Mandolin Orange Makes Harmony Grounded In Grief On New Album

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Mandolin Orange is out with a new album, "Tides of a Teardrop." (Kendall Bailey/Courtesy of the artist)
Mandolin Orange is out with a new album, "Tides of a Teardrop." (Kendall Bailey/Courtesy of the artist)

The new album "Tides of a Teardrop" is the sixth by North Carolina folk duo Mandolin Orange.

The band has played the Newport Folk Festival, South by Southwest and Bonnaroo, and their music has gotten 50 million streams on Spotify. The people behind the music are songwriter Andrew Marlin, who plays the mandolin, guitar and banjo, and vocalist Emily Frantz, who also plays the violin and guitar.

Marlin tells Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd that part of the album's inspiration came from "ironing out some old, deep feelings" about the death of his mother when he was 18 years old, which comes through in songs like "Golden Embers."

"I think there was a lot of things that didn't get talked about between me and my family, and especially me and my dad," Marlin says. "So that was a song that I wrote to him trying to just kind of get all the bad feelings out of the way and shine some more positive light on positive memories of my mom."

The album is also laden with Marlin and Frantz's signature harmonies. For Frantz, when her voice is in perfect alignment with Marlin's, it sometimes sounds like three people are singing instead of two.

"When we're singing just the two of us live or on any track, and you hit just that perfect sort of critical point, it's almost like there's an extra sound in there," she says.

Interview Highlights

Marlin, on memories of his mother and how he and his father grieved differently

Andrew Marlin: "She just always had a warm smile for everybody. I never heard anyone say a bad word about her. She used to be a piano player for the church, so I think through her I developed a love for old hymns, and just her enthusiasm towards music."

"You'd think that that grief would bring you together. But really it kind of separates you, it builds these walls, because with us, we're kind of dealing with them separately. I think if we could actually talk about it among ourselves, there'd be a lot of healing through that."

On watching the music video for "Golden Embers"

Emily Frantz: "I felt like that video was really powerful ... and I probably shed a few tears the first time I saw the edit. Some of the guys that made the video experienced the loss of a parent at a young age, too. And so it felt like they really nailed ... the portrayal of that in a way that felt really honest and not over the top."

"We just try and sing really straight and evenly, and ... somehow that kind of lends itself to blending the two together."

Emily Frantz

On how they're able to harmonize so well

Frantz: "It's a great question, I'm not really sure. Andrew and I used to talk about this when we first started singing together, because we felt like there wasn't necessarily anything tonally about our voices that went well together, but that we just try and sing really straight and evenly, and that somehow that kind of lends itself to blending the two together."

Marlin: "I think Emily's selling herself short there, because I've definitely got a lilt, and some timing things that I go to and do and she's really good about following those. I would say a lot of that is due to Emily's ability to sing harmony."

On comparisons to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris

Marlin: "I love that, because I'm a big fan of theirs and definitely a big fan of Gram Parsons' songwriting. So I think that's a fair comparison."

Frantz: "I've never felt like I could sing anything like Emmylou Harris, and probably nobody can. But there is a certain way that she sings harmony that is so distinct and especially on a lot of those old Gram Parsons recordings, it's different from what we hear in a lot of bluegrass and folk music, because she's not singing that tenor part that's right up of his. She'll jump around and do these parts that are way higher and kind of set her voice apart a lot. I like to try and take a little bit from that, and jump around and do different parts when it feels natural."

On why people have such a connection to their cover of Bob Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather," which has nearly 6 million views on YouTube

Frantz: "I'm really not sure. It's funny, because we've been singing that song for so many years. It was one of the first songs that we ever worked out together when we were starting to play music. It is one that, I guess not that many people have played in that sort of call-and-response style."

Marlin: "I think it gets the story across and kind of puts it into perspective. I remember the first time I heard the song, I was really intrigued by it. It was on Bob Dylan's 'The Times They Are a-Changin' record, and when it finally hit me that it was actually a conversation, I was like, 'Man, OK, this needs to take place. This conversation needs to happen.' And so I was really stoked when Emily was down to learn all the lyrics, because there's a bunch of them. I think it was, like, the first song we really sat down to work out together."

On another song from the new album, "Into the Sun"

Marlin: "That's one that Emily sings, it's one of my favorites on the record. It was actually one that I wrote about her grandfather. We got to spend some time with him when he was kind of getting close to leaving this world. We would just sit down and listen to him tell stories."

Frantz: "He had such a love for travel, and specifically driving. He was of such a different generation than us, and I don't think could entirely wrap his head around what we do for a living. But we could relate when we talked about travel and driving and highways. He loved that we went to so many places, and he saw that as such a form of education. So a lot of that part of his personality is wrapped up in that song, too."

Emiko Tamagawa produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Peter O'Dowd and Kathleen McKenna. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on February 4, 2019.


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Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.



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