Lightning Underground: Sterling Waite Talks New Reedy River String Band EP

From the very start of Reedy River String Band’s self-titled EP, the Greenville, South Carolina Newgrass outfit presents a deeply sincere and at times humorous look at the world through the lens of three-part harmony, authenticity, and gospel sung from porch swings.

The first two tracks, “Up on Blocks” and “Hoedown” set a rowdy pace propelled by rich, warm, bass, mandolin, and guitar that conjure images of barn dances and bluegrass festivals. The band delightfully shows their depth and dynamic as musicians and writers when speed and feel are taken back slightly on easy-going, yet introspective songs like guitarist Rush Morgan’s “Airplane” and the yearning ballad lead by Sterling Waite, “Coming Home”.

The EP concludes with the contemplative “Gospel Song” depicting a woebegone destroyed by his own vices, caught in the crossroads of the church and the barroom. It’s a superb harmony that’s lonesome while hinting at salvation when the Reedy River boys sing, “In your head, there’s an old gospel song that your mama sang on the porch swing as you died with the radio on.”

The power trio of Sterling Waite, Mark Dye, and Rush Morgan have truly set a mark for string band music.

MM- First of all, I am in love with the EP! The songs are super clever, arranged perfectly, and just a good time all the way through! Was it as much fun writing them as they come across to the listener? 

SW- Well, yeah! With the Reedy River String Band, it’s actually so fun because we’re all songwriters and all lead singers. So on that EP Rush wrote and sang “Air Planes” and Mark and I wrote and sang “Lightning Underground”! The rest of the songs I wrote either on my own or with  Andy Frazier who used to live in Macon and we wrote probably a half a dozen or so songs together back when I was doing the Cotton Avenue Hustlers. Several of those songs were released with that band, but we recently went back and grabbed a few and revamped them for this project. Songs like “Up on Blocks”, [Frazier] wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music. 

That song is genius by the way

(Laughs) Thanks! We had a lot of fun writing that song. We wrote that one and “Gospel Songs”. Those are the two from that time that made it on this EP.  

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about you in previous articles, about your musical projects in the past and I see that you’ve been in all sorts of different bands ranging from funk to Americana. So this new EP leaning into old-time/string band doesn’t necessarily seem out of place, but I would love to know where it came from! 

Well, in 2009 and 2010 I had a band in Macon called the Cotton Avenue Hustlers and we played a good bit of old-timey stuff, but around that time I saw Old Crow Medicine Show when they came through Macon and was just blown away. I had taken a few years of violin lessons as a kid but had pretty much given it up, but when I saw that show, Ketch Secor blowing it up on the fiddle it was so impressive. It had been ten years since I had played the fiddle, but I decided to pick it back up and I basically had to learn anew. That’s kind of where it began when I picked up the fiddle again.

Well, we are all better off since you decided to pick the fiddle back up! In addition to the incredible musicianship on the EP, I really love the playful feel of the songs and your great interpretation of images of Southern culture. Was that a goal in putting this together? 

With three different songwriters, there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen; but with my songs like “Hoedown”, I was definitely going for the “let’s have a good time, let’s have a party feel.” I guess that was my own lighthearted view of things that are thought of as Southern. But really when I wrote that song it was because we had decided to start this string band, and it was one of my attempts to start writing for that sort of genre. But also, when we play live we do sort of get jammy with some of our instrumentals and things. That lends itself to the feel too.  It’s always interesting to see people’s faces and they’re usually all along for the ride but it’s fun to go back and forth from that back to the high speed of the string band music. 

From left to right: Mark Dye, Sterling Waite, and Rush Morgan.

When it came to the producing and recording, did you guys do it yourselves, or where did you go for that? 

We got Andrew Crawford to record us at his place. He is a phenomenal flat picker, and he’s had several songs hit the bluegrass charts. He’s pretty much the fourth member of the band. He’s even played guitar for the band once at a gig before we got Rush. Crawford produced the EP and has always been a very integral part of the band. 

Well, I love the EP. I think it’s going to do very well for the band, and I guess my last question before we finish is… Who is playing clawhammer banjo on a couple of the songs? I ask because I’m reasonably obsessed with old-time banjo playing and it’s fantastic on the record!

Ah, man thanks a lot! It’s me playing the banjo. I play it on a few of our songs and when we play live, I switch back and forth between the banjo, the mandolin, and the fiddle.

The new Reedy River String Band EP is available now on all your favorite digital platforms!

Matt McMillan is a poet and singer/songwriter from Rochelle, Georgia. He has a degree in Political Science and attended law school until deciding to fully devote himself to writing in 2020. McMillan has played his songs across the southeastern U.S. and hopes to continue pursuing music and poetry for as long as it keeps coming out. He currently lives in Macon, Georgia.