Interview with Dear County – July 7, 2016

Dear County (from left to right): Nelson Saarni, Julia Napier, Mark W. Lynn, Arrica Rose, and Michael Smartt  

Interviewed by Harry Kaplan

I was fortunate enough to interview Arrica Rose and Mark W. Lynn of the band Dear County. Dear County is a five piece band consisting of Mark W. Lynn (lead guitar, vocals), Arrica Rose (lead vocals, guitar), Michael Smartt (drums), Nelson Saarni (bass, vocals), and Julia Napier (percussion, vocals). Their musical influences include the likes of Gram Parsons, Eagles, Dusty Springfield, Big Star, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, and The Replacements. As you will hear in the interview, their aim is to pay respects to their influences while creating something uniquely their own. Let’s meet them, shall we?

TwangriLa: I am here with Dear County from Oakland California. Could you please give a quick introduction?

Arrica: My name is Arrica Rose, I am the singer and rhythm guitar player for Dear County. Dear County is a project that I started with Mark W. Lynn, who is sitting over here with me. We are going to talk to you about that project. We have our release coming out in August and we’re real excited about it. It’s our debut.

TwangriLa: So how long have you guys been together as Dear County?

Mark: I think we have been together as a band for about two and a half years. It has taken us a little bit to get our first release out because of life and stuff like that. And Arrica’s other project takes a lot of time. But we are really excited about our new release.

TwangriLa: It’s a good one. I can say that.

Mark: Thank you.

Arrica: Thanks so much.

TwangriLa: The name Dear County is a unique name. Could you explain how that name came about?

Arrica and Mark: (Laughter)

Arrica: It’s such a confusing matter (chuckles). We not only chose the name Dear County, but we are a country band so the words county and country often get confused. But we spell it D-E-A-R and we have a deer logo (laughter). It was something that just happened we were sitting around, having a few beers, and we were just throwing out names. We were looking at posters on the wall of the local bar and it was just one name that we came up with. Originally, it was D-E-E-R, but there are already enough deer bands out there. So we went with D-E-A-R. We were just tossing a lot of ideas around and now we realized we confused a lot of folks.

Mark: Little did we know what we were getting into (laughter)!

TwangriLa: And the album name is Low Country, which adds to the confusion.

Arrica and Mark: Yep (laughter).

Arrica: We were hoping that Low Country next to Dear County would make it less confusing. And we think that Low Country is our brand of country music. We are definitely country influenced, but Mark and I have such eclectic musical tastes and backgrounds. So we feel like it’s not high country, it is our version of country. And Low Country refers to the land as well.

TwangriLa: What I cover for TwangriLa, I call it country, but people call it a lot of other names. But to me, it feels like country.

Arrica: Whatever people connect to in the music. Depending on musical tastes, different people hear different things. Or it is magnified to them in different ways.

Mark: We initially intended when we first started writing songs to write classic 70’s style country songs. But it was impossible for us not to let our other influences bleed through a little bit once we got to writing more and more songs. We just let it be what it’s gonna be. It’s gonna have country influences.

TwangriLa: Well whatever you did, don’t change a thing. I want to congratulate you both on composing a wonderful CD. And it comes out on August 26th. Great job.

Arrica: Thank you so much! We really appreciate that.

TwangriLa: So who did the writing and the music composition? Is that something you did together?

Arrica: Mark and I wrote a good amount of songs together. There are a few of the songs on the album that I wrote on my own. But it is a very collaborative endeavor. We tend to work on the songs together. It usually starts with us, and then we have 3 other members. We have Mike Smartt who plays drums for us. Nelson Saarni, who plays bass and does backing vocals. And we have Julia Napier who does percussion and backing vocals. So then we take it to the rest of the band and then it evolves from there. But the writing begins with us, Mark and myself.

Mark: Sometimes it starts with a lyrical inspiration. Other times, like the song Spun, that started off as a musical riff I was messing around with. And I was like. we gotta sort of expand this and make it into a song. So it can be riff based or it can be lyric based. It really depends on the song.

TwangriLa: So sometimes the words come first and sometimes the music does.

Arrica: It depends on what inspiration strikes.

TwangriLa: And you never know when it is going to strike.

Arrica: The goal is to get it to strike more and more often.

Mark: The goal is to have it strike when you are near something to document the inspiration. The worst is when you are out and you have this thing, and you have to try to preserve it. Sometimes it sticks in the brain and sometimes it doesn’t.

TwangriLa: Do you ever use your phone to record it and come back to it later?

Arrica: (laughter) Between the two of us, we probably have thousands of ideas on our phones. It’s a mess of ideas. But sometimes, it is good to scroll back and review the ones that you didn’t go back to immediately. I have definitely jumped back to ones that had slipped my mind even though I recorded it.

TwangriLa: I guess it’s easier than it used to be before everyone had recording devices.

Arrica: Modern technology can be our friend (chuckle).

TwangriLa: So when I listen to the album, I hear balance. The instruments are in equilibrium with Arrica’s voice. So who did the production work on this?

Arrica: Well, we produced it ourselves, as a band. So we went into the studio, we recorded with Lee Bothwick at Jingle Town here in Oakland. We produced it as a collaborative effort and we all had a lot of input. I also did some recording in my home studio. I have a bit of a recording background. We also have to give a shout out to our mixer, Jason Mezilis. He played an integral role in the final product as well.

TwangriLa: I think it’s great. The instruments are perfect for your voice. They don’t overshadow the vocals and you don’t over power the instruments.

Arrica: I am glad it has that balance for you! It is really nice to hear.

Mark: As a band, that is our goal. Arrica is such a great singer that we try to have the song built around the vocals. When it is time to play lead guitar, I play lead. But for the most part, it’s really to showcase Arrica, as well as the song.

TwangriLa: I read your bio and you mention musical influences such as Gram Parsons, The Eagles, and Tom Petty to name a few. When I hear you sing Arrica, I hear Siouxsie Sioux from Siouxsie And The Banshees and PJ Harvey.

Arrica: Oh my!

Mark: That’s awesome!

Arrica: That’s great! Those are artists that I am honored to hear you say. Thank you. I have a very eclectic background. I come from a more traditional learning to sing background when I was young. So I started with the traditional approach and got really into punk rock and then I found my way to an indie folk territory with my own personal music Indie Folk Dream Pop. I like so many different kinds of music so it is not surprising to hear you say that some of those artists shine through. I may not be aware of it at the time, I am sure that all of the influences that have gotten me to this point can be pulled from my performance.

TwangriLa: It’s definitely your voice and style, but I do hear those elements.

Arrica: Part of the thing is I really wanted the vocals in Dear County to have a different feel. My other project has a little bit more of a dreamy quality to it. And I really wanted there to be a little bit more aggression in the Dear County vocals, a little bit more dirt, a little bit more rock n roll. So that was definitely something that I pushed myself to do.

TwangriLa: So whose idea was it to do a Neil Young cover (Everybody Knows This is Nowhere)?

Arrica: I think it was Mark’s idea (chuckle).

Mark: I think it was my idea. There’s something about that guitar riff. It’s so simple, yet so memorable. I have played that riff as long as I have played guitar. And I said, ‘We should just do that song.” I have always thought that it is such a great song.

Arrica: The backing vocals too are so memorable and we are really lucky in our project that both Nelson and Julia sing backup vocals. Also, Mark sings backup vocals. We have a lot of singers in our band so it is very cool to make that work. That is such an integral part of that song.

TwangriLa: I was going to say that, the backing vocals really help make the song. You do it different enough that you put your own signature on it. It isn’t just a copy.

Mark: We felt we would kind of arrange it the way we wanted to. Have a cover but not have it just the way Neil did it. We wanted to “Dear County” it up a little bit.

Arrica: We are paying homage to his art but there is no need for us to try to recreate what he has already done. Cuz’ he’s already done it (chuckles). And done it well. So we are just trying to pay our respects with our own voice.

TwangriLa: So when you play live, do you do any other covers?

Mark: We do! We actually just had to play some longer shows recently…so we have taken it upon ourselves to learn a number of covers…which is actually really fun. But we never do a straight cover. We will always “Dear County” it a little bit.

Arrica: Yeah, we’ve done some Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, and we are trying to do a cover of This Magic Moment. That’s been fun to do, to do a very ballad-like version of that. So yeah, we have picked up some eclectic covers to throw in every now and again. It is nice to be able to reinterpret another artist’s material. I think it can be fun for a band to have that at their disposal.

TwangriLa: I think so too, especially live.

Arrica: People really connect with the covers. If there is someone out there that has never heard you before, it is a great entry into what you do.

Mark: Yeah, we learn them quick. Mike, Nelson, and Julia all learn very quickly. Julia is a great singer. She has great pitch and really good harmony ideas. And Mike is a clock with the drums. And Nelson is just a fantastic bass player. So it’s not like we have to sit down for days and days to learn these covers. We can whip them out pretty quickly.

TwangriLa: Well that’s good too. So if anyone yells it out in the audience, you can just oblige them on the spot (laughter).

Arrica: (laughter) We are not THAT brave! Not yet.

TwangriLa: Are there any plans for a tour to support the new album?

Arrica: Right now we are trying to set up shows that are not too far from home but will allow us to take our show on the road. Hopefully, as we progress with the record, we will do more and more touring. We are definitely doing a release show down south in L.A., and also one up here in Oakland. We are contemplating a tour down the coast.

TwangriLa: So now it is just west coast at this point?

Arrica: For now it is just west coast. What we will probably do is break it up a little more. As opposed to just going out on one giant stint. It is a little more economical for us to do shows here and there rather than long touring adventures.

TwangriLa: I think it takes its toll. I can imagine that travelling like that is not easy.

Arrica: No it’s not. We both have had a lot of experiences on the road and it’s tough. It is so rewarding but it is challenging.

TwangriLa: And the older I get, the less I want to do long trips (laughter).

Arrica: Yeah, the more you want to stay close to home.

Mark: Yeah, in your nice comfortable bed.

TwangriLa: Yes. Sleeping in a sleeping bag in a van is not that fun.

Arrica: Exactly! And we’ve all been there.

TwangriLa: So can you let people know where they can preorder the CD and find out about upcoming shows?

Arrica: Yes, at our website. Which, very importantly, is D-E-A-R County www.dearcounty.com. People can preorder the CD there and we also have our upcoming shows posted there. We also have a preorder for the digital version on Bandcamp. Towards the end of the month we will have our preorder up on Itunes as well.

TwangriLa: Well it was a pleasure speaking with you both and I wish you success with your new album and with Dear County.

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