When you opt to name your band You, Me, Everybody, you’re automatically all-inclusive. You’ve branded yourself with a populist handle that allows everyone to feel part of the process.
The New Zealand-based combo that refers to itself in that way knows all those implications and has embraced the essence of that intent full well.
“We were in the midst of one of those painful name conversations, and were laughing at the options using a random name generator,” fiddler Kim Bonnington remembers. “One option was Captain Banjo and the High Tailed Mules, and that’s when I responded to a text from a friend that suggested ‘yeah, you, me and everybody.’ It fitted with the idea that you give someone a solo, take one yourself, but together we all work to support each other.”
The band — which also includes Laurence Frangos-Rhodes (guitar), Sam Frangos-Rhodes (mandolin and fiddle), James Geluk (bass), and Nat Torkington (banjo) — originated with Sam and Laurence’s family band called Rhode Works. While playing the major festivals in their native New Zealand, they managed to meet a number of other local musicians. Consequently, when it came time for them to forge a musical identity of their own, they chose people that they knew would help them create a strong, tightly-knit progressive bluegrass band.
“We enjoyed playing together in jam sessions, and we all wanted to do more of the arranged and rehearsed music that we liked to listen to,” Bonnington explains. “We live in different parts of the country — James and I are in Wellington, Sam and Laurence are eight hours away, and Nat is two more hours away — so we began recording demos and sharing the songs among ourselves. Most of the arranging of our 2019 debut EP happened in a few weekends over several months as we were able to steal time together.”
The individual musicians each come from diverse backgrounds. Geluk was a jazz musician. Torkington moonlights in another New Zealand bluegrass band, the Pipi Pickers. Bonnington was embedded in country music, while Laurence builds and plays his own guitars, sold and manufactured under the Limehill line.
Even so, the band synched with their sound straight away. Last year’s eponymous EP paved the way for their first full-length album, Southern Sky, released just recently. “We play progressive bluegrass,” Bonnington says. “To us that means music on bluegrass instruments, but also a sound which embraces dynamics and more than three chords. We love the sound that banjo, mandolin, guitar, and bass make together. We love harmonies. We love open space as much as we love energy.”
That description clearly aligns with those artists they list as influences, among them, Tony Rice, Chris Thile, Béla Fleck, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Punch Brothers, Bill Monroe, and Flatt & Scruggs.
“Our first gig saw us opening for the Felice Brothers as part of an Americana fest that comes to Auckland every Spring,” Bonnington recalls. “We were newly-formed and the organizers gave us a spot on the strength of our performances in previous bands. We also relished the opportunity to perform with Tim O’Brien as part of a songwriter’s circle at the Auckland Folk Festival.”
When the group first began touring, they could claim only the six original songs that were included on their EP. They filled out the rest of their sets with material that they’re all fond of — Ain’t No Grave by Crooked Still, Me and My Guitar by Tony Rice, Julep, which came courtesy of the Punch Brothers, Don’t Mean Nothing by the Infamous Stringdusters, Let Me Ride by The Danberrys, Circus Number 9’s Sun Won’t Shine, and an otherwise unlikely inclusion, Africa by the ’80s band Toto.
These days, the group says their shows are mainly based around their original offerings, although they still drop one or two covers into their mix. “We have two songwriters, and we’re proud to be creating a unique sound around them,” they insist. “When it comes to arrangements of those songs, it’s a really exciting time for all of us in the band as ideas get changed, developed and sometimes take on whole new forms. Southern Sky shows the diversity found in the songs, and the arrangements that can come from having two different writers as well as our different backgrounds.”
Their music can currently by heard on Spotify, or on bandcamp. It’s also available on other streaming platforms, including their own web site. In addition, the video for the group’s latest single, Devil in a Bottle of Whiskey, is now available.
“It is a song that does not push bluegrass boundaries at all,” Lawrence says of the latter. “In fact, it is well within them, and pushed to the extreme with as many G runs and satirical lyrics as possible. Regardless, it is a catchy tune and I hope people will be singing along by the end.”
You, Me, Everybody was recently named finalists for the Aotearoa Music Awards in the category of Best Folk Artist 2021. “There’s no equivalent bluegrass award in New Zealand, and therefore we fit under the folk banner there,” Bonnington explains. “We’re happy for that, since we got to meet and got to know each other at these different folk festivals.”
Because New Zealand has effectively beat the pandemic, the group continues to tour and perform back home. “We’re blessed to live in a part of the world that has kept COVID out, so festivals and house concerts and all the other essentials of musical life are still happening here,” Bonnington notes. “We played the Auckland folk festival and Kiwigrass recently, and we’ve played the Whare Flat Folk Festival and the TSB Festival of Lights in New Plymouth in the past. Our planned tour of Australia at the end of 2020 was cancelled due to COID, but we look forward to rescheduling that and getting to some festivals as soon as the borders open up again. Until that happens, 2021 will see us playing a mix of bluegrass clubs, house concerts, and festivals on our February tour. One of our band goals is to have a tour in America, to take our contributions back to the home of bluegrass.
Meanwhile, the group is clearly a hit back home. “New Zealanders love bluegrass and bluegrass-influenced music once they get a chance to hear it,” Bonnington says. “Because it’s a genre that doesn’t have a strong history in New Zealand, most folks don’t realize that it exists. But once heard, they like it. So we’re building a following — for us and for bluegrass — one room at a time.”
In that regard, You, Me, Everybody affirms the feel of familiarity that bluegrass brings to everyone that hears it.
“It’s a very accessible musical form, because the songs always sound happy — even the sad songs,” Lawrence muses. “There’s an element of eye- and ear-catching showmanship in the instrumentalists taking the solos that people find hard to walk past. We called ourselves You, Me, Everybody because of this collaborative nature of bluegrass — each of us gets our turn in the spotlight, and we all work together make it a cohesive sound.”