On her forthcoming LP Land of the Living, Asheville, NC artist Eleanor Underhill stretches her creative wings wide. This female-fronted, produced, and engineered album both honors and obliterates tradition with a unique and refreshing musical aesthetic. Threads of Americana, pop, R&B, and indie rock are embellished with psychedelic touches and orchestral flourishes in a work that achieves modern relevance and timeless feel. Defying easy categorization, the songs are bound together by Underhill’s emotive vocals, earnest songwriting, and adventurous production style. This challenging, beautiful, and eminently engaging record is a testament to Underhill’s keen virtuosity and longstanding commitment to craft.
Underhill grew up surrounded by music - the daughter of a balladeer who performed old English folk songs in Colonial Williamsburg. She tried her hand at a variety of instruments including piano, trombone, guitar, and ukulele before settling on the banjo, the instrument that has defined her sound. At age 14, Underhill composed her first song, and has since amassed a vast catalogue of music that has supported the creation of six albums with various musical projects. Her unique open-back banjo style, salty-blues vocals, and prolific writing ability remain a common thread.
While attending college, Underhill and Molly Rose Reed founded the heartfelt country-soul group, Underhill Rose. Their sophomore LP Something Real (2013) landed in the top 25 on six different domestic and international airplay charts, peaked at #18 on the Americana Music Association airplay chart, and remained in the Top 40 for 10 straight weeks. The band performed at Bristol Rhythm and Roots, Merlefest, LEAF, and Floydfest, while touring nationally and internationally from 2015 to present.
Amidst the success of Underhill Rose, Underhill yearned to break new ground. In 2014, Underhill formed a second musical project of all-star Asheville musicians called Eleanor Underhill & Friends that thrived on boundary pushing and genre bending. In 2017, Underhill mustered up the nerve to get her hands on the dials to record her debut solo album featuring members of ‘& Friends. After receiving a local arts grant, she dragged a modest collection of recording gear to her parent’s old mill house – replete with high ceiling and exposed beams - and started tracking. Her debut solo effort Navigate the Madness was released in October of 2018 and named a “Top 100 Album” of the year by WNCW listeners and a “Top 10 Local Release” by The Mountain Xpress.
The forthcoming album Land of the Living finds Underhill imbued with hard-won confidence and sharpened vision. “I have more experience, matured ears, and a greater desire to create music that is relevant and forward-pushing” says Underhill. Often relying on synths and keyboards instead of her typical banjo, this record stands apart from any of Underhill’s prior work.
When it came time to track the record, Underhill put out the call to her ever-expanding musical community and captured exceptional performances. Michael Libramento (Dr. Dog, Floating Action) lent his drum chops to tracks "Strange Chemistry" and "Easier than This." Jacob Rodriguez’s (Michael Buble) roving sax spirals through several tracks, while every member of local favorite, The Get Right Band, push the songs into spirited pop territories. E'lon JD lent his spirited neo-soul bass to tracks like “Run with the Wolves” and “Things Fall Apart” before joining Jonathon Scales and Bela Fleck for a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR. Christopher Chappell Pyle whaled on toms in "Bringing Down the Ghosts" before heading off to play with his legendary dad, Artimus Pyle, from Lynyrd Skynyrd. “I am thrilled to have been able to bring more of my favorite local musicians to join me.” Once again, Underhill puts her burgeoning engineering and production skills to the test.
Land of the Living is a record that speaks to the zeitgeist of today and serves as a welcome soundtrack for the new “normal." It is both an honest reflection of Underhill’s influences and taste, from Hip-Hop to New Age, and an echo of contemporary societies’ disregard of fettering labels. “My dad calls it ‘R-rated banjo music,’” laughs Underhill, “which I think is hilarious.” To stand out musically in these times, you need to swing big. There is no denying that Underhill has done just that.
As if all of the above wasn’t enough to keep a gal busy, Underhill has also won top honors at Asheville’s Songwriting Idol Contest, played on the Grammy award winning song “Mind Over Matter” by Kid-Hop artist, Agent 23 Skidoo, and was selected to perform in the Asheville All-Star Band in the summer of 2018.