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  • Writer's pictureThe Rough & Tumble

Appalachia Greener

We are winding down our weeks of playing from the new record, and we saved one of the more complicated ones for second-to-last. "Appalachia Greener" is complicated because we pulled out every trick and treat in the studio for this one. From Mallory giving Chris Leonard very specific instructions for drums, breaking it down even to single lines ("Make it sound like little mouse feet scampering across a cymbal!" or "Can you make it sound like there are rocks falling down a mountainside, but don't avalanche, and then rest in some green moss?"). Luckily, Chris speaks Mallory from years of working in the studio with her, and was able to oblige.

Then, we had Mike Shannon on bass, moving in and out of the drums with a steady movement that Scott wanted likened to the deep echo of a canyon, dampened only by the lush green trees of those same mountains. From years of being Mallory's bandmate, Scott speaks Mallory, too.

On top of these two, there rests Scott's guitar and Mallory's accordion, keeping a breathless stream rushing down the center. But we couldn't stop there. Dave Coleman, our engineer and co-producer, darkened the skies with electric guitar, which Mallory then accented with a few lightning strikes of a bowed glockenspiel. Banjo plucked the raindrops coming down from the sky. And that's when we built a little cabin in the middle of it all and added the kitchen sink. Or rather, at least a wash tub. Mallory grabbed a few nuts and bolts from Dave's garage and rattled the pieces down the wash tub, which Dave then sent into his computer and out the other side backwards. Literally. It's right there in the middle of the song-- though it sounds more like a flock of robins-- or maybe a murder of crows-- taking flight from the muddy ground than the original pieces we started with. As a finishing touch, Mallory plucked a phone recording of the wind chimes on her childhood home's front porch, crow cawing and cars driving by, to open and close this Appalachian scene.

So it got complicated.

But the whole mess of it started with a poem. The Rough & Tumble were in Thomas, West Virginia-- a tiny town in the middle of the mountains-- and were headed north to Mallory's folks' place to spend some time. And Mallory wasn't at ease. We don't need to tell you that families are complicated. Or, maybe we did. Because that was the start of this poem. A foreboding cloud formation willing a little folk band to go back to North Carolina-- the less complicated part of Appalachia. Mallory began writing out the trouble of going home to a home she didn't fit into, anymore, in her parents' house. Across the driveway from a sister who hasn't acknowledged her in almost seven years. It feels dangerous to go home, sometimes, because you don't know if you are going to find yourself there waiting, or going to lose yourself to the person you aren't, anymore. Where every walk around the house is an echo of an earlier step you took. Where you are likely unable to go to the local coffeeshop without someone knowing who you are-- or at least who your family is.

And so, this poem started in West Virginia and traveled north to Pennsylvania, then completed itself when we found ourselves on the other side-- in the Adirondacks of New York. That's when, on a sunny midweek day, Mallory showed the poem to Scott. And then, with barely any talking at all, Scott played the chords Mallory had in her head all along. Then we sang it all the way to the top of the Appalachian Mountains in Maine.

That was the simple part.

Now, we are trying to piece back together a mouthful of lyrics with a record full of sounds to play this song live. We decided to simplify it a bit-- to break it down to the essentials. But then, maybe a little poetic flourish, too. Maybe so as to be as simple and complex as walking in the door of your childhood home.

This week, we've put together a playlist of a few other songs that might bemoan and belove the rolling Appalachian mountains as home.

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