For a decade, Americana duo Carolina Story relentlessly toured the country. They crisscrossed the nation burning up the highway playing as many gigs as they possibly could. Like many fresh-faced acts, they were defined by their youthful exuberance and an unbound work ethic believing that success was right around the corner if they just continued putting in the work. Ten years later, Carolina Story--husband and wife Ben and Emily Roberts--are releasing Lay Your Head Down, their official full-length debut album.
A couple years back, the pair stepped back for a brief hiatus that nearly saw them move on from their playing days for good. It was just this past winter when Ben had prepped and lined up grad school applications. They were ready to be sent. But before doing so, the pair decided to get in touch with their current label Black River Americana. With a new record deal, the rest is history.
A Second Chance
"It was a necessary pulling back of the reigns," Ben tells Wide Open Country. "It really came at the best time. I think we would be completely burned out now had we not pumped the breaks."
The silver lining in their necessary break was that it gave the pair time to recharge the batteries and rediscover that love and inspiration that brought them together in the first place.
"We look at this as a second chance. Now we're kind of back from the dead--like Jon Snow for you Game of Thrones watchers," says Ben with a laugh.
While circumstances have changed along the way, their collection of songs still reflect that original earnest drive. But now, there's also a heightened sense of growth and understanding that goes along with it. Now, with a budding family, a three-year-old named Wilder and baby Lily, the duo has gained an additional perspective on older songs that are sprinkled within Lay Your Head Down.
"This mixture of songs are a reflection of us," says Emily. "A song like 'Gold,' which is one of the oldest songs, it feels like it circles back. It's encouraging words we needed to hear ourselves."
Specifically, songs such as "Your Children's Children," "Gold" and "When I Was Just a Boy" take on new meanings. There's an added depth and a deeper meaning found.
"We performed them from a different place," says Emily. "They were from an even deeper place than before. A swell of emotion came with them. When you look back at 10 years, we had stars in our eyes thinking that success was maybe coming a little sooner. When you write a song like 'Gold,' it naturally grows as time passes."
"There's a maturity there with a sense of time passing. We've grown into them--or they've grown into us," adds Ben.
A Blooming Maturity
Lay Your Head Down was recorded at Sound Stage Studios in Nashville, Tenn. with producer Nick Autry at the helm. The new album is filled with that maturing sense and often finds the duo capturing the passing of time with nostalgic observations and quiet moments of solitary reflections. Many songs find the pair bottling up memories and trying to preserve fleeting moments while fully embracing change and growth.
"Remember when you were a child? Your heart was pure, your eyes were wild. Every dream within your grasp. Now you feel your time has passed," sings Ben and Emily on the dreamy "Your Children's Children." Though they wrote the song before having children of their own, they tapped into an enduring familial love that's passed down generationally.
"We definitely had a hope of having our own children one day," says Ben. "Looking back, it was written more from looking at our families. Both of our grandfathers had served in World War II and meant a great deal to us. We were trying to capture that legacy of passing down specific values we were taught growing up. When I get to that age, when I get to the end of this journey, I hope to be able to look back and smile. We hope to pass down those same ideals of kindness and integrity that were instilled in us."
"We Were Young Once Too," another standout, very much captures that passing of time as well. Lines like "days go by soon become days gone by" have a simplistic straightforwardness that spurs on specific memories and thoughts in all of us. There isn't a need to overcomplicate.
Songs like the title track of "Lay Your Head Down" and "Feet Keep Moving Still" are reassuring pats on the back. Life may be difficult and frustrating at times, but you'll eventually find your way--especially when you have a strong relationship as a safety net. As Ben and Emily express time and again, love is the backbone of life.
A Cohesive Sound
Lay Your Head Down has a gentle and calming flow that often reminds you of Bob Dylan's Greenwich Village or evokes the chemistry of early alt-country darlings Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Naturally, Ben and Emily's harmonies are idyllic and as heavenly as possible. There's a soothing warmth that captures little moments of raw intimacy. They certainly fill a room for lush and tender moments. Still on songs such as "Lonely Without You," they can capture a haunting lonesomeness and doubt.
Often, their harmonies feed off mood setting instruments such as the pedal steel and harmonica. They add a lullaby-like quality that feels contemplative and daydreamy without falling into a mundane or lifeless territory.
"It always has a way of tugging at your heart," says Ben. "There's so much beauty within it. It's an evocative instrument that can say so much without words."
Still, there's a certain bite to the full-length album. Sharp and smart guitar licks come in for timely vibrant punches. Keyboardist Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) provides a simple layer that really ties Lay Your Head Down together with a tightly wound cohesion. They recorded the album live and banked on the "happy accidents" to give a healthy character and a natural feel to the recordings.
"These songs are about the human experience," says Ben. "We didn't want them to be any different. There's that human element in there. Some of those imperfections are my favorite moments in music. They are imperfectly perfect."
The release date for Lay Your Head Down is July 13 via Black River Americana. Carolina Story is embarking on a two-month tour in support of the album. They'll be kicking things off with a pair of Nashville performances--one at the Black River Stage at The Well Coffeehouse on July 12th and a return performance at the famed Grand Ole Opry on July 14. A full list of upcoming 2018 tour dates can be found here.