A few hours southeast of here, at East Tennessee State, a rootsy, acoustic folk duo was organized in 2009, with tight vocal harmonies and an engaging live show. That year, they organized an ambitious lineup of 40 live shows, and added one more member, completing their trio. That group is The Barefoot Movement, and I contacted the founding member, vocalist, fiddle player, fellow Southerner, and Latter-day Saint Noah Wall to be featured right here on Linescratchers.
Listeners who are familiar with Nickel Creek and Allison Krauss and Union Station might recognize a similar approach to acoustic folk music in The Barefoot Movement. Musicians will also take note of three very talented instrumentalists, and the harmonies really have a way of catching the ear. In short, The Barefoot Movement provides musical satisfaction from almost every angle. In this interview, Noah speaks to us about growing up with an artistic family, staying spiritual on the road, and “settling down.”
Noah, you are known for your singing voice and your songwriting and instrumental talent. How did this all get started? Did your family encourage you in the beginning or did you pick all this up on your own?
A: I come from a musical family. My mom was a singer who played guitar and wrote songs, and so was her father. I think I was always encouraged to do whatever I wanted to do, but it was obvious from the beginning that I was going to lean in an artistic direction. I did a ton of theater growing up and I thought for a while about making that my focus, but music was always the closest to my heart. I started taking fiddle lessons when I was in the second grade, but I didn’t really commit myself exclusively to music until my later high school years. It was then that I picked up the guitar on my own and I wrote my first real song when I was a junior. It was a break up song. How cliché!
What drew you to Bluegrass and Roots music originally?
A: When I was a kid I was forced to listen to a radio program called “Back Porch Music” on our local NPR station. I acted like I hated it, because for a long time, the only thing I could appreciate was rock and roll, though deep down I didn’t think it was too bad. But I think it was a natural deviation, because all modern music comes from folk music. I started to wonder who my favorite artists had been crazy about, and then who their idols were crazy about, and it just went further and further back in time. Eventually, I realized that roots music was all around me and whether I knew it or not, it had been influencing me from day one, because it had influenced the modern musicians who were influencing me! Now I hate that I don’t get to hear Back Porch Music because I’m absolutely obsessed with folk music.
I also I have my parents to thank for introducing me to good music early on. The first song I ever sang was “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty when I was a year old. There was never a shortage of classic rock in our house, but bluegrass, and tons of other kinds of music also had a big presence. I feel like my folks had a very well rounded music collection and it was a great place to start.
At this point, folk music is so enchanting to me because it’s the music that people made before there was ever any thought of being compensated for it. They made music because they loved it in such a pure way, and that’s hard to find nowadays. When I write songs I try to get back to that frame of mind, and create for the sake of creating!
Many people familiar with the South know that the music has a deep ingrained spirituality all of its own, influenced by Southern Baptist and other Christian Gospel music. How does your unique faith compliment those traditions?
A: When you start delving deep into folk music, you come across so many deeply spiritual songs and themes. I think that all throughout history people have passed down a tradition of being connected to something larger than themselves. I feel really connected to that music, and I think my faith helps me understand it. I feel a reverence for it, and I want to remain respectful of it and not distort it in any way.
Tell us how The Barefoot Movement got together.
A: The two main members have always been myself and Tommy Norris, my mandolin player. He and I met in high school. We’ve had a lot of people play with us, but just because we’ve all been in such transitional periods in our lives, we’ve seen a few members come and go. I went to a community college for a few years and there I met my good friend Andrew Marlin, a guitarist and amazing songwriter, who was also a founding member. He was with us for about a year, but he stayed in the Chapel Hill area when I moved to Tennessee. But that was such a wonderful time for me, because there had never been anyone to influence me so much, and so directly as he did. He’s still performing with his new group Mandolin Orange, and we keep in touch. Now I’m a senior at East Tennessee State University, and I’m getting a minor in Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music. I found our new guitarist here, Quentin Acres, in November of 2009. He has an awesome voice and a great feel for acoustic guitar. There’s something so special about singing with him, and I think we’ve just begun to tap into our musical chemistry. I’m really excited to see what the future will bring. So that’s our long-winded story! It’s a difficult one to condense!
Your band has played a ton of shows already this year, and you have shows planned all over Appalachia and the South until October. Do you three ever slow down?
A: We certainly hope not! Honestly, after doing this full time for the past few summers, I know it’s what I’m meant to do. I’m back in school now for the fall semester, and I miss the road so much. But we are actually taking some time off this fall to write and to work up some new material. We’re also putting out our first full-length album sometime soon, so we’re working on putting that together. I’m already booking for next Summer!
Some Latter-day Saints might wonder what it’s like to be a Mormon and be on tour so much. How do you keep your sense of spirituality with you on the road?
A: That’s a good question. I think it’s so important to keep the lines of communication open. I try to start every day with a prayer, and to find time to read my scriptures daily. You can do that anywhere. Sometimes it’s tough because right now, we do everything ourselves, and there can be so many things to keep track of, so it could be easy to put spirituality on the backburner. But I think that’s true for everyone, not just touring musicians. But I think a great thing about the gospel is that it encourages the personal element of spirituality, so I know myself, no matter where I may be, and nothing can take that away. I need that inner guidance to keep me going. If I neglect it, I feel different, less like myself. So I have learned that no matter where I am, at home or on the road, I have to spend a little time nurturing my soul!
You recently went into the studio to begin recording an album. How is the process coming?
A: We have all the tracks done, and it’s in the process of being mixed. We had a great producer, Ed Snodderly who is a phenomenal singer songwriter himself. He brought a lot of new ideas to our songs, some of which we’d been playing for quite a while. Right now we’re brainstorming album artwork and getting all the specifics finalized. We’re hoping to get it ready for release sometime this year.
With all the live shows you play, do you consider yourself a live band first and a studio band second?
A: I think that’s kind of yet to be determined. The new album is also our first album, so we haven’t had much experience in the studio. I think we’ve been growing with every step we’ve been taking. I feel like we were a different band before the studio, and the album kind of captures a glimpse of us as we were transitioning into the band we are continually becoming—if that makes any sense! We have a lot more opportunities to perform live than we do to record. I’d like to think that one day we could learn to utilize the full potential the studio has to offer and do something really creative.
Do you see music as a career? Or do you plan on settling down in the future?
A: It’s funny, I almost feel like I don’t have a choice in this, because when I think about doing anything else but playing music, it just doesn’t make sense, especially now that I’ve had a taste of what it will be like. Of course I want children one day and I want to have a sense of stability in my life, but “settling down” for me probably doesn’t mean what it would to other people. I think the question will be how much time I spend playing music, not if I play at all. I’m going to give it all I have for a while, and if it turns out that I can’t support myself and a family entirely off of music, then that’s okay. At least I’ll feel like I gave it a real shot. But I’ll always be playing music in some capacity.
Where can interested readers find out more about you and your band?
A: Our website www.barefoot-movement.com. You can join our mailing list, and there are links to our facebook, mypsace, and other online sites. Please do drop us a line!