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Gold light: Mallett Brothers Band rolls into WNC

Mallett Brothers Band will play Asheville April 17. Donated photo Mallett Brothers Band will play Asheville April 17. Donated photo

It was about 15 years ago when Will Mallett cruised into Portland, Maine, and ended up crashing on the couch of his brother, Luke, and his roommate, Nick Leen — all in an honest, perhaps curious effort to see what the future held for the 20-something fresh out of college. 

“[Nick and I] were in other bands together and had already spent a few years coming up in the Portland music scene,” Luke said. “We all knew each other, we had all played shows together or shared stages in the past, and it didn’t take long to get a lineup together that we knew would bring the first couple of songs to life.” 

Like any musical act with raw talent and a captivating stage presence, there were — at least initially — no expectations in what has come to pass as The Mallett Brothers Band. Back then, the only rules were (and remain) to go out there in front of the microphone, play your damn heart out and just have fun purely for the hell of it — chase after the unknowns of tonight that could parlay into the fruits of tomorrow and thereafter.

“My brother [and I] had grown up in the music business and always looked at it as something attainable and real,” Luke said. “The momentum seemed to pick up very quickly, and our hopes of getting a couple bar gigs quickly turned into something more. The songs kept coming, and the fan base kept growing — within a few years we were able to turn this into a full-time endeavor.” 

With Luke and Will on vocals/guitars and Leen playing bass, the group rounded itself out with multi-instrumentalist Andrew Martelle and drummer Brian Higgins.

“The music scene here in Maine was the most welcoming and supportive scene we could have hoped to get started in, and we have always attributed our ‘success’ to the Maine identity that we Mainers hold so dear,” Luke said. “Once we started touring the country and venturing into uncharted territories, we were always surprised to find people from home who were coming out to support that identity and could relate to where we were coming from.” 

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With an ethos of “driven by the words and the feelings, not the money,” the MBB eventually bubbled up into the live music circuit of Portland and greater Maine, ultimately spilling into New England, eventually down the Eastern Seaboard, soon across the country and back again.

“We’ve always counted ourselves lucky to be able to do this at any level. Our heroes were never superstars. Our heroes were the troubadours, the writers behind the scenes — the musicians’ musicians who did it their own way,” Luke said. “Tenacity is key. We’re as stubborn as they come, and we have always known what we want to do and how we want to do it. Luckily, the music has seemed to resonate with enough people in enough places that we get to continue on year after year — [we’re] always surprised and grateful for that.” 

Following the shutdown of the entire live music industry in 2020 due to the pandemic, the MBB took the time to drop down a couple of gears, to refocus and regroup itself with a renewed sense of self — one of purpose and passion that’s resided at the core of the ensemble since its inception.

“The songs come when they come, and I try to be available to capture them when they do. Some of what I think are my best songs came from the road, from the chaos of it, and some have come from down time at home,” Luke said. “There’s not always a rhyme or reason to where inspiration is going to find you, I guess. Burnout is real in this business, and I think sometimes you have to recognize that and know when to slow yourself down to avoid it.”

Luke notes that he and his brothers are seventh-generation Maine natives from Piscataquis County. That deep appreciation, respect and observation of history, geography, cultural legend and lore is something constantly sparking inspiration for new, intricate melodies from every corner of America the MBB may inhabit purposely or merely by happenstance.

“Finding that people are people no matter where you go has always been inspiring to me. Likewise, finding that Mainers are Mainers no matter where they go has also been inspiring,” Luke said. “And I’m always in awe of places I haven’t seen before, whether that’s the Rocky Mountains or the plains or the swamps, and I think being in awe of nature is something we have to hold onto as a species. I’m lucky to have seen as many places as I have — we owe a lot of our creativity to the open road because of that.”

Onstage, the MBB are a powerhouse of sonic prowess and musicality. It’s a sound and scope that runs the gamut from Americana to indie-soul, progressive jam-grass to good ole backwoods rock-n-roll — as if The Avett Brothers were raised above the Mason-Dixon Line or Bruce Springsteen grew up along the Fore River instead of the Jersey Shore.

“We owe everything to the enthusiasm of our fans and the energy that they give back to us every day. That energy makes it easy to continue on going and, ultimately, I always try to think of what we do as something that belongs to them and not to me,” Luke said. “I write for myself, but the songs will ultimately belong to [the fans]. Instead of chasing trends or trying to retrain ourselves to chase after whatever medium is newest, we just keep doing what we know and what we love, both musically and personally.” 

So, in this modern era of unrelenting digital distraction and incessant white noise, what is truly the role of the songwriter in the 21st century?

“The role of the songwriter today has started to look back towards what it used to be — the traveling minstrel, singing for your supper, calling forth characters from your travels and stories that you’ve heard along the way,” Luke said. “[It’s about] documenting the human experience in a way that no other medium can. Making people smile and dance, that’s vital I think — [and] a lot more people starting out on this path are doing it for the right reasons these days.”

Want to go?

Rising Americana/indie act The Mallett Brothers Band will perform at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, on the outdoor patio stage at The Grey Eagle in Asheville.

Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 per person. To purchase tickets, go to thegreyeagle.com. To learn more about The Mallett Brothers Band, go to mallettbrothersband.com.

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