No, this isn’t a woman mouthing along the words to a lost Dolly Parton song. Listen more closely. But it sounds like vintage Americana, just like Parton would have sung, fresh from a heartbreak that sent her tumbling down Coal Mountain. Though, hold on, is she singing about a woman? You bet. This is Mount Moriah, the future of folk. And it is glorious.
On the strength of the band's stunning, self-released 2011 debut, indie giants Merge Records signed the fellow North Carolinians (made up of singer-songwriter Heather McEntire, guitarist Jenks Miller and bassist Casey Toll). Now, two years later, the Mount Moriah hasn’t just braved the dreaded sophomore slump, they’ve faced it head on and decimated the challenge. Their new release, Miracle Temple, is a gorgeous collection of heartfelt, homespun tracks that mine Mount Moriah’s rich cultural roots while making a thoroughly modern sound thanks to McEntire’s frank lyrical poetry (she studied creative writing in college).
CBC Music spoke with McEntire about signing to Merge and the challenges of making music — her music — in the South.
LISTEN Mount Moriah / Miracle Temple
Album stream to March 5, 2013
The band self-released its debut and then signed with Merge, your hometown label (in Durham, N.C.), but also one of the largest indie labels in the world. Did it put extra pressure on you making this record?
You know, I would be lying if I said no. It didn’t change how we did it or what we did, but there were moments where I personally, yeah, I kinda freaked out a little bit [laughs]. I knew me and the boys had some confident material and we were working really hard to see that through, but yeah, it does — I knew more people would be hearing it than the last one, and there would be a greater expectation because it is on this label that’s associated with so many successful and historically respected bands and we’re like, the new guys, you know?
So, yeah sure, but it’s certainly pressure I put on myself. I think that’s good, I kinda thrive in those situations. It challenges me to push a little harder and at some point you have to step away and say, "What record do I want to make?" Luckily Merge liked what we handed into ’em. But yeah, it was on my mind for sure.
Outside the South, it doesn’t seem like most of us fully understand just how varied and rich the music can be. We know the bigger stuff, but Mount Moriah’s progressive lyrical content [queer identity, equality] feels really exciting.
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of romanticized notions about the South and some of them are true and some of the stereotypes are true, but it’s a complex situation down here. Us, we as a band, we certainly don’t have all the answers. For me, Mount Moriah is about trying to explore all those questions and make something from it in between it all.
Does it feel risky to be marrying these more modern or liberal ideals with these more traditional structures?
I’ve never really thought about it as risky. I definitely understand what you’re gettin’ at. I guess, you know, what I can tell ya is as the person who writes the lyrics, all these stories are true. They’re a part of my life and I couldn’t — I feel like I have to tell them. It would be more risky, in a way, to try and tell a story that wasn’t sincere if that makes sense. Yeah, will CMT ever play these songs and want to hear me sing about women? Probably not [laughs]. But, hey, it’s something to aim for as a society.
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