In late January, I sat in a basement recording studio listening to the playback of Spuyten Duyvil’s third album, The Social Music Hour Vol. 1. Based in New York’s Hudson Valley, this six-piece band is an in-demand regional touring group that has been kicking around clubs and festivals for several years. Now, they’re beginning to push those geographical boundaries.
They are led by songwriting couple Beth Kaufman and Mark Miller on most of the vocals, though Miller also plays tenor guitar and pretty much anything else with multiples of four strings. Rounding out the lineup are Jagoda on percussion, Rik Mercaldi on guitar and lap steel, John Neidhart on bass, and Jim Meigs blowin’ the harp.
That night, as the songs played on, I tried to gather some words in my head to best describe what my toe-tapping feet were feeling. While it exceeds my personal 140-letter-limit for any album review, I’d call it a well-curated collection of traditional tunes that are infused in blues and smoked with folk. Blending both old-time acoustic and modern electric instrumentation with a consistently strong vocal performance from start to finish, it’s an Americana treasure chest.
I recently reached out to Mark and spoke not only about the band and new album, but also of the other work he and Beth do in supporting fellow musicians and the local community.
Easy Ed: What was the genesis of Spuyten Duyvil?
Mark Miller: The band started as a series of front porch old-timey jam sessions here in Yonkers. We’d fire up the BBQ, chill some beer, and invite over friends and neighbors to pick and sing. We were pretty happy with this situation. As I started to write songs, some of the regulars urged us to look for gigs, and one thing just lead to another.
I imagine some of the band members have day jobs and other responsibilities, so how would you characterize your performing opportunities?
We’re a little past the point in our lives where we can give up our apartments for a tour van, so we need to be smart about our routing. Fortunately, we are based in New York and there are literally hundreds of gigs that we can easily get to and from. That said, we are now making regular runs to Chicago and hope to do some touring in Europe this year.
I’d describe you and Beth as “connectors” on the local music scene. You present concerts at various venues, promote artists beyond your own band, and reach out to partner with other organizations such as Common Ground, Caramoor, and Clearwater.
For the last six years, Beth and I have run a monthly concert series called Urban H2O. We book touring high-energy folk, Americana, and indie pop artists. Our shows also explore the intersection between great music and great food and drink, with musical farm-to-table dinners, pig roasts, and artisan cheese tastings. We also smoke and serve our own pastrami and West Coast-style salmon at the shows. Together, this has built a unique and loyal core audience that is able to support great acts that we meet on the road who have not fully established themselves in the New York metro area. These same bands do their best to help us out as we expand our touring range.
What is the concept behind the Social Music Hour?
We have always drawn on traditional music for inspiration in our writing and included a few trad tunes in our live shows. The Social Music Hour Vol. 1 is our love letter to the roots of all American popular music. Our goal was to bring a collection of iconic folk songs to a modern audience and add some oil to the log-burning lamp that is the folk process.
That last track is one of my favorite songs on the new album, and I also wanted to feature it because of the guest vocalist. As Spuyten Duyvil was finishing recording, Mark and Beth’s daughter Dena Miller was asked to take the lead for one last track: “Make Me a Pallet.” A high school senior who is currently nail-biting the college selection boogie, she gets high marks for an exceptional version of this classic.
The Social Music Hour Vol. 1 is available to stream on Spotify, and is for sale at iTunes and Amazon. For more information about the band and upcoming shows, check out their website: http://www.spuytenduyvilmusic.com
I’m closing down this week’s Broadside with a video I can’t seem to watch often enough. It was shot at the Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan during the summer of 2012, with Spuyten Duyvil and The Stray Birds.
And this is why I love music.
This was originally published by No Depression, as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column.