• Mandolin Orange's Andrew Marlin Comes Out From Under the Cloak with Buried in a Cape

    Andrew Marlin - Buried in a Cape

    Mandolin Orange songwriter Andrew Marlin is stepping out on his own for the new solo disc Buried in a Cape, a collection of self-penned instrumentals and modern fiddle tunes that shines a laser light on his prodigious eight string skills.

    As much as Cape is a showcase for Marlin's keen sense of melody and thoughtful technique, it is truly a group effort. With his producer's hat on, Marlin let his players fly, recording the entire affair in three days at Nashville's The Butcher Shoppe, which, the composer notes proudly, features the Ryman Auditorium's old reverb plate.

    "My mandolin was running through the same 'verb that, maybe, Bill Monroe's ran through!" he beams.

    As Duke Ellington might have conceived certain melodies for Johnny Hodges or Cootie Williams’ particular skill sets, Marlin even wrote a few tunes specifically with fiddler Christian Sedelmyer (Jerry Douglas, Ten String Symphony) in mind.

    "I just felt like he was the perfect one for it," Marlin says, "because he's got so much expression in his playing, and such a unique style. I knew he was going to bring a really great voice to these tunes that I'd been writing."

    Joining Marlin and Sedelmyer in Nashville were guitarist Eli West (John Reischman, Cahalen Morrison) and bassist Clint Mullican — the latter a standing support member of Mandolin Orange.

    The winking title of the album refers to John Hartford, whose classic lineups were a direct inspiration for the sound of Marlin's session. In the Fall 2001 issue of The Old Time Herald, engineer and studio designer Wes Lachot, in a collection of Hartford reminiscences, pointed out that the legendarily quirky Hartford was supposedly buried in a Batman cape that was found amidst his clothes.

    That humor shines through in Marlin's debut disc, especially in song titles like "Wooden Spoon Over by The Sink" "Toucan Play That Game" and "Life Without Coffee."

    The economy that makes Mandolin Orange — a duo with Emily Frantz — spare, yet hypnotic is evident on Buried in a Cape, which frequently recalls Andy Statman's landmark 1994 recording Andy's Ramble. Cape also establishes North Carolina native Marlin as a triple threat. Fans of MO (who are eagerly awaiting the February release of the group's new album, Tides of a Teardrop, its fourth for Hillsborough, North Carolina's Yep Roc Records) are well aware of Marlin's rich songcraft. Others know him from production gigs with a raft of up and coming artists like Mipso, Josh Oliver, Rachel Baiman and Kate Rhudy. Now, with Cape, Marlin joins his heroes as a mandolinist of note, and a talent for the ages.

    Michael EckAbout the author: Roots scholar and multi-instrumentalist Michael Eck is a respected songwriter; a nationally exhibited painter; and an award-winning cultural critic and freelance writer. He is also a member of Ramblin Jug Stompers, Lost Radio Rounders, Berkshire Ramblers and Good Things.

    Why an instrumental album?

    I love instrumentals. One of the ways I learned how to play mandolin was by learning old fiddle tunes. And I love Bill Monroe's instrumentals, too. He's one of the best examples of someone who can write really great vocal tunes yet understands instrumental fiddle music well enough to create all these great instrumentals on the mandolin as well. So that's something over the years that I've been really interested in trying to get better at. I had all these tunes built up that I'd been working on over the years and I was able to put together the right crew for it, so we went to Nashville and recorded it all in three days.

    Tell us a little bit about the genesis of Buried in a Cape.

    Eli, I think, was the first link in the chain. He and I love playing whenever we get together, so we would sit down whenever we could and play for hours and hours and hours. We always talked about making a record together. The same thing with Christian. Whenever he and I would run into each other at a festival, or if I was in Nashville, or if he came to North Carolina, we would just play forever. It was really important to me when I wanted to put together the crew for the record that it was people who shared a love for this music and just had a really vivacious way of playing. They had that, as did Clint. Working with Clint in Mandolin Orange, I'd gotten to know where he puts his beats and we had found a groove together.

    Three days!?

    I'm definitely a whimsical idea kind of man. I'll come up with something one day and have to get it done the next or it won't happen. I called everybody and booked the time with Sean Sullivan at The Butcher Shoppe in Nashville. We met one night, played through all the tunes, went into the studio the next day and recorded pretty much half the record. We just set up in a circle in the studio and did it all live. The second day we went in and finished tracking. On the third we mixed, so from start to finish it was done in three days.

    The Butcher Shoppe was Christian's recommendation. He had worked there before. It's very unassuming, and it's a very artist friendly space. You walk in and you feel like you can touch everything in it. It's not a very precious space. I think that lent itself to everyone feeling relaxed and comfortable.

    What do Christian and Eli and Clint bring to Buried in a Cape individually?

    That's a great question. One thing they all bring to the record is spontaneity. Eli, Christian and Clint just have so much music in them and they've played with so many different people, that they are able to kind of step back and look at what the project needs and mold what they're doing to fit it. I think that the tunes really benefited from that. I definitely benefited from that because I just brought them these skeleton tunes and was like, I want to get this John Hartford String Band feel going and all of them were like, "Cool, yeah, got it."

    What were you listening to as you were conceiving this record?

    As noted, I love John Hartford. I love his take on fiddle tunes and on the bands he put together to play those tunes. I really wanted to try and emulate that a little bit just because his records so inspired me. But also, I was listening to a lot of John Reischman. I think John has one of the coolest voices on the mandolin. It's very melodic and always super toneful and always serving the song. That's something that I can really appreciate from a songwriter's standpoint.

    With this album, since there were no words, I wanted it still to be somewhat lyrical and still convey a mood, to somewhat put you in the mindset of whatever the title ended up being. To me, Christian really gave voice to that idea. He's kind of the lead singer on this record. Of course, David Grisman is one of my biggest influences, and Mike Compton as well. So, I think somewhere between those four, hopefully I've found my own little place.

    Do you feel like there's any specific thing you've been able to pull from one of them, or all of them, that's helped define how you play?

    Yeah, Mike Compton especially. I feel like Mike Compton is great at really pushing a band, driving a band, when he's just chopping or playing rhythm. But somehow, he doesn't drop rhythm when he goes to take a solo. He's always conscious of the two beat and that's something I really strive for because I started off as a rhythm guitar player and songwriter. When I moved to the mandolin, it was hard for me to step away from that rhythm role, so when I first heard Compton, I really latched onto his playing because I just loved his rhythmic approach to playing melodies. With the title track, in particular, I really wanted to get across that Hartford Stringband feel, and try to do my best Compton impersonation.

    And what prompted that move to mandolin?

    There's a duo record, with Tony Rice and Ricky Skaggs (Skaggs & Rice, 1980, Sugar Hill). A buddy of mine turned me on to that record. He was like, "Man, if you've never heard this, you've gotta hear it." Skaggs' playing on that record to me was just perfect. It's mainly lots of turnarounds and double stops, but I just loved how melodic it was, and how much it serves each of those songs, and the tone of it. It was like a magnet to my ear. It was like, 'Man, I want that, I want to be able to do that.' That was, I guess, about 10 years ago. And from there on, I've just been trying to figure that out.

    Andrew Marlin
    Photo credit: Connor Burchett

    You obviously love fiddle tunes, do you play violin?

    I wish! That's such a beast of an instrument. I don't know how people do that. Emily is a great fiddler and I've learned a lot of tunes from her, and also how to play backup. She's really good at playing backup and staying out of the way of what the lyrics are doing, and what everybody else is doing. Having that so close by is a really nice teacher.

    This is a difficult question, but can you describe your mandolin style?

    Well, too loud sometimes. I feel like I play too hard a lot of the time. I feel like there's usually a lot of space in my mandolin playing and a lot of double stops and a lot of tremoloing. That's something that I'm always working on — different ways to express myself melodically through double stops and tremoloing. That can be such a powerful thing. You can almost treat it like an organ. Put a little reverb on there, and it's like you've flipped the switch on a Leslie. You can have that fast, really intense sounding tremolo, or you can slow it down and get a nice almost-droning sound out of it. That's what I try to do a lot of the time with the instrument, especially in Mandolin Orange. I can emphasize or affect the energy and the mood of what's going on based on how fast or slow I'm doing those double stops.

    Andrew Marlin
    Photo credit: Ryan Case

    What does having this solo record mean for Mandolin Orange?

    Nothing, really. Instrumental records aren't all the rage these days, so I don't think we're in any fear of competing. I just had these tunes and wanted to get them out and kind of put my own stamp on the mandolin/fiddle tune world just because it's something I'm very interested in. Emily was very supportive of that and everybody on our team has been very supportive of that, too.

    Any plans of touring behind the record?

    Yeah, I think in December we're going to do some dates. Things are still getting lined up, but that's the plan right now.

    Tides of a Teardrop

    Tides of a Teardrop is the newest recording from Mandolin Orange, slated for release February 1, 2019. National Public Radio recently previewed the track "Time We Made Time."

    Tides of a Teardrop - Mandolin Orange

    What he plays

    On Buried in a Cape, Marlin played only one mandolin, a much-loved 2000 Gilchrist tone bar F5, originally constructed for Aubrey Haynie. Marlin purchased it from Tony Williamson and says, "it felt right, especially as I was trying to go for more of a Compton kind of sound."

    "The Gil just had that voice and feel to it. It's got so much low end — more than I'm used to — that I've had to change my style a little because of it. I really needed to push these tunes, and the tone of the Gil allowed for Eli to be able to take a break, with the rhythm not falling off much because it's got almost as much low end as the guitar."

    Marlin also owns two f-hole instruments, an F and an A, from legendary Pacific Northwest builder John Sullivan. All are strung with Siminoff Straight Up Strings and hit with a Wegen TF100. "It obviously makes for a cleaner tremolo, because you can do it a lot faster with that thinner pick."

    The A5 style, featured on the album's cover, and purchased from Sullivan's widow, "is one of my favorite sounding mandolins," Marlin says. "It's doesn't have all the low end that the Gil has, but it has this really, really beautiful mid-range to it that's great for fiddle tunes."

    "The cool thing about the A style," Marlin says, "is that it was actually John Sullivan's personal mandolin."

    Additional Information

    Comments 16 Comments
    1. Larry Mossman's Avatar
      Larry Mossman -
      Michael - thanks for the interview and MC for the recognition of a very talented musician.

      Andrew - I have thoroughly enjoyed your work with Emily over the years. I have seen you guys in concert several times here in the Midwest and hope you consider bringing the short tour thru Iowa City. If you want some ideas for places to play on short notice send me a PM and we can chat. What will line-up / personnel be if this tour comes together..?

      Now with regard to Buried in a Cape … I have been listening to it in regular rotation since it came out and have to say just how much I like this music. I am not surprised by the tunes given your ear for melody - but I am mightily impressed by your playing - just great. And, such a wonderful group of players you connected with for this project. Man, your description of Christian Sedelmyer is exactly what I have been thinking in listening to his playing... SO expressive and such a cool, unique style. And Eli is great - again, he has just wonderful ideas and execution on some of his leads. What really stands out - aside from the great tunes which is obviously where it has to start - is the organic and genuine feel of these recordings. Just wonderful. And as a player, I have learned a few and could see them making their way into circulation at our local session as accessible, melodic and catchy additions to any jam or band.

      My gal and I already cover quite a few of your songs ( - always acknowledged and encouraged to check out the real source..! ). It will be fun to add some of these tunes.

      Great job - thanks for the music.

      Also, it would appear that congrats are in order for another project underway in the Marlin-Frantz world..? '

      thx for the music.

      Larry Mossman
      Iowa City, IA

      p.s. I heard the Sullivan A at the Englert in Iowa City and we talked afterward. As I listened to this record I kept thinking - "wow, the Sullivan A sure sounds fantastic" and was surprised to hear it was a Gilchrist. I think I recalled that you had one... too bad you are so short on good sounding mandolins.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      I want to thank Michael Eck for another job well done with this interview. I'm thrilled to have this one in the books and equally impressed with Andrew's new album which is one of the most musically satisfying to cross my desk in awhile. Musicianship of the highest caliber, with an emphasis on "music."
    1. mtucker's Avatar
      mtucker -
      That Gil do have some girth to it and you really do it justice! Great recordings!
    1. Michael Eck's Avatar
      Michael Eck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin Cafe View Post
      I want to thank Michael Eck for another job well done with this interview. I'm thrilled to have this one in the books and equally impressed with Andrew's new album which is one of the most musically satisfying to cross my desk in awhile. Musicianship of the highest caliber, with an emphasis on "music."
      Humbled. Thank you.
    1. sgarrity's Avatar
      sgarrity -
      This recording was released without much fanfare. I saw a Facebook post about it, went to iTunes, listened to the first 5 seconds and hit the Buy button! Superior musicianship, beautiful and listenable melodies, and what tone he pulls from that Gil. One of the best instrumental recordings in recent memory.

      And wonderful interview! Interesting to hear him talk about his influences. I knew he liked Compton. I also hear some Tim O’Brien in his playing. But he’s carving out a niche of his own. The dude has some serious chops!
    1. Kevin Winn's Avatar
      Kevin Winn -
      Thanks to Michael for the great interview with my own favorite mandolin player, and for the Cafe to get it out to those who can truly appreciate Andrew's immense talents.

      Love seeing the clip with Emily playing the fiddle part on the title track. She is such a great fiddler - totally nails it and provides an interesting contrast to Christian Sedelmyer's work on the album.

      And the Gil is just perfect....
    1. Mark Seale's Avatar
      Mark Seale -
      This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite listening experiences. Just wonderfully done, it really captures the essence of playing in a group setting listening and reacting to each other dynamically and with energy.
    1. darylcrisp's Avatar
      darylcrisp -
      what an excellent interview. I need to find the music and take some slow time and listen, I've been on a hamster wheel lately.

      really enjoyed reading all about everything.

      thank you Michael E

    1. Perilous Deep's Avatar
      Perilous Deep -
      Agreed, great interview. I gave this another listen after reading the article the other day and was again very impressed. Super interesting to hear about the mandolin choice for this recording as well. I do love hearing the Sullivan A5 at shows though. See y'all at Thalia Hall in February!
    1. MK in NC's Avatar
      MK in NC -
      Here's a snippet from Andrew's performance Friday night in Carrboro.

    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      FYI, the new album from Mandolin Orange is out today: Tides of a Teardrop.
    1. MK in NC's Avatar
      MK in NC -
      It was cool to see a blurb about the new album in Billboard.

      Attachment 174965
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting today's anniversary of this interview and a really fantastic album.
    1. j. condino's Avatar
      j. condino -
      I remember playing that Sullivan A mandolin several times while hanging out and laughing in John's kitchen when we lived a few blocks from each other, when Portland was still pretty ragged and rundown and definitley NOT hipsterville. If I recall, like most builder's personal instruments, it was made from rejected parts that he didn't want to pass on to customers. John died far too soon...
    1. Tom Hart's Avatar
      Tom Hart -
      I ordered this from Andrew's website about a month ago. Does anyone know if it's unusual to wait that long for a CD? Sorry, not a streaming guy.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting the anniversary of this interview. Wow, 87K views to date.