"Which one's April?" It's a question that Katy Dubois and Alaina Stacey hear a lot while on tour. The two young women make up Maybe April: a country-Americana duo with deep roots. (And yes, they both have April birthdays.) Recently, the pair won an Arkansas CMA Award for Americana Artist of the Year. And though the pandemic had halted plans to tour and perform live, Maybe April is back with new projects.
I sat down with Dubois and Stacey on Zoom to ask about the foundations of Maybe April and what's next in the future.
Camp Friends Forever
To say that Alaina Stacey comes from a talented musical family is putting it mildly. For years, the Staceys even had a family band! Her father, A Chicago circuit judge, writes songs and her mother is a vocalist. Her older brothers are multi-instrumentalists; her younger brother Gabe is an awesome professional dancer. The fact that music was going to be in Stacey's life was never a question. When she got into musical theater around the age of 13, it was Stacey's grandmother who originally forced her to perform in front of people, despite the nerves. "She nipped that fear in the bud," Stacey explains.
I actually attended the same Chicago school as Stacey, Whitney Young, and vividly remember her starring in the school plays. Whitney Young's theater department was large, impressive -- and intimidating. But Stacey shone. She commanded the stage through energetic and spirited portrayals of leading ladies. Sporting purple hair and a bright smile, Stacey already felt like something of a local celebrity. It made sense, then, that she would attend GRAMMY songwriting camp in Nashville the summer before her senior year of high school. It was there that she met Katy Dubois (née Bishop).
Dubois was from Jonesboro, Arkansas and unlike Stacey, her family did not share that musical background. But she got the performance bug young, in dance class. By the age of 13, she was writing her own songs -- just like Stacey. In 2012, Dubois enrolled in the songwriting track at Nashville's GRAMMY Camp. What happened there is an awkward, wondrous story of adolescent kismet.
At camp, all the young artists quickly paired off into groups. And as Stacey puts it, "it was a last kids picked in gym class situation." Those "leftovers" were Stacey, Dubois, and Kristen Castro. So at their instructors' urging, the three girls decide to present themselves as "a trio" for the week's activities. They began writing and singing together and loved it. With the friendship forming fast, Maybe April remained an enduring trio. Even after camp ended. When it came time for Stacey to graduate high school one year later, she decided to move to Nashville and "do the damn thing."
Dubois, who is one year older than Stacey, was already living in the area studying music management at Middle Tennessee State University. Castro, too, stayed in Maybe April until departing from the trio in 2019 to focus on individual music. At that time, Stacey and Dubois were faced with a serious transition. In addition to her songwriting skills, Castro was an eclectic instrumentalist, talented on both the mandolin and guitar. "It was tricky," Stacey said of reshaping the band. But, chuckling, she admits that it forced them to get good at guitar -- as well as step up in other ways. She and Dubois had to consider what it means, really, to be a vocal trio, or duo, or a vocal group at all.
After finally resolving to remain in the Maybe April structure as two frontwomen, Dubois said that booking agents didn't understand how to pitch them. "But as time has gone on, it's clear that we're the same people. It's still Alaina and I at the core. And we're trying to navigate that and keep pushing forward," Dubois says.
'The Other Side'
The pair released their debut album, The Other Side, in the summer of 2019. Early tracks premiered exclusively on Billboard Magazine but you can stream the full album now on Spotify. It is a culmination of years of work: old singles, new ideas, and various collaborations. Most of The Other Side, Stacey and Dubois wrote together. Their sisterly bond, as both songwriters and friends, is obvious the moment they begin describing that process.
Much of the lyric on The Other Side teems with heartbreak. Having met at the tender ages of 17 and 18, the angst of young romance fueled Stacey and Dubois' practice for a long time. "Heartbreak was one of the things that bonded as together in the beginning... we all were young adults going through things and sharing those things with each other," Stacey explained. In writing "Already Gone," the heavy third track off The Other Side, Stacey told Dubois: "Alright, give me a list of all the crappy stuff your ex did." Together, they penned a literal list -- which is still saved on Stacey's phone. (She scrolled through it for me, just a bit, on Zoom.) But when Stacey's mom heard the finished song, she thought it was about her own daughter's ex-boyfriend! That emotional universality is what Maybe April aims for.
"What's amazing about country music is the way that it makes you not feel alone. A song can have a story that's specific to the person that's singing it, but even if the scenario is not the same, you can feel the feelings. You can relate to what that person is going through. That's something that drew Katy and I together." -- Alaina Stacey
Of the relationship which inspired "Already Gone," Dubois says, "I'm glad that I'm not there anymore and I came out on the other side." The other side! (Get it?) In that spirit, the album balances the painful, reflective fare with varied tracks. It's clear both Stacey and Dubois have grown a lot over the course of compiling their highly personal collection. The title track wrestles confidently with the rocky lifestyle of becoming a professional musician. The comparatively lighthearted "You Were My Young" recalls teen love from a sweetly nostalgic perspective. Another stand-out, the poppy "Truth Is" flaunts tongue-in-cheek lines like "The grass is blue / the sky is green / Dolly Parton's really mean / Birds swim, fish fly / Willie Nelson don't get high." (Check out the colorful music video below.) And then there's my personal favorite, "Isabelle": a creepy, folksy murder ballad co-written with Dubois' husband Zach.
In June, Maybe April won for Americana Artist of the Year at the Arkansas CMA Awards. To be recognized in Dubois' home state was especially meaningful. "I'm super honored to be supported by the people from Arkansas because it's my home," Dubois said. "It will always be home in my heart... To celebrate that community, and the state in general, was really special." And Stacey, for her part, is proud to be "Arkansan by association."
More specifically, that "Americana" title addresses the distinct, genre-resistant mission of Maybe April. "Since we started, we didn't really fit into one thing. We had a lot of folky influences too," Dubois explains. As popular musicians like Kacey Musgraves have opened the door for indie country-adjacent performers, Dubois believes the Americana label holds great musical freedom. Only a small percentage of country music makes it onto country radio, but Americana sound offers heartland authenticity from different voices. Riding that enigmatic line, Maybe April is truly country-Americana. And they are, rightfully, proud to be so.
As both members of Maybe April adjust to post-pandemic life, they're hard at work. Most recently, they've remixed their song "Same Story, Different Scars" for the diverse Chicago compilation Humanity Is the Genre. They're also writing with Dean Fields, another collaborator from The Other Side, and have recorded two new songs. (Stacey's brother Julian serves as their producer.) Those singles, "Quit Me" and "Stuck Together," will drop over the next few months. As Stacey describes it, "Stuck Together" is an --aptly-titled -- Covid response song. "It was inspired by our feelings of loss and not-knowing, but also our feelings of hope and togetherness," Stacey says.
And that's not Maybe April's only reaction to the pandemic. Having missed out on the live momentum of their last album release, upcoming concerts are now scheduled in Nashville and Bristol, Tennessee, as well in Indiana and South Carolina. With more tour dates to come, check out maybeapril.com for further updates!