I had the opportunity to speak with Ben Jones and Andrea Magee, who make up the folk based duo, Beat Root Revival. They just released their self-titled album on May 13th and they are currently on tour with Jonathan Jackson and Enation.
ME: Is this your first time in Kansas City?
Ben: We were here very briefly in March for Folk Alliance
ME: The new CD is amazing. I had it playing in the living room at my mom’s house and she came home and immediately wanted to know all about you guys. She was immediately impressed, as was I.
Ben: We like to think that the perspective that we’re approaching it from is very much that old school thing of when you made a record, you could have a few different flavors on it. We found that in general, our core audience before we had any kind of publicist or anything, was always an older audience in general. I think it was almost like a nostalgic thing because we were approaching an album as an album format where, for instance with Jim Croce; you could have “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” and then you could have “Time In A Bottle”. These days people would be wondering what kind of genre you fit into whereas back then, you could do that sort of thing. It’s just good music. So we’re trying to approach it from that stand point of when music seemed to mean something and you could have a lot of flavors.
ME: You two were each solo acts before. How did you come together to form Beat Root Revival?
Ben: We were both solo entities working on the circuit where we were living in Kent, England. Andrea is from Belfast, Ireland. She was living in Kent though and had previously been a school teacher. I, myself, had been playing the circuit where we lived for as long as I can remember, doing my original things. And we just happened to meet by chance. She came to a show where one of her friends was also on the bill and someone told her to “stay and listen to this guy” and it just went from there. She stayed and watched and was impressed with what I was doing. Then she came up after and we got to speaking. I listened to her music and it was really great and it kind of just went from there. It was a real organic kind of meeting.
ME: And this was just a couple of years ago that all of this came about between you two?
Andrea: Yes. Two years ago.
ME: Where did the name Beat Root Revival come from?
Andrea: The very first trip we did in America was a road trip of 21 cities. We started in Seattle and made our way over to Boston, but we actually started it as two solo acts. Halfway through the trip we were coming across Roswell, New Mexico and that’s where the name was born.
Ben: We’d reached that point, because back home, I produced a CD for Andrea. The trip was already planned with my keyboard player and I, but she needed to have her songs represented properly so we made a CD before we left. We did it in lightning quick time. Literally like 3 or 4 days and we did 5 songs for it. I knew all of her stuff and my keyboard player was the same so it just made sense for us to play together. And then she’d been listening to so many of the CD’s and the shows that I’d been doing and she had been chipping in the with backing vocals so again, it was a very organic thing that grew on the road. People kept coming up and saying it would be cool for us to sing together and we just had that mindset that we were two solo acts. Beat Root was really born out of the fact that my big influences; rock 60’s, soft pop, The Beatles, and the fact that we were kind of doing roots music and with her playing the bodhran. So it is very much a literal name. In roots music, it’s very beat orientated. And then the ‘revival’ part, if I’m honest with you, we were just ‘Beat Root’ but we were finding that people weren’t really able to find us online. So we got involved with a management company in Nashville and they said we needed to change our name. However we had grown really attached to the name and it meant something to us. So we went through trying out different words and some completely different names until one day we were suggested the word “Revival” and it just kind of seemed to fit with the way that it flowed and also the whole idea that we’re doing a type of music where we’re not reinventing the wheel, but we’re trying to contribute to that tapestry that’s always existed. And also kind of bringing it back through us as in our generation and that sort of approach to it.
ME: I know that you had kind of gotten your start out of Austin, TX. Are you still there or are you in Nashville now?
Ben: We’re based in Austin, TX now. When we came on the first 3 month trip, that was the place that really opened its arms to us in a moment when we couldn’t have needed it more. Like with most trips, finances weren’t working out too well by the middle of the trip and a couple of the members of the ‘touring crew’ had already had to call home and ask for money. Whereas she and I, being the older ones on the trip, we had been kind of budgeting but we were very quickly running out of money. Austin just opened its arms to us and we were able to meet with Dale Watson. He is a big deal in Austin as far as from a rootsy, country point of view. He allowed us to open up for him at a bar that he used to own and it went down so well that his sister, who ran the bar, said that she would get us some more work. And it kind of went from there. Three weeks later we were still in Austin after only planning to be there three days. We also made such a great group of friends while there. It’s all just been a real organic thing.
ME: How did you get in contact with Enation and opening for them?
Ben: It’s an interesting story. We went to New Orleans and we were touring around independently when a guy came to one of our most poorly attended shows. There were like four people there but we still approach it with the same enthusiasm and as it happened, he saw the volume of what we were trying to do and he wanted to help us. We were then engaged with Sony Red in Nashville and Richard (the drummer in Enation) had also been working with Sony Red so we met him then. It kind of became apparent very quickly that we all gelled together on an artistic level. I think because he had been a writer and a musician as well. He was the first one from the team that we’d been working with to say, “I love what you guys are doing and feel like you’re the real deal”. And when it comes from an artist’s point of view, it’s such a nice thing to hear. Particularly when you go to Nashville and you hear the horror stories. We don’t fit into that Nashville kind of system but the city was really great to us, just in a different manner than how Austin was to us. So fast forwarding a little bit; we’d been going out and doing different shows and it just came up at a show at the Gas Monkey in Dallas last year. They just asked if we’d like to come and open for them. It almost seemed like a pre-curser, like an audition to do this tour. It just went so well even though Jonathan’s stuff with Enation is much more rock orientated than obviously the Nashville side of things. But because his stuff if so melodic, and is still very singer/songwriter sort of stuff; anyone who likes the sort of stuff on Nashville can still relate to the stuff he’s doing with Enation. We kind of seem to fit into that mold as well, where we can hopefully satisfy that part of the audience that is coming because of the Nashville thing and also the acoustic singer/songwriter kind of thing. It’s just a nice little kind of marriage if you’d like. And it’s grown from there.
ME: Do you do anything together on stage with Enation?
Ben: We have been putting some stuff together. I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to say (laughs), but we’ve been rehearsing two or three songs from the show. A couple that Jonathan did with the Gunnar and Scarlett characters.
ME: Did you both do most of the writing on the new CD?
Andrea: Yes! We worked out a writing style that worked for us. The first album we made, which was about a year ago, we tried to write a lot of it together and realized that it proved quite difficult to do that, so we decided to write everything separately on this album. For example, I would write a song then bring it to Ben. We would then work on an arrangement; so we still collaborated on it all. We were just writing separately and then bringing the ideas to the other.
ME: When you’re writing, where do you draw inspiration from?
Andrea: With this album, it all came from a variety of different places. Some of the songs were very personal and very emotional. Some come from an initial inspiration, for example “Fire”, came from a real desire to do well in life and to always remember that everyone has a walk in life. For me with, “I’m Here”, I had just lost my grandmother earlier in the year. I sat outside of Nashville at our friend’s house and I listened to the birds and basically made a melody out of all of those sounds around me. I knew what I wanted to say because I was really missing her. So that is where that came from. Everything has a real variation. The final song, “Skunk”, actually came from my birthday. I’m crazy for animals and Ben got me a home petting zoo as my birthday present. She had a skunk, a home skunk. And skunks actually take the anxiety out of your body so she goes to mental health hospitals with it. And this skunk thinks it’s a cat so you just set it on your lap. I was just incredibly fascinated by this skunk. I think Ben is very similar. He writes from an emotionally connected place.
ME: You both play several instruments.
Andrea: We both do, yes. On the live set up, I play the bodhron, the flute, the Irish whistle, and the guitar. And Ben played the majority of the instruments on the album.
ME: Did this all start at a young age for you?
Andrea: I started playing the bodhron when I was about five or six in little Irish sessions. I just wanted to be a part of it. There were about 60 guitars and I thought there were enough of those so I just picked up the bodhron and taught myself at a very young age. I was also always into dance and rhythm so it was an appropriate instrument for me. I was later with the guitar and I taught myself to play and began to write. For Ben, he started learning instruments from a very early age. He’ll tell you, his story on this is that he lived in a remote island and there wasn’t a lot to do so he turned to music and taught himself a lot of instruments.
ME: So music has really always been there and been a part of your life?
Andrea: MASSIVELY! It has been for the both of us; in different walks of life. We both seemed to be traveling on the same path and then it just came together a couple of years ago. It was one of the things that we really bonded over. I had met someone that one of the most important things in their life was music and they were prepared to not walk the normal life, but rather put music first. Music came first for me and then I met Ben and he was really trying to push his songs so we just really bonded over that. It’s made this whole journey possible because I don’t think we could have done it without each other. We would have achieved something, but to have somebody that is as passionate about it as you are and to be there for that support as well, especially when you’re so far away from home.
ME: Do you plan to eventually go back over and tour closer to home?
Andrea: We are going to try and head back home just to try and see our families for a week or so and then we’ll be back in Austin and take it from there. We just kind of fly by the seat of our pants and whatever opportunity comes up, we make it happen and we just go and do it! We do have some opportunities but I don’t want to curse them so I’m going to wait until they’re confirmed!
ME: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I am looking forward to hearing some of these songs live tonight!