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The New Relics: Taking Country by storm

By Staff | Sep 29, 2009

The New Relics are all about movement.

The band has migrated from a rock to country sound. Its current tour is taking them from town to town and state to state. Even the lyrics speak of transition and mobility – more specifically, the kind that comes with a fast car.

The New Relic’s first single – “Beautiful” — off their first country album — “Monongalia” — has a ‘65 Mustang as its centerpiece. The song “Shotgun” — and when the band talks about the album moving from country to rock, “Shotgun” would be the rock part — involves a jeep.

“We never really noticed it until we got all the songs together,” lead vocalist Mike Arbogast said about the automotive aspect to the songwriting. “It was never intentional, but it’s a neat theme.”

The upbeat “Beautiful” is about a girl who must live it up and the guy who wants her to stay.

“I love you, baby / But you gotta go paint the town.”

At first listen, it’s a happy song, especially with lyrics such as, “I don’t know where you got those ribbons in your hair / But you know me, I just can’t help but stare.” But maybe “Beautiful” has an undercurrent of unrest.

“It’s a happy song, and there is conflict,” said bassist Josh Swiger. “She is a free spirit. He just fancies her but never really gets to see the everyday life – only the public face.”

And whether she’s driving the streets of downtown Morgantown — home of the New Relics – or on dirt roads is left for the listener to decide.

“We see it as small-town USA,” Arbogast said. “You drive 5 minutes out of any city in West Virginia, and you’re in the woods. That is kind of our view on life.”

That’s why “Monongalia” — namesake of the county containing Morgantown — is a fitting title for the album.

“We struggled with a good title that was not cliche,” Swiger said. “We saw one of those white West Virginia historical markers on the Monongalia County line. We thought about the songs and what they were about and realized the songs were about home.”

The New Relics formed nine years ago, and as they logged more and more miles on the road, its sound began drifting toward country as the genre shifted toward more contemporary thinking. In 2007, the song “Picture” hit radio stations in 30 markets nationwide, and Clear Channel Radio called the New Relics one of the Top 100 New Artists of the year.

The band released “Monongalia” in June and plans to release “Beautiful” to country radio next month, appearing live on Morgantown’s WKKW Sept. 7 to debut the lead single. They also will be shooting a music video for “Beautiful” in September.

“We think that it will fit well (on country radio),” said Swiger about the single. “Everyone in country radio has said, ‘this is something fresh and unique.’ They have all been positive but more excited about the new sound.”

Think Pat McGee Band, Keith Urban, Sister Hazel or Pat Green with a north central twist.

“Radio people all love the fact that the song is nothing like anything that they have gotten from other artists. It helps us stand out.”

The New Relics hope to also stand out as positive ambassadors for West Virginia.

“We want to break the stereotypes of West Virginia,” Swiger said. “Brad Paisley and Kathy Mattea are good representatives of West Virginia, and we want to join that class. We want people to see more of West Virginia through our eyes.”

That has been a problem for West Virginians, of course, as the Relics have built a strong fanbase inside the state’s borders.

“We have noticed the further south we go, the better the fan response,” Arbogast said. “Building up a fanbase happens because of radio. Social networking helps a lot. But radio is the key to the larger arena. The fun thing about Charleston, for example, and Morgantown is that so many people have been through Morgantown, they heard us while they were in college.”

And now, as they tour throughout Maryland, Delaware, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and beyond, Monongalia will be traveling with them – maybe in a ‘65 Mustang with the ragtop down.

Contact Danny at letters@graffitiwv.com