The everybodyfields get under your skin like a chigger bite. The Johnson City trio's folk harmonies are as indigenous as the wildflower-borne pests and just as infectious; the only way to salve the itch is to listen to the songs again and again.
In 2004, the band's first CD, Half-way There: Electricity and the South, introduced the region to three players just entering their mid-20s who had a remarkable aptitude for adapting the powerfully familiar sounds of their folk and bluegrass ancestors, like the Carter Family and Woody Guthrie, into something excitingly original.
Sam Quinn perpetually wears a smirky half-grin, so nothing he says can be taken completely seriously. Still, he says the band's name originates from the moniker he once gave the yard behind his trailer home, a field whose hills were deep enough to hide in. "Christopher Robin had the Hundred Acre Wood," he says, referring to A.A. Milne's world populated by Winnie the Pooh and his friends. "I sort of felt like the good Lord ripped me off when he made me nonfiction."
Quinn's songs aren't folk tales or children's stories, but they frequently inhabit a mystical South, where trains share the landscape with bullfighters.
The lanky college drop-out, who wears worn-out flip-flops with ragged jeans and always seems to have his hand in his shaggy hair, shares songwriting duties with Jill Andrews, a pretty blonde social worker and daughter of an East Tennessee State University bigwig. The two met at a Smoky Mountain camp where Andrews got Quinn's attention one night after dinner by picking up the PA system's microphone and singing a song by Faith Hill or some other country hit-maker. The song was forgettable but not the voice, a sweet, slightly twangy lilt that would sound right at home on the Opry stage. Back in Johnson City, they started writing songs together.
The band, completed by harmonizer and dobro player David Richey, just released its second disc, Plague of Dreams, merely a year after the first. While Halfway-there took a year of fits and starts to record, Plague took one day.
"We were really surprised when we finished," says Quinn. "We thought, 'We're not done. It didn't take a year. It took a day. We need to spend more money and yell at each other.'" While their approach to making Plague was completely different—do three takes of each song and listen to it later—the location was the same: Keith Smit's Johnson City studio, EKS Sound Inc., a former milking stable with a concrete floor and no indoor plumbing.
"It was actually very nice," Quinn says. "There were lots of bugs outside and inside. We kept the doors open for a lot of it, so you can hear the bugs. There was no drug use," he adds, "so that's good."
"I really like that atmosphere," Andrews says. "It's really open, and there's a lot of room to do changing around." What about the lack of facilities? "There's a camp toilet, which Keith has pretty much for me," she says with a laugh. "The guys go outside."
The schedule allowed fiddle player Angela Oudean to lay down her tracks before returning home to Alaska. Although Half-way features some touches by guest fiddler Dave Talmage, Plague is riddled by string parts, adding a lonesome pull to songs that ripple like rings across a pond. Quinn likens Oudean's contribution to splashes of a color not native to the trio.
"You know like those CMYK things that you separate into sheets of individual colors? Seems like we were mainly orange, and she came in with her cyan and really blew it out. I think it adds a lot of texture. It sounds like the band I want to be playing in."
In the rainbow of folk influences that comprise the everybodyfields, most disarming is the honeyed quaver of their harmony. While Andrews' voice is traditionally fetching, Quinn's channels an old mountain man on his front porch, his scratchy warble echoing between a forested valley and ancient wooden barn walls. Together, especially live as they lean into a single microphone, their voices concoct a sort of time machine that unhinges the music from all reference points, causing listeners to experience the sensation of the floor tilting beneath their feet.
The band is performing in ever-widening concentric circles, as far south as Atlanta and up north into New England. Quinn, who dreads the cold weather they'll experience there in November, says Plague of Dreams embodies the band's sound in a way that pleased all three members. It's not so much a huge sonic experience, he says, but something akin to the found-sound hidden track at the end of the disc in which Quinn plays "Fade Jeans Blues" on accordion on a busy downtown city street.
"We wanted to really capture a moment in time where people are sitting around, and the whole room is miked," he says. "That's the way music should be recorded. Everything these days is so complex." But not the everybodyfields. Their music is an expansive place where the bugs are jumping and folk music is the best calamine lotion.