Harmony Hop

Washington, D.C.’s South Rail brings its American soul to Club Congress

South Rail gets its harmony-filled, rootsy Americana sound from the blending of the vocal and songwriting talents of Jay Byrd and Lara Supan.

Having met when they both answered a Craigslist ad to join another band entirely, Byrd and Supan, along with drummer Ben Potok, realized they had to set out in their own direction. And though South Rail was a side project at first, it wasn't long before it became the main focus.

"We all ended up in the same room together and Jay and I found that our songs worked really well together and we liked the harmonies we were doing," Supan says. "I'm a lyricist by nature, so I get drawn to really good lyrics and that's one of the first things that hit me about Jay. He has some amazingly poetic lyrics and a great voice and a great guitar sound. I had a musical crush on him."

Recruited for a band named Crooked Tree, the Washington D.C.-area musicians started gravitating toward each other from the start. And though Byrd was a bluegrass—and country-steeped player from North Carolina and Supan had been a vocal jazz major in college, they found an easy fit.

"Once I heard Jay's stuff and realized we could tweak my stuff to sound more in the same genre, that's when our roots-rock Americana sound was born," Supan says. "We started out doing Jay's stuff. I started asking to introduce my stuff, which was more jazz-based. But when we worked the songs together, Jay was able to countrify them a bit."

With Supan on piano and vocals, Byrd on guitar and vocals, Potok on drums and now Marc Kannenberg on bass, South Rail is out on their first full U.S. tour, a crowd-sourced and crowd-funded effort that brings them right to their fans. The Tucson stop was orchestrated by Erik Rosseland.

"We didn't plan this tour route ourselves," Supan says. "Our fans picked where we would play on this tour. The whole tour is about our fans. It's about the people who cared enough to get us to come out to their city. It's a win-win because when we have people interested in bringing us out, they talk about it and bring their friends."

Also on this tour, South Rail is recording performances to make a full live album, says Supan, after finishing a radio performance in Knoxville, Tenn. The band is also scheduled to appear on KXCI in Tucson at 3:20 p.m. on Jan. 8.

"We're tying to get more material out there, which is why we're doing this live album," she says. "We have a solid three hours of original material, so the hardest part is picking which songs."

To date, South Rail has released two EPs, the first a self-titled disc recorded with friend in Annapolis and the second coming from a dream session with megastar producer Don Was in Nashville.

"The first EP was doing really well," Supan says. "We were selling a number of them at every show, so we took a tour, our first one. When we played in Nashville, Don Was was in town for the Americana music festival. He came out to see the show and was impressed by the live sound of the band, so he offered to help us out and record everything as close to live for the "Stars" EP as he could. We obviously said yes to that, flew out last November and recorded it in a weekend.

"Don is a very picky person when it comes to music and one the things he liked the most about the band is what you see is what you get. We're better live than on the CDs," she says.

Being an Americana band in D.C.—with its reputation and history as a punk-rock scene—has its challenges, Supan says, but also helps the band stand out a bit.

"It's difficult to be an Americana band in DC," she says. "We find there are a limited number of venues where we do well. But those venues we do really well. That's why touring is one of our main focuses as well, to find where we fit in. We love touring so much whenever we're able to do it."

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