New Reveille: a band built backwards, looking forward

kjahner@newsobserver.comFebruary 18, 2014 

— Play a small gig. Get attention. Play bigger gigs. Save for studio time. Record demo. Get industry attention. Blow up. Record music video.

Garner guitarist Daniel Cook had tried that music road-most-traveled for years, one where most just repeat step one on a loop, one that to him “doesn’t seem all that productive.” But when a medical scare inspired him to end a brief hiatus from music, he decided on a different route. He stumbled onto an unorthodox formula that led to the formation of New Reveille, a band that has already defied all reasonable expectations, considering its inception.

Cook wrote a few songs while picking up a new instrument and genre. He unearthed a registered nurse on Craigslist who had never sung. He wrote a few songs for her voice, pieced together some musicians, and the new band made an album (Cannonball) and music video for the song Babylon – all before its first performance.

“This project was really one that was reverse engineered in that we made the record first. To most people that would seem totally backward,” said Cook. “We're all really excited about it now. We think we've opened a can of worms.”

The country-bluegrass hybrid sold out its first live show at Old South Bar in Raleigh on Jan. 31 and has an album that has generated a sudden fan base and positive early reviews. The music, ranging from soft, nearly haunting melodies to the more rock-paced-yet-still-brooding Babylon.

But the backward method makes sense when you have certain resources. Cook makes videos for an ad agency called Myriad Media. With the help of his company the band filmed a video at Lake Gaston and Cook and co-workers edited it into a professional-quality music video, one that has generated 11,200 hits on YouTube. Between that and ReverbNation and Facebook pages, the band made serious noise without landing a gig.

“The video generated a big buzz. We had 2,000 likes (now about 2,500) likes on Facebook, and we hadn’t even played a show,” Cook said.

The music video even won Myriad Media regional advertising awards for cinematography and branded concepts.

The band plans on recording a followup album and playing more shows, including a Feb. 26 show opening for Columbia Records band Matrimony. A September mention in Country Music Magazine said New Reveille compared favorably to the likes of Alison Krauss, Civil Wars and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Dave Rose, founder of Old South Records and owner of Old South Bar, praised the band before the concert was booked. Cook had hoped to catch Rose’s attention before with previous bands.

“I can promise you will be hearing a lot more from New Reveille,” Rose had said on his Facebook page after seeing the video.

Life is short

Amy Kamm. of Rolesville, wasn’t sure what to expect when responding to a Craigslist ad in early 2012 for a female vocalist. The registered nurse at Duke Raleigh Hospital and mother of three was even less optimistic when the man said he’d already had a couple of responses, but asked for a demo anyway.

After all, she had no formal training. Her lone experience outside the house had been a brief stint in a chior at a very small church. But her husband had long pestered her about her talent.

When Cook heard the demo she had sent, he knew he had something.

“He got back in touch with me within an hour. I think he thought I was yanking his leg,” Kamm said.

The two met to dispel any fears of Craigslist-deceit.

“When I got her demo, I thought she had grabbed someone else's work,” Cook said. “I met her and was blown away by her voice. Her raw vocals already sounds like her record. Pitch perfect, phenomenal for a singer with no formal training. She just has it.”

That voice could have remained in obscurity for longer save for a family tragedy. Kamm had forced herself to go looking for an outlet for her singing after her sister died of breast cancer.

“It did make me think about the fact that life was real short,” Kamm said.

Her hidden talent blew away people who knew her. Cook said her dad had been brought to tears by the video. Kamm said her mother made her sing; she couldn’t believe the sound coming through the speakers was her daughter’s voice.

“People I've known my whole life, they can’t even believe this,” Kamm said. “They say ‘We didn't even know you can sing, and you're fronting a band?!’”

Cooking up music

Cook, brother of Garner High School principal Drew Cook, has played guitar since he was 14. But the 32-year-old had taken a break from playing with bands for a couple years.

But, as with Kamm, a major life event served as a life-is-short catalyst for something new. Cook’s doctors discovered a tumor a few years back, and for a while he didn’t know if it was malignant.

“I had been freaking out for a few months,” Cook said.

The tumor was benign and was removed through surgery in the summer of 2011. He decided he needed to do something...something different. With country roots, he picked up a banjo during recovery.

He also wrote some new music, no surprise since he wanted to write songs “when I played my first two notes on guitar, before I could even play it.” Only now, instead of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, he was finding inspiration in Earl Scruggs.

(He came up with the band name as a tribute to his grandfather, a former Marine who would play the bugle in the morning. He said he wasn’t sure what he yelled, but he thinks that he yelled Reveille after he played. “I couldn’t have understood what he said most of the time,” Cook said.)

The style was right in Kamm’s wheelhouse.

“It was almost serendipitous the way this worked out,” Kamm said. “My parents didn't listen to a lot of country but my grandparents did...When I got into college I really started liking bluegrass.”

Cook wrote some other songs around Kamm’s talents. Through his work he had a friend with a small recording studio, though he said much of the album was recorded in his house.

“You don't need a whole lot of flashy gear. You just know how to use the software and the microphones,” Cook said.

As they cycled through session musicians, a few stuck. Kaitlin Grady (cello) and Autumn Brand (fiddle) of the band Saints Apollo brought instrumental talent along with backup vocals.

“I was blown away by the stuff they added to the song,” Cook said. “They just brought a lot to the table. They brought harmonies too. Kind of our trademark is this three-part vocal led by Amy Kamm.”

George Hage, a guitarist from Jack the Radio, completed the puzzle for the video, which was shot early summer and uploaded Aug 21.

Pedal steel player Dan Blaisedale also played with the band at the live show, and Cook said he also adds a lot to the music.

Start of something?

Two years after meeting Cook on Craigslist on a whim, Kamm stood in front of a throng at a Raleigh live music hotspot ready to perform for the first time.

“It was just a lot of emotion,” Kamm said. “I did have some fears that I might freeze up or blank out. Getting through it it did build a lot of confidence.”

She said people got into the music and loved the experience.

Cook thinks he has something in the band, that the surface has just been scratched. He had initial concerns about the mixing of genres not finding a home and an audience. But after seeing attendees at the show ranging from their 20s to their 60s, he said the style might have broader appeal than he figured.

He said the next album, tentatively set to be recorded in May with more band members’ input, could have some more of Babylon’s pace. He said in the first record he “wasn’t really aiming for anything,” and thinks with the band adding focus, a lot of good things could happen.

Kamm, whose children are 6, 8 and 10, was cautiously optimistic. She said the ride has already taken her further than she could have imagined.

“I'm still cooking dinner and wiping noses. For me it's just been an outlet. I hope it does turn into something more, but just to have this outlet to do this has been a lot of fun,” Kamm said. “I’m not sure how I got here but I’m so glad that I did. Things just seemed to fall into place.”

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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