Born and bred in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia’s Chamomile and Whiskey have spent years crafting their unique blend of mountain music, inspired equally by Celtic folk and American rock.
Despite touring for years and playing Charleston a number of times, the only time they’ve visited Savannah was when their tour van broke down. But they had a good time and have been attempting to schedule a show here for a while. They will play their Savannah debut July 14 at El-Rocko Lounge.
Guitarist and vocalist Koda Kerl and fiddle player Marie Borgman first met in elementary school. They played as a duo for a number of years. The band began to take form with the addition of songwriter and banjo player, Irishman Ryan Lavin (known simply as Lavin).
“Marie [and I] had been playing together for a while, but not as a band,” Kerl said. “Lavin was one of the first people we met, to bring into the band. He definitely brought in a different element.”
For seven years now, the band has been grinding it out on the road and in the studio. They’ve released two full-length albums. They signed with County Line Records for their debut studio offering in 2012, “The Barn Sessions.” Adding Marsh Mahon on bass, drummer Stuart Gunter, and most recently, guitarist Drew Kimball over the years has both rounded out the band and created their current dynamic.
They released their second studio album, “Sweet Afton,” last year, showcasing the dual songwriting efforts of Kerl and Lavin.
“The last record, it was one of my songs and one of Lavin’s songs and back and forth the whole way through,” Kerl said. “There are a lot of bands that I like that have multiple songwriters. You get a different perspective going on and it keeps it interesting.”
The mixture of Lavin’s often upbeat, rowdier tunes with Kerl’s chiller folk vibe forms the songwriting foundation for the band, while Borgman’s fiddle playing paints the accents. Borgman’s fiddle hooks and harmony lines act as their own voice throughout Chamomile and Whiskey’s music, drawing from both her classical training and the grittier folk traditions of the fiddle.
“She’s kind of the key," Kerl said. “She’s the one that writes a lot of the hooks. It’s nice having a different instrument. We’re mostly set up as a rock band, but she brings in this different way of writing hooks and melodies that keeps it unique.
“I am a huge Tom Petty fan,” Kerl continued. “She’s always writing these epic Mike Campbell [Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ guitarist] parts for me. Those epic little hooks and lines, that maybe aren’t the most complicated or crazy thing, but they fit in the right spot and tie the whole song together.
“It’s just cool to come up with an idea one night on your porch and later you’re playing it with a full band of talented people, and people are singing along and dancing. It’s a pretty cool experience.”
Although fitting nicely in a folk-rock/Americana compartment, Chamomile and Whiskey draw from a host of influences, which expand their sound in interesting directions.
“We’ve never really worried about the genre that we’re in,” Kerl said. “We just take all of our different things that we like and amalgamate it all together. We go through different phases, but there’s a lot of Irish musicians who have influenced us a lot — Van Morrison and The Waterboys. And a lot of songwriters, Townes Van Zandt and John Prine and Bob Dylan and all the classic songwriters, have influenced us as well. All of the music you listen to over the course of your life informs how you play music. We all came from different backgrounds and it makes it a unique blend.
“I am not one of those people who have an exact idea of what a song will sound like when I set out to write it,” Kerl continued. “That’s why I love having all of these talented people to play with because if I have an idea for the mood, I hand it over to the band and they kind of form it and make it a lot cooler and more interesting than me just doing it on the guitar by myself.”
Lavin will not be with the band for this tour. He has returned to his native Ireland. While still a part of the band, instead of filling his unique role on banjo, Kimball’s auxiliary guitar role has played an integral part in the band’s live sound.
“Lavin has something unique when it comes to writing songs and playing banjo. We had no interest in finding another banjo player when he wasn’t around,” Kerl said. “He plays it like a blues guitar, so we’ve been wanting to add a guitar anyway. It’s kind of nice, with Drew playing guitar, when Lavin comes back he can just fit back in seamlessly. It’s a drag not being able to do his songs, because we love playing them.
“As the band has evolved, we’ve been playing louder and more electrified and rocking out more as we’ve gotten older. I think it was the right time to add a shredder.”