Mile Twelve, the emerging Boston five-piece bluegrass band, had just finished a gig when banjo player Catherine (BB) Bowness picked up the phone. Broadly, the band’s roles are Evan Murphy on guitar and lead vocals, Nate Sabat on bass, Bronwyn Keith‐Hynes on fiddle, and David Benedict on mandolin, but all challenge themselves to contribute vocals and harmony. It’s a busy time for the group; they are about to depart on their first New Zealand and Australia tour.
For New Zealand-born Bowness, she is excited to introduce her bandmates to her country, and to bring some new bluegrass to reinvigorate the New Zealand bluegrass scene. “Nobody really knows what it is, and the people who do play bluegrass are really excited to see some other bluegrass from outside of New Zealand,” she says.
Living in America for five years has enabled her to embrace her love for American music—folk, bluegrass and Americana. The direction of Bowness’ life changed when she heard her first banjo; told the banjo was harder than the guitar and she should just stick to the guitar, the “stubborn twelve-year old” took on the challenge of its unique sounds and “illogical” playing challenges. “The way it tunes makes for a good sound, great if you’re playing the key of G, but as soon as you start playing anywhere else…”
Bowness was fortunate to be awarded the Frank Winter memorial Award when she was fifteen. This support enabled her to fund her first trip to America, which saw her witness her first professional banjo player and consolidate her decision to become a full-time banjo player. “The level here is so high,” she says, “Hearing really high level banjo players is still just amazing to me – people just love it. People breathe it and live it over here.” Meeting her bandmates — all professionally musically educated — in Boston, a space with “a recent history of good bands” and a strong bluegrass community, it was a no-brainer to get serious and start making music together.
The band is releasing their debut album Onwards in Australia on October 27. They are excited by the material, a mix of pop, progressive, and traditional bluegrass, they jokingly attribute to “short musical attention spans.” After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the young band managed to raise enough money to fly down to Nashville for eight days to record the album with producer Stephen Mougin.
The process was tough, full of fatigue, food poisoning and the trials of life brought on by the intense, constantly switched-on situation. “We’d released an EP pretty early on to sell at shows, we did it really quickly and it came out well, but there was a long time between the EP and this record, so we felt like we had a lot to prove. No one knew quite what Mile Twelve was and we finally got a chance to say that.”
When & Where: Maldon Folk Festival, Maldon – November 3 – 5
Written by Brianna Courtney Bullen