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SoundCheck: Drifters Mile Drifts Into A New Sound

Courtesy of Drifters Mile

It’s been over four years since we’ve heard Drifters Mile on the KSMU airwaves. Turns out, a lot can change with a band in four years.  I sat down with Deakin Mooney and Jake Norman to find out how the band and their sound has shifted away from bluegrass and more into the country rock world in these last few years.

Norman gives a great summary of it:

“Well, we pretty much lost our bassist at the time and it was hard to find someone to play an upright. And then Deakin here came one day and was just like, ‘Why don’t we just add an electric bassists and drums?’ Start being more like a…I guess originally the idea was to go country-ish, but now it’s more like country rock with some bluegrass. We have a hard time putting our finger on what exactly it is we do now.”

And they found some big names to fill those positions. They got Tony Johnson, the original bass player for Speakeasy, and Springfield legend Chris Appleby, whose resume includes Honky Tonky Chateau, the Dark Alleys and the Garbonzos.

When Drifters Mile decided to add electric bass and drums, it resulted in not only the addition of these two musicians, everyone else in the band switched up what they were doing, lending to an even more dramatic sound shift.

Mooney moved from just playing banjo to playing keys and electric banjo.

“So when the whole COVID shutdown happened, I got myself a piano and learned over that year,” said Mooney.

“Had you ever played before?” I asked.

“That was my first instrument when I was nine,” he said.

“So this is like getting back to your roots,” I said.

“But yeah, I’m dyslexic, so the piano to me when I was kid was very impossible. But I still had a little of knowledge, so I just got myself a little Roland keyboard and learned how to play,” he said.

They had mandolin player Dave Dewitt take up acoustic guitar.

“We were like, get an acoustic guitar. You’re going to play acoustic guitar and mandolin. And he was like, ‘Oh yeah,’ because he’s originally a guitar player anyway. We made him start playing the mandolin,” said Mooney.

“We just saw pictures of him playing mandolin and were like, ‘You play mandolin, right?” said Norman.

And Jake Norman made the switch from acoustic guitar to electric guitar. The result?

“It’s very rock n roll,” said Mooney.

“I mean there’s times that yeah, yes. We even joking a couple weeks ago about naming our next album, what was it, The Arena Years,” said Norman.

“Because there’s a lot of like super lighter-in-the-air songs that we’ve written in this next one,” said Mooney.

“Like some rock anthems?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” said Mooney.

“Once Deakin started playing piano more and writing on the piano, it kind of turned it more into that direction, too, because they’re, I mean they’re piano songs instead of banjo songs,” said Norman. “I was saying just the other day after playing up at Piney River that, like, even these past couple years when we’ve had Chris and everything, we were almost just like a bluegrass band that brought in a drummer. And these past like six months or so, were really, our sound has really developed more as a band.”

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.
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