From the first time I saw a live video of them on YouTube about 6 years ago, it was clear that Mile Twelve had more to offer than the typical young bluegrass band. Without a southern or Appalachian accent to their vocals, they had a sound with perhaps a wider than regional appeal, and possessed of a startling degree of technical proficiency at their age, could perform the music with verve and panache.
Seeing them perform at the World Of Bluegrass convention in 2016, my initial impressions were confirmed, though there was a small hole in their lineup. At this point, the band was only a four piece, working without a mandolin. Co-founders Evan Murphy and Nate Sabat were on guitar and bass, respectively, with Catherine “B.B.” Bowness on banjo, and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes on fiddle.
But I was assured then that a mandolinist was in the wings, and would appear on the debut, full-length CD coming in the next few months. Right on cue, David Benedict moved from Nashville to Boston to join Mile Twelve, and their first band project, Onwards was released in 2017. The band had financed the album themselves using a crowdfunding appeal, and released it without label support.
Onwards found immediate success on bluegrass radio, and soon the band was performing all over the world. Bowness, a native New Zealander, helped organize and book a tour to Australia and her home country, an early demonstration of their “can do” attitude. We had many contacts with the group as they were promoting that record, with different band members handling all the tasks typically taken on by labels or publicists. As each new single or video dropped, we received emails or calls making sure we knew about them, with followups in case we didn’t.
So when their second self-produced project, City On A Hill, was announced for a March 29 release, it was no surprise to learn that once again, they were going it alone. The band now has hired on management and representation, but Evan told us in a recent interview that they feel able to perform label services themselves.
“In the modern music world it can hard to figure out why to go with a label. What exactly they can do for you that you can’t do yourself?
We’ve made it clear at this point that we care more about ourselves and our music than anyone else will. We don’t think we’re too good for a label, or that we think we can do it better. We just believe we can do it ourselves.”
Mile Twelve also writes the bulk of the material they record, with Evan and Nate being primary writers, but using a band collaboration process that gives them each of them a chance to weigh in.
“The way that we do it that with the songs, they probably started with Nate or I. We create the lyric and chord progression, but then we co-edit and co-arrange so that by the end of the process, they have gone through a transformation into a final product.”
Murphy said that they wrote all but two on City On A Hill.
“Out of 10 tracks, 2 are covers – Richard Thompson’s Down Where The Drunkards Roll, and the other is Where We Started, written by John Cloyd Miller. We all loved hearing them do it when we played co-bills with Zoe & Cloyd. We sang it in the van while we were traveling, and eventually figured, ‘why don’t we just record it?'”
They all feel very good about the album, and when I asked Evan if they worried at all about a sophomore jinx, he replied that they probably would if they knew what it was.
But in all seriousness, they have their business down, and have developed a routine for sharing the workload that keeps any of them from getting overwhelmed. Still, touring is a grind, and as the various members get a little older, family concerns are starting to become a factor.
“Both David I are getting married this year. We try to strike a balance through communication, where the band is pushing hard and working hard, but everyone’s concerns about not traveling too much are addressed. And we work to keep everyone comfortable on the road.
After two weeks out is when it starts to get hard – we all start getting tired and missing home. We are trying to hit so many markets, especially the northeast, which is our home turf, and the southeast, which is bluegrass central.
We also talk openly about money. Having been together four years now, the band has gotten to a point where we pay ourselves a monthly salary – it gets bumped up every couple of months. We sometimes get freaked about ‘how we can make a living doing this?’ – we talk openly about all this, and are determined to make it happen.”
They are gearing up now for tour of England next month, which will give them about twelve days overseas.
“This was set up by Maria Wallace with True North Music, and we are all really excited – perfect length for a tour. David loves going over to that area since his fiancé lives in Northern Ireland.”
And they hope to have copies of City On A Hill to take with them on the trip.
A debut video has been released, with more expected in the near future.
As a final question, we asked Evan how the band has avoid the pull of the jamgrass scene, which has drawn many young groups over into that scene.
“I think we just like the material and arrangement and the execution of that material in the song format. We all just like bluegrass – we still have songs in our set that are just absolutely trad bluegrass. It’s fun to slam into that sometimes.”
Pre-orders for City On A Hill are enabled now online, and from the popular download and streaming sites.