IF YOU'RE unfamiliar with Chatham County Line, a good time to correct that would be on Fri., May 3 at the Tybee Post Theater. The group, founded over 20 years ago by North Carolina musicians making the transition from country rock to bluegrass, will be sharing the stage with fellow North Carolina buzz band Mipso as part of a short run of dates together.
Ahead of the gig, we caught up with the band’s guitarist Dave Wilson, who took time during the band’s stint at MerleFest to chat about their career and their latest project.
You guys have known each other for a long time, right?
Wilson: Yeah, the band’s been together since the turn of the century!
How did you all get together?
Wilson: We were in separate country rock bands, back in the 90s. Greg [Readling], our bass player, plays pedal steel as well. We were in kind of a Gram Parsons wannabe band. We played a house party and Chandler [Holt, banjo player] was there, and he went back and told his good buddy John [Teer, mandolin and fiddle player] that he should come and see a show.
He came and saw us play, and we just started to get together and do the acoustic thing. Greg and I played with Tift Merrit for years—we were playing her tour send off party in Bynum, North Carolina. Chris Stamey was there, who you might know from the dB’s.
I’ve met Chris a few times through my friend Peter Holsapple [dB’s co-founder]. He’s a great guy!
Wilson: Great guys! So Chris talked to the people at Yep Roc Records and actually got us a record deal and produced our first few albums. Chris is indispensable in the history of the band. He just saw us at the show, and one thing led to another. Look at us now! We’ve got seven studio albums, a live collection, and we just put out this album of covers. We’re still loving it.
Did you feel like there was a chemistry right away? Some bands tend to kind of have a bit of a growth period early on.
Wilson: I think we’re still enjoying the growth period in a lot of ways. I’d been a songwriter for a while, but I’d written this song after something I read in Bill Monroe’s biography. That song kind of started to solidify the fact that the band could work together and create something new in what we felt was a somewhat stagnant genre in some ways.
It’s still enjoyable—we actually just recorded our next album in Kernersville, North Carolina, at Mitch Easter’s studio [The Fidelitorium].
I love Mitch! I’ve known him for a long time.
Wilson: He’s such a great guy, man. We love the Fidelitorium! We did a whole batch of new tunes and got a buddy to come play drums on it. So we’re still growing and learning.
On the topic of Chris being a big part of your history—that is sort of an interesting pairing on paper, given his association with the kind of new wave-y, art rock stuff. What did he bring to the table early on when you were making those records?
Wilson: Well, everybody in the band grew up on pop music. I didn’t grow up on bluegrass in any way, shape or form. Chris helped to cement our pop sensibilities as writers and players. Whereas if we’d used a real bluegrass-y dude to come in and produce, we might have ended up just in a different world.
It seems like it gives you a leg up in the sense that sonically they don’t necessarily sound like traditional bluegrass records.
Wilson: It’s funny. On the new record that we just recorded, we kinda went back and did it the Stamey way; tracking things separately and looking at it like a project as opposed to doing it live in a room.
The great thing about Mitch’s place is that it’s all about the vibe and he’s got so many instruments. Did you lean into that and feel the freedom to really just try anything?
Wilson: Yeah, I mean, at this point in our career there are no rules. We had fun! We broke out the Juno-60 and had fun with that thing. There’s just so many toys. I’m very Feng Shui-oriented in a studio, and that’s one of the things I like about working at Mitch’s place.