"Eating before practice helps a lot."
With a mouthful of homemade pizza, drummer Sam Spitzer is explaining the secret of the Hollyfelds' camaraderie. Before each rehearsal, the quintet sits down to a meal at the Spitzers' home. What started as carryout has evolved to delicious home-cooked meals, compliments of Spitzer's wife, Kristi. This small but significant ritual helps the bandmembers detach from their day jobs, focus on music and reconnect with one another.
The familial vibe of the Hollyfelds is no coincidence. The folk/country/Americana outfit began at Keith and Eryn Hoerig's wedding. Keith is perhaps best known as the bassist for one of the Mile High City's biggest breakout acts during the '90s, Five Iron Frenzy, but his new wife's songwriting inspired a very different project and led to the recently completed debut full-length Saratoga.
CD-release show, with Legendary River Drifters and Las Lazlas, 9 p.m. Friday, February 29, Meadowlark, 2701 Larimer Street, $5, 303-293-0251; 9 p.m. Saturday, March 1, Skylark Lounge, 140 South Broadway, $5, 303-722-7844.
"I'd never written any songs before we got married," Eryn confesses. "I'd tried, and they sucked." The singer and multi-instrumentalist's new songs certainly didn't suck, and the pair began to flesh them out. One day in early 2006, while Eryn was working at Swallow Hill, guitarist Tim Mallot wandered in. Eryn invited Mallot to bring his many stringed instruments over for a jam; Mallot brought along his then-girlfriend, singer Kate Grigsby.
"I wasn't even going to be in the band," recalls Kate. "But the first time Eryn and I sang together, it was like, 'Ahhh!'" The nascent Hollyfelds (whose Real Genius-inspired name even implies they're more family than band) then called in Spitzer, one of Keith's old poker buddies. Playing with the tools at hand — Autoharp, mandolin and other traditional instruments — the group quickly jelled around a rootsy, country-inflected sound.
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"We met Tim in January, Katie came in February, Sam in April, and we recorded in May," Keith remembers with astonishment. "In our first year, we played over fifty shows."
The group recorded its first EP at Swallow Hill on a shoestring budget, but the exquisitely captured new album received much more royal treatment, with help from Grammy-nominated producer and acclaimed guitarist Ric Hordinski. The Cincinnati-based studio whiz stumbled across the Hollyfelds while trawling MySpace for musicians citing his best-known project, Over the Rhine, as an influence.
"At first I didn't know who he was," Eryn admits with a laugh. "I thought he was scamming us." Soon, however, the group found itself headed to Ohio in a borrowed RV for the four-day recording and mixing marathon that yielded Saratoga.
While the record's twelve tracks — three of which appeared on the EP — all stay true to the Hollyfelds' classic country sound, the collection covers a wide range of moods, from the reeling stomp of tracks like "Indecision" and "I'm Gonna Feel Tonight" to the poignant melancholy of "Empress of Wyoming" and "Mary Lou." Throughout the album, the deft, soulful musicianship of all five Hollyfelds stands out, but it's Eryn and Kate's stunning harmonies that make Saratoga an utterly delightful listen. Their honeyed voices contain just enough of the whiskey and heartache that makes great country music.