Mandolin Orange: Roots road warrior duo

by McKenna Cardwell

Life on the road has become somewhat familiar for Mandolin Orange duo Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, but wherever their tours take them, they are always anchored by the home-grown roots of their music. The essence of “home” resonates with a similar feeling for Frantz and Marlin, who both come from North Carolina. Frantz grew up in the city of Chapel Hill, while Marlin was raised in the “run-of-the-mill, small southern town” of Warrenton.

“My mom used to play piano for the local church, and she ingrained the importance of music into my sister and I,” Marlin said. “I never really took to classical music or the piano, but instead I picked up the guitar at around 14 years old.”

It was at around the same age of 14 that Frantz adopted the violin and developed a bluegrass sound, straying away from the traditional piano music that she’d played since she was around six years old.

Although they were steered by music, it was chance that brought about their crossroads one day at a restaurant in Chapel Hill.

“We were both at a jam one snowy day at this place called the Armadillo Grill. We got to talking and then performed together, and things just seemed to happen naturally,” Marlin said.

Fueled by the ease of harmonizing with one another, the pair continued to play more and more shows on the side, while the idea of forming something more out of the partnership continued to grow.

“I’ve always have wanted to be serious about music ever since I played a G-chord on a guitar,” Marlin said. “I had the wheels, but just lacked an engine. Emily is incredibly driven and hardworking, and she made it a tangible thing.”

Like their partnership, Mandolin Orange doesn’t overthink or overwork their songs. This is evident in the recording style of their albums and the effortless feel of their sound.

“I hope that people feel at ease and at home when they listen to our music,” Marlin said. “That they could put it on and space out…but music is kind of like an abstract painting. While the artist may have a set image in mind, anyone who walks by will see something different.”

A balanced blend of both modern lyrics and traditional melodies, Frantz and Marlin have created a sound that clearly represents a feeling that is key to the genre of bluegrass; a yearning for a place to call home. And this a concept that isn’t confined to a building with four walls and a welcome mat.

“Most of the band has to leave their significant others at home when we go out on the road, where we get to bring ours along,” Marlin said. “No matter how dirty the hotel room is, or how long we’ve been on the road, having Emily there makes if feel like home.”

Mandolin Orange’s take on a traditional folk sound has proven to be effective for the band, and their success has allowed them to take step away from working side jobs to take on music full time.

“It’s a great feeling, to have people come up to us after our shows and tell us that our music meant something to them, especially when we travel so far from home,” Marlin said. “That’s the kind of thing that you always want but never really think could happen. I also think we’ve done it by just being the people we are naturally, which is something special.”

Mandolin Orange is scheduled to make a stop at the Shakedown here in Bellingham on July 14. This means turning around and heading back out on the road quickly following the conclusion of their June tour which featured their most recent album, Sweet Jubilee. However, the duo is simply enjoying the opportunity to live a life that’s centered around making music.

“We get to live this great lifestyle, and I think to ask for anything more than that is setting yourself up for failure,” Marlin said.

Catch Mandolin Orange at The Shakedown on July 14 and online at www.mandolinorange.com.

Published in the July 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine