It is the second week in February when I talk to Binghamton band, Driftwood. It is closer to zero degrees than to freezing, plows have created meter-high piles of snow at the edges of barely-drivable roads and the members of Driftwood are worried about getting to their next show.
The twist? The band is nowhere near the Triple Cities and its unforgiving cold snap, or in the frigid Northeast at all: They are in comparatively sunny Roanoke, Va., closing in on the first week of a five-week leg of touring their new record.
“It seems a bit silly to us, but it’s the South, so an inch of snow means everything goes on lockdown,” said Claire Byrne, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist.
These days, Driftwood has a lot more to deal with than your average winter snowstorm. The band has received rave reviews about their recently released third album — aptly entitled “Driftwood” — hired a publicist, a manager and a radio promoter, and had the video for their single “The Sun’s Going Down” featured on CMT. They played 170 shows in 2012, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
After 10 years together, the growing attention has not changed Driftwood and the band’s workhorse attitude. Its members are used to the slog of touring out of the back of a van, booking the next step as they go and never getting a moment’s rest. But the weight off their shoulders that has come with bringing on extra hands on the business end has allowed them to refocus their energy into playing for their rapidly growing fan base.
It’s easy to understand their appeal when you listen to their songs. Driftwood’s music is both intimate and familiar as well as fresh and innovative, fusing traditional Americana with contemporary influences and timeless subject matter. The band wears its roots on its sleeve, frequently alluding to the industrial backdrop of the Triple Cities as well as what Byrne calls their “upstate state of mind.”
For listeners of similar backgrounds, it is hard not to be drawn to Driftwood’s music. Song’s like “The Carburetor and the Steam Engine,” “Before I Rust” and “Cold Iron Heart” evoke the factories and machinery that crowd Broome County as they ruminate on love and longing, while songs like “High School Paycheck” and “The Working Mom’s Anthem” reminisce on restless youths and the cold realities of waking up stuck in a dead-end town. But despite the unmistakably upstate feel of their music, Driftwood has been reaching increasingly varied audiences and capturing new listeners all over the country, building on established audiences and creating new ones in new places.
“We already have an audience in upstate New York and know what to expect,” Byrne said. “Where you really notice the growth is in other places that we’ve been touring for years and have watched the crowds get bigger.”
That growth has not come easy. Being an independent band is harder than one would think.
“It’s not glamorous or easy out on the road,” Byrne said. “Today I’ve answered 45 emails, done three phone interviews and I’m helping unload the van as we speak, all before 1 p.m. We’ve still got three hours of rehearsal to do, then comes the actual show. After that I get to shower and start all over again.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of Driftwood’s story, which becomes more interesting as the band gains traction, continues to be its Binghamton origins. The region is not known for being a hub of young musicians or a place that fosters creative endeavors. It is a hard-working, industrial area, and the music scene is small but extremely passionate and tightly-knit — and one that takes community very seriously. Driftwood and other musicians from the Triple Cities and beyond are very aware of the importance they play in strengthening their communities, especially in an area as troubled and complex as Broome County.
“When you have a strong young arts scene, it’s good for the community as well as the economy as a whole,” Byrne said.
Binghamton University just adds to this complexity. For years the University has existed alongside the local community with little to no interaction between the two. Resistance from both ends has stunted potential enrichment of both the BU student body and the community of Broome County. The band laments this lack of involvement and even more so the way the students of BU often treat locals.
“I was a student at BU for three semesters before transferring [and] I was ‘a townie,’” Byrne said. “That wasn’t necessarily a positive thing.”
But if there’s any band that can help merge the local and BU communities, it’s the fast-growing Driftwood.
“It’s been like climbing a ladder one rung at a time,” Byrne said. “It’s not growth you really see as it’s happening. You only begin to notice when you look behind you.”
You can listen to Driftwood’s new album on their website driftwoodtheband.com and see the video for their song “The Sun’s Going Down” on cmt.com.