Ringing the strings of tradition
issue 38 working_Layout 1 12/7/2013 1:50 PM Page 34
Garret K. Woodward
A Southern Perspective on music, art, and life from the Carolina’s
The strings of tradition and progress
echoed from the back alley. Upon
further inspection (and a lone door
cracked open), the harmonic tone
was radiating from the mandolin of
Readying himself for a performance that evening at the Colonial
Theater in downtown Canton, North
Carolina, Nicholson is part of
renowned bluegrass ensemble Balsam Range. As tall as a grizzly
bear, with a persona that is the epitome of southern hospitality, he
walks across the stage and extends
a handshake the size of baseball
“Welcome,” he smiled.
Those words above became
the introduction of my first article for
The Smoky Mountain News. Nicholson was literally the first person I
ever interviewed in Western North
Carolina. And, that seems kind of
poignant, in hindsight.
Beyond his prized work with
Balsam Range, he also fronts a
solo band, the Darren Nicholson
Band — a group a little bit classic
county, a little bit old-time mountain
music. The side project plays as an
outlet for Nicholson from his hefty
schedule for his day job. Both Haywood County, North Carolina bands
provide a fulfilling musical existence
for the mandolinist, who has an Appalachian heart as big as his sound.
I recently caught up with
Nicholson. He spoke of his success
with Balsam Range (2013 International Bluegrass Music Association
winners for “Album of the Year”), his
new solo album “Things Left Undone,” and why there’s no greater
feeling than being onstage.
Garret K. Woodward: 2013
was a big year for you.
Darren Nicholson: It has been a
huge year. Balsam Range getting
“Album of the Year,” I mean that's really at the pinnacle for what you'd
hope for as a recording artist. I was on
a collaborative album that won “Album
of the Year” in 2006, but I have to say
this one meant a whole lot more obviously being more involved in it from
the ground up. And I'm really glad to
see us get a band award, which has
been the concept from the get-go. And
to be working on the solo project this
is been an amazing year.
GKW: What’s the intent of the project?
DN: Well obviously Balsam Range is
my main focus, but the Darren Nicholson Band is basically an outlet for a
bunch of old friends to get together to
make music when Balsam Range
takes time off. And just like the solo
record, it gives me an outlet to do
something different creatively to keep
music fresh and a different sound.
GKW: What does the title “Things Left
DN: The title represents a lot of us and
how we feel about life in general, and
how I think we all sometimes have to
stop, reflect and want to be better people. I’m a sucker for a good song.
Whenever I’m putting music together,
the most important thing in the music
is the singing, and everything will fall
into place around good material. Great
story and laugh songs that most people can relate to.
GKW: When you write songs, is it
lyrics then melody, or vice versa?
DN: The songwriting process for me is
an evolving thing, but it's usually lyrics
first with music and vocals later. I love
a good story and song, and that has
motivated me to get more into the
songwriting process and work moment
because I'm such a fan of great songwriters.