How did a high school folk band go from playing covers in Market Square to hanging out with Cruz Conteras at Rhythm N' Blooms?
Devin Badgett, Jonathan Bailey, Eli Fox and Briston Maroney still aren't quite sure.
The four high schoolers make up Subtle Clutch, and though they have hardly been playing together for a year, they are quickly making a name for themselves in Knoxville.
Jumping into their instruments while they were in middle school, each member is a multi-instrumentalist. Maroney sings and plays guitar, Bailey plays mandolin and bass, Fox plays banjo, harmonica and dobro, while Badgett plays guitar, ukulele, bass and cajon. For some of them, it was family influence and the Appalachian setting that influenced their instrument choices. However, Badgett's personal decision was more spur of the moment.
"I started on ukulele after I saw a guy eating breakfast in a hotel playing ukulele," Badgett said. "He looked really happy, he had his feet kicked up and everything, so I was like, might as well go for it. So, I learned ukulele and played a lot of Nevershoutnever! songs, and I moved onto guitar and kind of built up from there."
The band met through attending the same middle school and church, and decided to play together less than a year ago. While they now attend different high schools — Badgett even moved to Chattanooga — they have maintained their connection to release their single "Railroad" and to begin writing their first album while freshmen and sophomores in high school.
While their single is currently on rotation on WUTK, the idea of songwriting as a whole is a newly-discovered pursuit for them. They are currently halfway through writing for the album, which they hope to begin recording within the year.
"So far, I've brought the core of a song and the main idea to everybody," Maroney said. "Then, I kind of do lyrics and chords, and they do the other stuff. They're the ones who put the music together."
Typically, Subtle Clutch can be found street performing in Market Square. There, they often played covers to draw an audience in.
"It's the best business card you can have, you know?" Fox said. "It really gets your name out there."
For Maroney, covers were a way to assess each other's musical abilities, which he believes has helped the group develop its current mix of pop and rock with traditional bluegrass styles.
"It's easier for all of us to learn about each other musically, I think, when we — before we started playing originals and stuff — just kind of see where we were all at as far as what we could play, what we like to play," Maroney said. "I think that playing covers helped us discover our sound."
However, Subtle Clutch moved to a bigger stage earlier this month. The young band was invited to play Americana festival Rhythm N' Blooms where they made connections with fellow local bands Crab Apple Lane, Cereus Bright and the Black Lillies. However, while they were ecstatic about meeting some of their musical idols, such as Dom Flemons from Carolina Chocolate Drops and Willie Watson from Old Crow Medicine Show, their classmates didn't understand their enthusiasm when they told them about the encounters at school that Monday.
"With other kids our age, we're like, 'We met Dom Flemons,' and they're like, 'Who are you talking about?'" Bailey said.
While they don't have a definite genre they feel they fit in, influences such as Brett Dennen, Old Crow Medicine Show, Chris Thile and Twenty-one Pilots have swayed the group to a sound that Maroney jokingly says sounds like when "Morrissey meets your grandma."
"I think everybody brings something different to the table," Bailey said, "and when we combine all that, it's just..."
"...it just kind of happens," Fox finished. "I don't know. It's just — it's kind of Subtle Clutch."