The Novel Ideas: Folk quintet to tour Western Massachusetts
The Novel Ideas is a self-described "country folk quintet of friends from the great state of Massachusetts."
The Newton-based group will make a couple of trips this summer to work on building its Western Massachusetts fan base, first with a stop this Saturday at The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, with guests The Oh Hellos, a folk rock duo from Texas.
They'll return to the region to close out the summer season at the Fresh Grass festival in North Adams, which runs Sept. 19 through 21.
"It's going to be wild to be playing Mass MoCA," said bassist and vocalist James Parkington. The Dalton native is a 2008 graduate of Wahconah Regional High School, and 2012 Boston College graduate.
"I've been going [to the museum] since I was a kid and have been to Solid Sound, so playing there will be a dream come true. This will be a great opportunity to finally get to play for Berkshires people and show them what we've been working on," Parkington said.
He said he's also looking forward to introducing his bandmates -- guitarist/vocalist Daniel Radin, guitarist/vocalist and pedal steel player Danny Hoshino, vocalist Sarah Grella and drummer Nick Mitchell -- to his hometown area.
Parkington and Radin recently took time in between gigs in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge to chat with The Eagle about The Novel Ideas, traveling the country, working on a new album and having a collective crush on Emmylou Harris.
Q: How long has The Novel Ideas been around?
Daniel Radin: About two years in this rotation. The band formed and put out an album called "Home" in 2012.
James Parkington: Daniel and Danny have known each other since kindergarten. I met Daniel in music theory class at [Boston] College.
DR: We kind of met Sarah and Nick through the Internet by different means. They were posting about their interest in trying to find projects to work with in the Boston area. We asked them to audition, and they both absolutely crushed it.
Together, we've released two singles, "Lost on the Road" and "Montana," and we're working on a new album.
Q: I've read that you put those out in digital form as well as 10-inch vinyl. How come?
DR: Well, the truest answer is that we thought it was cool. [Both laugh]. We also wanted to put out something new with the full band and Sarah singing. As we move toward the next album, we wanted to put something new out that represented us as a band we are now.
As for the vinyl, we thought it would be something special to sell that would feel more traditional.
JP: And at least everyone I know seems to own a record player again.
Q: I know you've been playing a lot of local venues and doing a short tour of the Northeast. What else are you working on this summer?
DR: This summer we've been honing a lot of new songs we've written, which will be considered for recording on the album. We're also doing the less fun, but sometimes fun stuff, like making T-shirts, promotional materials and starting to talk with public relations companies. James has been working on our social media presence and website.
Q: How's that working for you all? It seems like there are thousands of musicians and bands out there, all trying get their music out and make a name for themselves.
JP: I work for a digital marketing company while touring, which has been an exercise in itself. There's a whole lot to think about. There's a huge, torrential amount of music and everyone's taking a different avenue to get it out there. I've learned that using Twitter sends a different message out to a person than to someone who's searching on Tumblr ... It's kind of ridiculous that bands have to think about things like SEO headlines like a company ... But we're
trying to get on [every social media platform] we can. So having a little background here helps, but there's so, so much to learn. So it's good that we have the downtime to think about those things.
DR: We have our first album out for free and listed as pay-what-you-want. I think it all helps a lot in getting your name out there.
Q: So is it working?
DR: We're still in a fan base-building phase. We had our first national tour in April and May. We [recently] played in Philly and sold way more tickets than we thought. I remember thinking, "Who are you guys?" But it was awesome to see that kind of support from fans so far away.
JP: My favorite things are the comments online from people, and people posting things like, "Come out to Portland!" It blows my mind that music travels so far in that way.
Q: How do you guys come up with your music, especially being on the road?
DR: With "Home," a lot of it came up in a barn in New Hampshire. Danny and I were up late working on things. This time around, it's been so much more collaborative, and much more fun. Sometimes we could work on something someone played in the past week at their house, sometimes we'll get together and write a song out of that. I hesitate to use the word "jam," but that's kind of what we do. James uses the word "organically," in terms of how we come up with material.
Q: How would you describe how your sound's evolved?
DR: I remember when we were making "Home," and we had a little country element to it and were wondering if we could pull this off. We had more of a pop sound at the time. We've since completely done away with that fear of delving into country music. Having Nick from Texas also doesn't hurt. We wouldn't say we're a country band; country-folk is how we describe ourselves. Danny plays pedal steel, which is something that people don't see often being played live.
JP: I think we're at an interesting point right now. We're accepting country influences that mean so much to us, and transplanting it into what we're doing. We're playing stuff on the entire spectrum as far as speed or mood goes.
DR: We played D.C. in a bar environment, so we played our more upbeat songs and covers. But when we played Philly, it was a seated performance, so people were really listening to the music and the lyrics.
Q: This fall you're going to be touring again. Tell me about that.
JP: We're going to touch down in some places from our last tour, and we want to see if people have been talking about us. Every single show we like to get out and talk to people. It's always a compliment for them to be asking us back to a venue.
DR: Most of us have good memories for faces. We're not the kind of band that sits in the green room. I don't get why you're playing shows if you don't come out afterward and hang out.
On another note, we also have a West Coast run in the works, which I'm excited about. California is pretty dreamy.
JP: Lola's Saloon in Texas is great. The U.K. and Europe would also be amazing places to play, if there's anybody out there interested in having us. [Laughs]
Q: Who influences you?
JP: There's a group called The Lone Bellow from Brooklyn. They've kind of become our role models. We also live in a house of musicians, so there's always music in the background, coming from the basement or someone's bedroom. There's a group we know called photocomfort that's doing some really great stuff.
DR: A lot of our influences are brutal country ballads, from Hank Williams but also the likes of Alison Krauss. We have a lot of old country records and look back on the classics ... because obviously, they were doing something right.
Q: I've also read that you're huge fans of Emmylou Harris, who happens to be playing at Fresh Grass in North Adams, which you'll also be playing.
DR: I'd drop anything for Emmylou Harris, my job, my girlfriend. Just kidding. I don't know if we're playing the same day, but it would be amazing to meet her.
Q: So why else should people come out and see your shows in western Mass.?
DR: Well, The Oh Hellos are playing with us in Northampton and they're so good. They're going to make us look so terrible. [Laughs]
Our lyrics deal with issues than anyone can relate to, some less than happy, others are covers. In between songs, I tend to just ramble and really engage with people because I love going to a show where the artist tells you what the song is about. We can also talk about it afterward.
JP: I just want to urge people to see what we've done with the songs from "Home" since we wrote them and how they've changed. It will also be great for some Berkshires folks to come out. A lot of them have been profound influences on me, and there's a lot of people I haven't seen in a long time. Brian Rabuse from Wahconah was my band teacher and he's probably the biggest influence on how I understand music today. So Brian, if you're reading this, you better come out and see us. [Laughs]