Despite the increasing irrelevance of genre labels, roots music artists still often face the challenge of where their sound fits onto the spectrum ranging from commercial country to pure traditionalism. The obvious answer is to ignore that altogether and simply do what feels right, which was precisely the approach Edmonton-based duo The Orchard—comprised of singer/songwriters Kasha Anne and Mitch Smith—took on their latest album, The Great Unknown, released earlier this year on Royalty Records.
The Orchard’s current single, “Bright Eyes,” exemplifies a shift toward a more pronounced, full-band Americana sound they envisioned for The Great Unknown, achieved with the help of veteran producer Jim Scott, whose resume includes work with Tom Petty, Lucinda Williams, and Wilco. The results have revealed The Orchard’s true identity for the first time, and their natural ability to bring together music fans of all types.
Kasha Anne and Mitch bonded over an undeniable need to make music together, and within their first year together they released their debut album, 2012’s Southern Ground. It immediately got the attention of the Canadian country music industry, bringing showcases at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards, along with steady radio airplay and festival appearances. Their second album, 2014’s Georgia, raised the stakes higher, as the group teamed up with Juno-winning producer Russell Broom (Jann Arden, Chantal Kreviazuk), who focused on capturing The Orchard’s increasingly hard-hitting live sound.
With The Great Unknown, The Orchard now appears to have hit their creative stride through simply being themselves. The band will be in B.C. this week, starting Aug. 16 in Vernon and capping off with a show at The Roxy in Vancouver on Aug. 24. For more details, go to theorchardmusic.com.
The Great Unknown has been out for several months now. What's been the reaction from your audience?
Kasha Anne: I feel that the reaction so far has been a positive one. People seem to get the direction we are trying to go with our music and every song has been listed as a favourite to someone. We are feeling the love and support from current fans and new ones as we continue to develop our sound and try new things with our music.
Is there a story behind “Bright Eyes,” your current single?
Mitch: I like to think there are several narratives happening, based on what the listener hears the story as being. On one side, it is a song of hope. On another, it's saying goodbye to someone you don't want to have to say goodbye to.
Kasha Anne: It’s funny, we actually almost recorded a different song instead of this one. We liked the bridge from the other song but everything else about this one we liked more. It was Jim Scott's idea to actually take the bridge from the other song and put it into this one. Interesting how sometimes your music is a puzzle and it can take a bit of time to make the right pieces fit! I think Mitch and I both like the fact that when we are making our music there really aren't any rules.
What would you say makes your artistic partnership work?
Mitch: I've thought a lot about this lately, actually. I think in the way we always push each other to be better and to think about things differently keeps things interesting and pushing forward. We are always striving towards the same thing, which is to have our art come across as genuine, heartfelt, and real. The intention behind what we are trying to do keeps us on our feet and working on this thing. What else is there, anyways?
Kasha Anne:I think Mitch and I have this delicate balance of our personalities and our skill sets that we bring to the table. I think the beauty of it comes from how different we are. Sometimes we even view lyrics in a completely different context than the other. We are both quite open-minded but also very determined individuals. It all plays well into each other but I think the biggest thing is that through the nature of us being different people, we actually end up on the same page. It's pretty neat.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
Kasha Anne :I spent a lot of time with my dad and my sister making music together. I think I was about eight years old when I started singing in public. My youngest daughter is about to turn eight so it's coming a bit full circle for me. Feels like I am enjoying it all over again this but time with my own two daughters. They love the band, and it's nice to have a music family to share with your kids.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
Mitch: Some local promoter in the town where I grew up—Wainwright, Alberta—put on a show with two acts that couldn't have been more different. I think it was like, our little acoustic act with my old friend Becca Peyton and then a death metal band. To put the icing on the cake, this show was at a Legion hall. You can't make this stuff up, but it was really great.
Kasha Anne: I was very nervous the first time. I always thought that would change but it really hasn't. Instead, I learned that emotion is fuel for a great performance. Wish it hadn't taken me so long to figure that out!