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New Artist of the Week: RC & the Ambers

By Amanda Wicks

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It might seem strange to call RC & the Ambers a "new artist". After all, bassist and songwriter RC Edwards — of the Oklahoma-based country band Turnpike Troubadours has been playing music with singer Amber Watson for over 10 years now.

An ineffable something struck when the pair crossed paths — just as Edwards was moving into a rental house and Watson was moving out. Their side project, born out of their friendship and Edwards' downtime from Turnpike, takes a psychedelic approach to honky tonk. It's been a fun creative escape for the pair, a place to stretch the idea of country.

Now they've bottled that magic, so to speak. Their debut album Big Country is due out September 10.

Besides Edwards and Watson, the band's core members are: Justin Kay (vocals, mandolin, porch board), Nicholas Pitre (vocals, upright bass, foot tambourine) and Lance Roark (vocals, lead guitar). But several Turnpike members participated in recording Big Country. Turnpike's Hank Early produced the album, which also saw contributions from percussionist Kyle Nix and fiddler Gabriel Pearson. Vandoliers' Cory Graves added touches of horn.

Edwards and Watson spoke with Holler about the project, why an album seemed like the natural next step and what they have planned for the future.

How did you first meet and how long have you two been friends?
RC: 10 or 12 years ago, we sort of ended up living in the same house for a minute. I was moving in and Amber was moving out. Normal Street had a revolving cast of tenants and friends. It was never clear who actually lived there, even to the landlord.

Amber: I left my piano there and still had my art studio there, so naturally we started playing music together at the house. And then eventually when RC had breaks from Turnpike we started playing acoustic shows around Tahlequah.

RC: Jordan Cox played with (and probably introduced) us during all the Normal Street/ Crow Bar days back then, too. The three of us started playing around Tahlequah and Tulsa and eventually settled on the name RC & the Ambers.

Why was it “time to make a record”, as you've said?
RC: Why not? I mean we had spare time and a pile of songs between myself, Hank Early and Jonny Burke. Throw in a Bocephus cover, a song I wrote about Big Country Bryant Reeves and it’s go time. I always wanted to make a record of me and Amber singing together. We finally got it done with the help and genius of Mr. Hank Early.

Amber: I think a lot of folks know RC as the bass player from the Turnpike Troubadours who also wrote some of the songs, which is a great accomplishment in its own right. But I can’t wait for everyone to hear more sides of RC. The lyrics, the songs, the vibes he throws out there when doing his/our own thing.

What was it like working together on Big Country?
RC: A beautiful nightmare. (Next album title.)

Amber: Yeah, at times I think the three of us (Hank included) were ready to kill each other. Anyone who knows me and RC’s relationship knows we are usually having a blast or fighting no matter what we are doing.

RC: Hank Early is a great producer and somehow getting better everyday. I cannot understate the focus and musicianship he brought to this record.

What most excites you about this project?
Amber: The Horns.

RC: Finally putting our music out to the recorded world. Letting folks take something home with them that we have been doing live for years. And yeah, Corey's horns too.

What did you each listen to growing up?
Amber: 90s country and gospel music.

RC: Nirvana, Rancid, Hank Williams Jr.

Did you ever want to do something other than music?
Amber: Be a private investigator...or Walker Texas Ranger.

RC: Be a baseball player, musician, pharmacist. “Two out of three ain’t bad”, as Meatloaf says.

What’s next for this project?
RC: The Moon

Amber: I think we are playing at Neds this weekend.

Big Country is out September 10 via Bossier City Records.