Heavy electric guitars riffs and vocals with a slight twang often come to mind when one hears the phrase “Southern fried rock.”
It’s these visions The Huffington Post called upon when the publication used that descriptor to categorize former Charlottesville outfit the Will Overman Band in 2016.
“I think it perfectly described us at the time,” says Overman, who plays a set during the first day of Rock the Ridge on Saturday. “However, the music I’m creating today is a little more subtle, a little less rock, but probably just as Southern.”
A lot’s changed for Overman since that first record.
He and his band called it quits in 2017. The singer-songwriter progressed from rock to a more Americana sound. He also graduated from the University of Virginia around the same time.
These events, and the complicated emotions that accompanied them, became the backbone for his solo EP “Crossroads,” which he released that same year.
“‘Crossroads’ is an apt title for Will Overman’s new solo EP as he moves away from the full band lineup that has generated a devout following over the past three years,” Craig Graziano wrote in his January 2018 album roundup for Whurk Magazine. “The decision allows him to focus on personal storytelling, regaled with a honey dripped alt-country demeanor that recalls both James Taylor and Jackson Browne.”
Although he’s left the rocker behind, one thing Overman hasn’t let go of is the innate Southern-ness he imbues in his songs.
“I love my roots and will always strive to write from and of them,” says the singer-songwriter in an interview with The Burg. “So many great songs express complicated themes, and the South is about as complicated a place as one can find. Therefore, for its pros and cons, I find something beautifully human about the South that goes hand in hand with songwriting.”
Before he plays at Valley Road, Overman talked about his love of the commonwealth, the relationship between melody and lyrics and whether or not he’s still at a crossroad.
You’ve written a lot about Virginia over the years. What about the commonwealth continues to inspire you?
“Virginia is home and like most folks I have a deep pride for the place that reared me. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some beautiful places and meet some incredible people, but Virginia has always held her own. From the coast where I grew up to the rolling Piedmont to the Blue Ridge, from the people to the culture, it’s got what I need.”
Which is most important to you, music or lyrics, and why?
“I’d like to say lyrics are most important to me, and I guess they are, but at the end of the day if write the best songs ever known to man and back it with an absolute garbage melody, nothing will shine through. My favorite artists, people like Jason Isbell and Ruston Kelly, are able to use melody and lyrics to boost one another. A good lyric becomes a great lyric if it’s delivered correctly.”
In what way has your music changed since you headed out on your own?
“I think my music has become more introspective and a little quieter since setting off on my own. I play a lot of solo gigs these days and that’s made me think about songwriting in a much different way than when I was with a full band constantly. Overall, I think my writing is more realized and definitive of my sound.”
You released a solo EP, “Crossroads,” in 2017. What is the story on that album?
“‘Crossroads’ was a stepping off point. I was at a crossroads in so many areas of my life. I had just finished college and was confronted with the cold, hard reality of, ‘How the hell am I going to make a living playing music?’ I had just lost my band, so to speak, and my fiancée (girlfriend at the time) and I were about to go work throughout Europe for six months. Everything was changing and I was trying to see what was important and what I could leave behind. That’s what ‘Crossroads’ is about.”
I found there to be a certain melancholy in most of these songs that I hadn’t heard on WOB’s albums.
“Melancholy, such a great word. Yeah, I think the tone of my solo recordings is much heavier than that of the band. When WOB was together I was writing with frat parties in mind; now I’m not. I’m writing just how I want to write without the pressure of, ‘Where’s the band going to come in, where’s the big hit,’ etc. I also think I’m just in a different place in my life. I’m 25, and it’s no secret your 20s are weird as hell. The naiveté in some of the WOB recordings isn’t there anymore and that’s only natural as someone grows.”
Your EP came out two years ago. Are you working on anything new?
“New music is on the way. I’m actually stepping into the studio ... to begin recording my next full album. Some of these songs I’ve been finalizing for years, cutting their teeth live so to speak, and others I wrote last week. The writing process for this album is indicative of my life right now with my fiancée and I’s wedding coming up in September. Like my older songs, we’ve been together for seven-plus years, but like the newer ones, it’s a scramble to get everything ready for one date. So, to that point ... the wedding and marriage in general will be major themes on this record.”
Do you still think of yourself as at a crossroads?
“Hmm, well, I think I’ll always be at a crossroads because life is a constant choice. But, I am much more confident in who I am and the path I am taking than I was a couple years ago, and that feels [expletive] good. “
Emma Schkloven covers arts and entertainment for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5489, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @byEmmaSchkloven.