Sweeping Out the Ashes

the everybodyfields break up, stay together, and finally end up in Knoxville

For those keeping score at home, you can officially call the everybodyfields a Knoxville band now. The alt-country outfit's Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews have always felt like locals anyway, but the pair recently migrated for good from Johnson City to Knoxville. So far, it's a regional responsibility that the everybodyfields are carrying with pride, even when they take their sweet, heartbroken show on the road.

"East Tennessee over the rest of Tennessee, any day of the week," says Quinn, who often makes similar pronouncements in his stage banter. "It's an easier way of saying we're not from Nashville."

Admittedly, that distinction became a bit tougher to make after the everybodyfields—Quinn, Andrews, keyboard player/guitarist Josh Oliver, and pedal steel player Tom Pryor—trekked out to the aforementioned city out west to record their third album, 2007's Nothing Is Okay.

"I fought that one tooth and nail, and I completely lost out in a democratic type of situation," Quinn says. "The studio was great, don't get me wrong. But all the nights in Nashville were spent getting, I don't know, Nashville-ized—paying way too much for everything, spending 50 bucks a night just to realize you're not having that great of a time. I'll take Knoxville."

Though she enjoyed the Nashville experience, Andrews essentially agrees. "The key difference I see is that we're not under a lot of weird industry pressure in Knoxville," she says. "When we play around East Tennessee, it's partly to make a living, but it's also for fun. I'd probably die if I moved to Nashville."

Knoxville pride is one of the few topics Quinn and Andrews can safely agree upon these days. Even as Nothing Is Okay earned the everybodyfields their widest acclaim to date, the album's subject matter—the end of Quinn and Andrews' romantic relationship—made the band's increasing success somewhat bittersweet. It's a dark chapter that the talented duo are slowly starting to put behind them, but, as they both revealed in these separate interviews, plenty of hurt still lingers.

"Yeah, man, it was a real pain in the ass," Quinn says. "And I hope I don't have to go through anything like that again. It's not easy when there's no separation between your personal life and your business life—not that I'm bellyaching. But if Jill and I weren't in a band together, we probably wouldn't talk for five years or something. We're just trying to get things in our lives more straight where we can figure this out a little more without it having to be so hard."

"It's not steady," Andrews admits with a thoughtful laugh. "Our personal and musical relationships have been very unsteady. But we love each other in our own way. I have a lot of respect for Sam—his intellect and his musicianship. I would say he has the same for me. It's just an everyday sort of conscious decision to say, ‘OK, we can do this together.' That's the way it is in a lot of business relationships, I'm sure."

For a while, it looked as though Quinn and Andrews' break-up would spell the end of the everybodyfields as well. Their decision to carry on hinged on their ability to translate their heartache into what they do best together—making music. Nothing Is Okay was their band-saving experiment, a record in which both sides of a break-up are given the opportunity to tell the story—in vocal harmony with each other.

"I think the album just kind of made itself, through the course of our lives," Andrews says. "We were writing the songs separately, but because we were addressing the same situation, it almost became like a call-and-response record. Sam and I, musically, are very entwined. So even without hearing any of what he was writing, I knew what it would be. And I think he was thinking the same thing about what I was writing. We knew that it would work together. And when we came to the table with everything, it flowed really well."

"Yeah, I can't really believe it got done," Quinn chuckles. "When I held the first copy in my hands, I just thought, ‘I can't believe it's finished.'"

In the end, the most romantic part of the everybodyfields story would appear to be the honesty and persistence of the band's music, rather than the personal relationship of its two singer/songwriters. Still, the improbable cohesiveness of Nothing Is Okay—along with the continuing harmonic perfection of the band's live shows—leaves little doubt that Andrews and Quinn, in some way at least, were meant for each other.

"The first song Jill and I ever sang together was ‘We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning,' the Gram (Parsons) and Emmylou (Harris) tune," Quinn recalls. "Just the way a guy and a girl's voice can fit together—it can make a good song great and a sad song sadder. It happened with Jill so early on, where I realized, ‘Oh, shit, I don't have to tell this girl anything!' I just have to show her a song and she's just right on it. It's still pretty great."