Spring Hill band showcases unique style on first release

Spring Hill band showcases unique style on first release

Spring Hill’s own Amber’s Drive is set to release their first recording this month, a unique blend of blues, country, and rock.

“We cheer people up,†said guitarist Denny Wayne Rudolph when asked about the wide-ranging appeal of the band Amber’s Drive. “Nobody 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 band’s creative headquarters, and they have been gaining fans at venues all over Williamson County, in Nashville, and throughout the region.

“We just have fun on stage,†said Daniel Mason Swartz, also on guitar. “And fun is infectious,†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 band’s performances.

As for their style of music, no one has quite nailed that down into a neat and easy category.

“People are always coming up to us after a show to say, ‘We can’t figure out what genre you all play,’†Huish said. “They’ll say that they first had us pegged as pop, or country, ‘but then you played a blues song.’ They can’t decide how to sort us. To me that’s a big compliment.â€

Jim Huish
Denny Wayne Rudolph
Daniel Mason Swartz

The band came together in 2013 as a result of some songwriting sessions between Rudolph and Swartz.

“The two of us met online through a songwriters’ group on Facebook,†Rudolph said. “We 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 songwriters’ nights in Franklin and Columbia. â€

At one of their first appearances together at the former Killions Café in Columbia last September, Swartz and Rudolph impressed the venue’s owners enough that they requested the duo give a repeat three-hour performance at the end of the month.

“I told them, ‘You just heard all three of our songs, though,’†Rudolph said. “So 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.

“I was the one who had brought Jim into the mix,†Swartz said. “And we didn’t even really intend for it to turn out this way but, after that first performance, people were coming up to us and asking, ‘Well, who are you all?’ As in, ‘What’s your band’s name?’ At first it was just ‘Denny, Daniel, and Jim.’â€

The three friends were happy enough with the crowd responses to those early performances to consider forming a more permanent arrangement.

“It was kind of funny how it all came together,†Swartz said. “We all felt together that it made sense to get out and try to do more live shows. But at the same time that’s when we began to rehearse together endlessly, to get our vocals real tight.â€

“Our rehearsals though,†Rudolph said, “are nothing fun to watch. I tell people that they’re like watching sausage being made. We’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€

Amber’s Drive plays only original songs, with their entire 40-song catalog being written by either one, two or all of the members.

The band’s name is taken from the house where they conduct all writing, business and rehearsals, Rudolph’s home on North Amber Drive in Spring Hill.

“We’re very adamant about sharing what we create, and sharing our art,†Huish said. “And so far that’s getting a good reaction, and we have a blast doing it.â€

Their debut CD, “Jump 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 band’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.

“He’s someone who is normally working on big-dollar projects,†Swartz said. “When 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, ‘You’ve got hits. And I work on all different budgets.’ So he’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 “Anyway,†“Favorite Faded Pair of Jeans†(the band’s only song on which all three members contributed songwriting), “Crank Up the Radio,†“Waitin’ at the Station†and “Right From the Startâ€.

Last December Amber’s Drive got an invitation from Nashville songwriter Nile “Big Daddy†Peaytt to be the opening performers at his charity benefit for childhood cancer awareness at the Listening Room Cafe in Nashville.

“It was our first time playing there,†Rudolph said. “And 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 band’s December appearance at the charity event was their first meeting with Nashville songwriting legend Richard Leigh, author of country hits like “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue†and “The Greatest Man I Never Knew.†Leigh liked what he heard that night, and has since taken the band under his wing.

Rudolph recalled, “[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, “Hearing from a man like Richard, a Grammy winner, that’s the kind of information you just can’t get anywhere else. You’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.

“We used to perform sitting down,†Swartz said. “And one of the first things he told us was, ‘You need to stand up, and you need to dress up. And that way your fees are going to go up. That’s more professional, and people will take you more seriously.’ And he also told us something that we all stand by still, and that was, ‘When you go to perform, you’re taking care of the customer and the owner of the venue.’ 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 band’s spiffy attire, decided to sponsor their shows, and now furnish them with ties as stage wear.

“The look we have, people are beginning to recognize us through that,†Huish said.

“So before each show, we’re all like divas,†said Rudolph, holding up the band’s large array of Windsor ties.

Swartz sports a long black beard, which complements the band’s dressy onstage look.

“Dressing up like that and going for a little bit classier look, it’s taken us to a whole new place,†Swartz said. “At first, how we were known was from people saying, ‘Hey the guy with the beard!’ But now we hear, ‘Oh the guys with the ties!’ Because it’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 Thompson’s Station while focusing on songwriting and performing.

“I got here in 2008,†Swartz said, “and in 2009 I won the Puckett’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, ‘You’re a great singer. You’re a great writer. But you’ve got to put your time in. You’ll need to get yourself a good five or 10 years in [before you can expect big success].’ And here it is about that much time later, and we’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.

“I went from wearing my business suit and tie to wearing jeans and boots, and crawling around in crawlspaces on flood relief,†Rudolph said. “I came home that night and wrote the first song I had written in 15 or 20 years. So I wasn’t really looking to be in a band [prior to forming Amber’s Drive]. It just kind of happened that way, and music came back to me. It’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.

“But I had always had the Nashville bug,†Huish said. “And finally I felt that the time was right.â€

Huish was exposed early to a huge range of musical influences because of his father’s career as a music teacher, orchestra director and piano player in bands. Genres as diverse as samba, swing, ballroom, rock ‘n’ roll and tango all have influenced his style in both performance and songwriting.

“My whole life was music,†Huish said. “My 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 dad’s band. A couple years later I got to fill in for him when he couldn’t perform with my dad’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€

“Jim is a great guitar player and a great piano player,†Rudolph said, “but he’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 greg@springhillhomepage.com.

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