By Caleb Calhoun
The musicians comprising the band Tellico have been distinguishing themselves around Asheville for years. It was, in fact, bassist Stig Stiglet’s and Anya Hinkle’s previous band, Dehlia Low, that first attracted mandolinist and former founding member of Town Mountain, Jed Willis, and dobro master Aaron Ballance (who also participated in the Dehlia Low project).
“In between the time I stopped with Town Mountain and started with Tellico, I didn’t listen to a lot of bluegrass,” Willis explains. “Two bands that did jump out at me though were The Steeldrivers and Dehlia Low. When I heard them on WNCW I was like, wow, these guys are awesome.”
Dehlia Low’s confident tunes and soaring harmonies were quickly embraced by audiences not only in the Southeast, but nationwide. Then, in 2012, singer, guitarist, and songwriter Anya Hinkle gave birth to a daughter.
“I had a little girl and that kind of changed our course. At that point we were on Rebel Records and had an agent and a national tour put together, and my focus really changed. Having a baby in the mix, it’s harder to do.”
After playing as a duet for a while around town with Hinkle, one day Stiglet called Willis about playing a wedding with them. Over the next few months, and with Ballance on board, they realized they had something good.
They also realized that what they shared went far beyond the stage. They all had families and in many ways similar goals. Furthermore, they were all interested in exploring new sounds and what the juxtaposition of those techniques with a baseline of bluegrass/old-time music would sound like.
They formed officially in January of 2015 and raised the money to record their first album through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Relics and Roses was released to rave reviews in July of the same year.
Meanwhile, they set to work trying to carve out a niche for themselves here in Western North Carolina.
Hinkle offers some insight into their approach, telling me: “Making it work with families and obligations we have tried to strike a balance between public and private gigs and taking advantage of the huge entertainment industry here in Asheville. As entertainers it really helps support what we do.”
Over the last year and a half, as their audience has grown and diversified, so has their sound. According to Hinkle, she can’t think of a much better place for a band to mature.
“It’s electric in Asheville,” she begins, “you know, the enthusiasm for mountain music. As an artist here I have begun to move away from a more traditional approach to it. I want to experiment with new sounds and I think Asheville is growing to a place where that is possible.”
Or as Willis puts it when we talk about bringing his telecaster into the mix at some point, “I think the long term goal is to have a more eclectic sound.”
With a new album in the works and new songs in rotation this Friday should be a chance to see some of the progression in their chemistry and willingness to incorporate new musical ideas into their bluegrass/old-time sound.
“The bottom line,” Hinkle says, “is that everyone in this band is passionate about music and interested in finding some sustainable formula so that we can keep playing. So that we can continue to be creative and explore new directions.”
Tellico plays Friday, March 17 at The Altamont Theatre. It is $12 in advance and $15 D.O.S.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.