This past summer, Sarah and Austin McCombie, the husband-and-wife duo who play old-time folk and bluegrass under the name Chatham Rabbits, took the ultimate leap of faith with their budding music career. The two quit their day jobs (she was a Montessori teacher; he was a financial advisor), sold their house and hit the road in an RV, taking off on a nonstop tour that stops at The Front Porch on Friday.
“We feel like we’re working harder now than we were before,” Sarah McCombie said, speaking as their Winnebago cruises their home state of North Carolina. “But we’re working towards something more exciting and life-giving to us. We’re constantly talking about how grateful we are that we get to do this and that we’re able to take advantage of this season to make it happen.”
The McCombies are perfectly situated to make a run at musical success in this less-than-usual fashion. They have no children and have money saved, and they have tapped into an Americana sound that has a vibrant fan base around the U.S. willing to support independent artists like the Chatham Rabbits. Still, it hasn’t all been painless. As they explain, much of the work that other artists get handled by others now falls squarely in their laps.
“We’re running the business all by ourselves,” McCombie said. “Booking the shows, coordinating the interviews, getting the T-shirt designs. It’s a lot of trying to juggle a lot of different things.”
The pair might have even more to juggle once its debut album is released early next year. Entitled “All I Want From You,” it was recorded in Chapel Hill with the help of producer Jerry Brown, and it’s a record that perfectly blends the couple’s musical sensibilities. The more traditional-sounding material tends to come from Sarah McCombie, who spent some years playing with the roots band the South Carolina Broadcasters. The songs that venture into poppier territory are led by Austin McCombie, a longtime fan of Americana who cut his teeth playing in rock bands.
Even at their most upbeat, the music on “All I Want” has a twinge of sadness to it, reflected in the album’s title, which was taken from the duo’s song “Holy Dirt.”
“It’s a double entendre of sorts,” said Sarah McCombie. “In one light, the phrase ‘all I want from you’ can sound dismissive and diminishing, but in another light, ‘all, I want from you’ signals a deep appetite for more. The theme that shines through each song on the record is the fundamental human desire for something, someone, or a different place entirely.”
So far, the experience of picking up stakes and living a nomadic lifestyle seems to be one that the Chatham Rabbits have taken to with ease. But, as with any dramatic upheaval like this, even one with positive goals in mind, there have been some small downsides to the experience. Mostly, according to Austin McCombie, the fact that the day-to-day operations of this musical endeavor has started to impact the creative side.
“It doesn’t really leave a lot of room to write new music,” he said. “And that’s the most important thing when you boil it all down. Doing all the business side of things can sometimes take away from that. But we try and carve out plenty of time where we can put all that stuff down and just focus on why we’re doing this.”
Robert Ham is a correspondent for The Daily Progress.