Guilty Pleasures at The Cedar on July 3 about discovering California's roots music scene, making their second LP, and building an international following. Read the full interview below and get tickets and more information about the show here.
The band began in San Francisco; what is it like trying to make and perform roots music on the West Coast?
A lot of people don't think of California when they think of roots music, but there really is a strong scene there. I grew up in the Bay Area going to music festivals and seeing female bluegrass band leaders like Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick, which really gave me the template to do what I'm doing today. We also have the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park where as a band we got to see all the best touring string bands play.
How did your perception of what the band could be change while touring on your debut full-length, Sake of the Sound?
We were really a local San Francisco band until our first album, Sake of the Sound, came out and we did our first national tour. As the band grew it became clear that one or two original members were probably not going to give up their other careers to tour full time, but we eventually found some other likeminded folks who wanted to hop onboard and that's how we ended up with the crew that made Other Love Songs.
Your contest wins at the RockyGrass and Telluride festivals were part of what gave you the confidence to start touring full time. Can you describe the role that music festivals have had in jump-starting your career?
The wins at Rockygrass and Telluride were instrumental in giving us the confidence to become a real recording and touring band. It gave us a little foothold in the scene to leverage our first few national gigs, and after that we began the arduous work of growing a band nationally and then internationally.
Your second and newest release, Other Love Songs, shows a significant evolution in the band’s sound. What influences do you attribute to your so-called “Roots Pop” sound?
Roots Pop was something a reviewer had said about our first album and we really thought it fit better than any of the other genre labels out there. I tend to write poppy songs and just throw them into the band where they hopefully get a lot cooler. I'm always surprised by what we can arrange around any melody and chord progression.
Other Love Songs is the first record to rely primarily on your own songwriting. How did this shift in the songwriting process affect the content of the record?
Generally, since the beginning of the band, if a song has words, I wrote it, if it's an instrumental tune, Roscoe wrote it. We do a fair amount of cover songs and rearrangements of traditionals too, but the original songs are usually mine. That said, the first record was heavy on songs by other writers, with three I wrote and two Roscoe wrote, and the second had eight originals from me and two from Roscoe.
How do these songs tie in the theme of relationships and the tradition of love songs?
When we got all the songs selected for the second record, we realized there were so many about relationships and feelings, but they were all from this sort of quirky or slightly off-axis perspective, so we went with "Other Love Songs" as the title.
What can The Cedar audience expect from a Front Country show?
We have really been focusing on our live show this year, bringing in new effects, new instruments, and a ton of new songs. We are putting stuff together for the next album, so you'll hear some new material, as well as rocking versions of our greatest hits. We really dig deeper every year, so I'm excited to show you all what sounds and subjects we have been exploring in these tumultuous times. I'm personally very inspired lately by activist musicians of the past and really leaning into singing about what matters today.