Spring Hill’s own Amber’s Drive is set to release their first recording this month, a unique blend of blues, country, and rock.
â€œWe cheer people up,â€ said guitarist Denny Wayne Rudolph when asked about the wide-ranging appeal of the band Amberâ€™s Drive. â€œNobody ever came out to a show to have a bad time. An old boss of mine told me that people buy from people they like, who love what they do.â€
Spring Hill is the bandâ€™s creative headquarters, and they have been gaining fans at venues all over Williamson County, in Nashville, and throughout the region.
â€œWe just have fun on stage,â€ said Daniel Mason Swartz, also on guitar. â€œAnd fun is infectious,â€ said Jim Huish, who provides percussion for the band on Cajon, a Peruvian instrument fashioned from a box containing built-in snares. Depending on the song, any given man may handle lead vocals, and all three contribute backing or answer vocals throughout the bandâ€™s performances.
As for their style of music, no one has quite nailed that down into a neat and easy category.
â€œPeople are always coming up to us after a show to say, â€˜We canâ€™t figure out what genre you all play,â€™â€ Huish said. â€œTheyâ€™ll say that they first had us pegged as pop, or country, â€˜but then you played a blues song.â€™ They canâ€™t decide how to sort us. To me thatâ€™s a big compliment.â€
|Denny Wayne Rudolph|
|Daniel Mason Swartz|
The band came together in 2013 as a result of some songwriting sessions between Rudolph and Swartz.
â€œThe two of us met online through a songwritersâ€™ group on Facebook,â€ Rudolph said. â€œWe wrote a couple of songs together online. And that was when we realized how close together we were [in our approach to songwriting]. At that time Daniel and Jim were already playing together in a really happening country trio. So Daniel and I started playing together at some songwritersâ€™ nights in Franklin and Columbia. â€
At one of their first appearances together at the former Killions CafÃ© in Columbia last September, Swartz and Rudolph impressed the venueâ€™s owners enough that they requested the duo give a repeat three-hour performance at the end of the month.
â€œI told them, â€˜You just heard all three of our songs, though,â€™â€ Rudolph said. â€œSo after that we went and grabbed Jim pretty quick.â€
Huish gladly accepted the invitation, with the three men agreeing to do the three-hour show together.
â€œI was the one who had brought Jim into the mix,â€ Swartz said. â€œAnd we didnâ€™t even really intend for it to turn out this way but, after that first performance, people were coming up to us and asking, â€˜Well, who are you all?â€™ As in, â€˜Whatâ€™s your bandâ€™s name?â€™ At first it was just â€˜Denny, Daniel, and Jim.â€™â€
The three friends were happy enough with the crowd responses to those early performances to consider forming a more permanent arrangement.
â€œIt was kind of funny how it all came together,â€ Swartz said. â€œWe all felt together that it made sense to get out and try to do more live shows. But at the same time thatâ€™s when we began to rehearse together endlessly, to get our vocals real tight.â€
â€œOur rehearsals though,â€ Rudolph said, â€œare nothing fun to watch. I tell people that theyâ€™re like watching sausage being made. Weâ€™ll work on one song, or on pieces of two different songs for six hours, until we get them to be the way we want them to be.â€
Amberâ€™s Drive plays only original songs, with their entire 40-song catalog being written by either one, two or all of the members.
The bandâ€™s name is taken from the house where they conduct all writing, business and rehearsals, Rudolphâ€™s home on North Amber Drive in Spring Hill.
â€œWeâ€™re very adamant about sharing what we create, and sharing our art,â€ Huish said. â€œAnd so far thatâ€™s getting a good reaction, and we have a blast doing it.â€
Their debut CD, â€œJump Off This Worldâ€, will be out on Aug. 2, when they will release it at their monthly show at the Listening Room Cafe. Pre-order of the CD will be available from the bandâ€™s website, ambersdrive.com, near the end of July.
The CD was produced and mixed by two-time Grammy winner Andy Selby, a man they met and got to know through their regular shows playing at Kimbros Cafe in Franklin.
â€œHeâ€™s someone who is normally working on big-dollar projects,â€ Swartz said. â€œWhen we started working with him, I think he was doing something with [MCA Nashville recording artist] Josh Turner. But we all thought it would be worth it to call and see if he might help us out. He told us, â€˜Youâ€™ve got hits. And I work on all different budgets.â€™ So heâ€™s wrapping up the final mix now, and it will be ready soon.â€
The six songs on the EP are the title number, in addition to â€œAnyway,â€ â€œFavorite Faded Pair of Jeansâ€ (the bandâ€™s only song on which all three members contributed songwriting), â€œCrank Up the Radio,â€ â€œWaitinâ€™ at the Stationâ€ and â€œRight From the Startâ€.
Last December Amberâ€™s Drive got an invitation from Nashville songwriter Nile â€œBig Daddyâ€ Peaytt to be the opening performers at his charity benefit for childhood cancer awareness at the Listening Room Cafe in Nashville.
â€œIt was our first time playing there,â€ Rudolph said. â€œAnd there are all these hit songwriters. And then there was us, a band who had only been together since September. That was a little intimidating. I was nervous as a cat, just terrified. Because to that point we had only ever played out together [about 10 times].â€
The performance went so well that Listening Room owner Chris Blair met them and asked them if they would be willing to perform at his venue monthly.
Another important result of the bandâ€™s December appearance at the charity event was their first meeting with Nashville songwriting legend Richard Leigh, author of country hits like â€œDonâ€™t It Make My Brown Eyes Blueâ€ and â€œThe Greatest Man I Never Knew.â€ Leigh liked what he heard that night, and has since taken the band under his wing.
Rudolph recalled, â€œ[Leigh] took us out for dinner that night and picked up our tab. He had some advice for us about how to make it in this business. Then he came over here later [to my house] to have dinner and just talk with us. He wanted to share some wisdom with us.â€
Said Swartz, â€œHearing from a man like Richard, a Grammy winner, thatâ€™s the kind of information you just canâ€™t get anywhere else. Youâ€™re talking about a giant of the industry, and we have tried to soak up his wisdom like sponges.â€
Leigh had some very specific advice for the band about their posture and their presentation.
â€œWe used to perform sitting down,â€ Swartz said. â€œAnd one of the first things he told us was, â€˜You need to stand up, and you need to dress up. And that way your fees are going to go up. Thatâ€™s more professional, and people will take you more seriously.â€™ And he also told us something that we all stand by still, and that was, â€˜When you go to perform, youâ€™re taking care of the customer and the owner of the venue.â€™ Great advice that we have incorporated into our act.â€
The band can be seen on stage these days sporting dressy ties and vests, and the image suits them well. Nashville-based clothier Windsor Neckwear heard about the bandâ€™s spiffy attire, decided to sponsor their shows, and now furnish them with ties as stage wear.
â€œThe look we have, people are beginning to recognize us through that,â€ Huish said.
â€œSo before each show, weâ€™re all like divas,â€ said Rudolph, holding up the bandâ€™s large array of Windsor ties.
Swartz sports a long black beard, which complements the bandâ€™s dressy onstage look.
â€œDressing up like that and going for a little bit classier look, itâ€™s taken us to a whole new place,â€ Swartz said. â€œAt first, how we were known was from people saying, â€˜Hey the guy with the beard!â€™ But now we hear, â€˜Oh the guys with the ties!â€™ Because itâ€™s so weird, and no one else in Nashville wears ties.â€
Swartz first came to Nashville for the purpose of doing a publishing deal, but has continually done demo work on the side from his home studio in Thompsonâ€™s Station while focusing on songwriting and performing.
â€œI got here in 2008,â€ Swartz said, â€œand in 2009 I won the Puckettâ€™s Rising Star contest [held in Franklin]. It was funny to me because winning was a kind of wake-up call. I had a chance to perform with some hit writers, who quickly gave me some advice. I was trying to network with them and they just got in my face and said, â€˜Youâ€™re a great singer. Youâ€™re a great writer. But youâ€™ve got to put your time in. Youâ€™ll need to get yourself a good five or 10 years in [before you can expect big success].â€™ And here it is about that much time later, and weâ€™re beginning to get some big buzz going. People are beginning to pay attention to our songwriting.â€
Rudolph grew up playing guitar in bands in Paducah, Ky., as well as in Chattanooga and Murfreesboro. But he eventually found work as a financial advisor, a career he maintains full time, and for many years gave up music altogether. Then in May 2010, he volunteered to help with relief of the Nashville flood and was inspired to take up with his old hobby again.
â€œI went from wearing my business suit and tie to wearing jeans and boots, and crawling around in crawlspaces on flood relief,â€ Rudolph said. â€œI came home that night and wrote the first song I had written in 15 or 20 years. So I wasnâ€™t really looking to be in a band [prior to forming Amberâ€™s Drive]. It just kind of happened that way, and music came back to me. Itâ€™s been a great and happy accident for me.â€
Huish has been active in the songwriting scene in Middle Tennessee since June 2010 when he arrived from his hometown of Orem, Utah. He had spent his first four years out of school working as an elementary school music teacher.
â€œBut I had always had the Nashville bug,â€ Huish said. â€œAnd finally I felt that the time was right.â€
Huish was exposed early to a huge range of musical influences because of his fatherâ€™s career as a music teacher, orchestra director and piano player in bands. Genres as diverse as samba, swing, ballroom, rock â€˜nâ€™ roll and tango all have influenced his style in both performance and songwriting.
â€œMy whole life was music,â€ Huish said. â€œMy dad would sit me down from a very young age and just teach me to play a song on the piano, then have me sing on it and accompany myself. Then later, when I was 12, I had the chance to learn drums from the drummer in my dadâ€™s band. A couple years later I got to fill in for him when he couldnâ€™t perform with my dadâ€™s band, and that was the beginning of my experience performing in bands. I got interested in guitar too eventually, and like to play them all.â€
â€œJim is a great guitar player and a great piano player,â€ Rudolph said, â€œbut heâ€™s the best cajon player in Middle Tennessee.â€
Huish lines up right beside Rudolph and Swartz on stage, and can be seen tapping the cajon with brushes while singing energetically.
In the second half of June alone, the band played 11 shows around Middle Tennessee. They also have a full schedule of appearances set for the rest of the summer and into the fall.
Staff writer Greg Jinkerson covers Spring Hill for BrentWord Communications. Contact him at email@example.com.