Marrying a myriad of influences within the country/bluegrass/folk realm, Nashville-based quintet Boy Named Banjo sets an energetic pace for their forthcoming major-label debut with a hypnotic roots-rock track “Circles.” Tinged with a native Nashville twang, the group —comprising of Barton Davies, William Reames, Willard Logan, Sam McCullough, and Ford Garrard—is of an unmistakable country lineage.
Released July 16 via Mercury Records (Universal Music Nashville), the leadoff tune dates back to 2018. Reames wrote “Circles” with Jon Sherwood—with whom he has a standing bi-weekly co-write—and the band’s producer Oscar Charles.
“Barton and I write a ton with those dudes. Oscar is great with titles, and when we got to the room that day, he said, ‘I’ve always wanted to write a song called ‘Circles.’ Once we nailed down the main riff, we tried to figure out what ‘Circles’ meant to us,” Reames recalls in a recent Zoom interview with American Songwriter. Tuning in from their tour bus, Reames and his four bandmates shift closer together to squeeze into the frame.
He continues, “Everybody out there knows someone who is in a relationship that they shouldn’t be in, and it’s just this brutal cycle. So we played off of that idea.”
The two founding members of the genre-bending band, Reames and Logan, grew up a mile down the road from each other in Nashville. Together, they picked up the guitar early— taking lessons from the same teacher and playing in their middle school band.
Bonding over musical kinship, Reames paired up a banjo player, Davies. By 16, the two began writing and performing songs of their own. To form a band, Reames called upon his childhood friend, Logan, to play mandolin in what became the start of Boy Named Banjo.
With a brand-new name and a handful of original songs, the trio recorded The Tanglewood Sessions, giving fans an inside look into the lives of the young outfit and receiving unexpected praise. In 2013, Boy Named Banjo invited drummer McCullough to join before recording the follow-up LP Long Story Short in 2014. The band earned a spot in their first major music festival, performing at Bonnaroo in 2015. Shortly after releasing their Lost on Main EP in 2016, Boy Named Banjo found its missing piece, bass guitarist Ford Garrard.
As well-oiled road warriors, Boy Named Banjo carved out space for themselves as a band within a solo-artist-dominated industry. A 2018 single release, “Feel For You,” followed by “Emotions” in 2019, saw the band pioneering a post-modern soundscape within their roots-based musical influence.
“Circles” is their first track released since signing a deal with Mercury Records Nashville in April 2020. The single belongs to a batch of songs the band has been crafting since 2018 —independent artists hunting for a label. Then, of course, their trajectory was stunted by the pandemic.
“So here we are in 2021, just now getting our first song out,” Reames says, laughing. “It took a while, but the good news is we had time to play the songs out on the road to see how our fans like them. And that allowed us to go back to those in the mixing and mastering process and add things here and there we thought it needed. To live with the songs that long before releasing them was helpful.”
Their forthcoming release is a set of songs that they sat on for a year before COVID struck. Remixed and mastered, the new project is a three-year-old framework embellished with exciting elements to reflect their artistic evolution during that time.
“When we were looking through this batch of songs, it was mainly ‘What’s going to get people’s attention in the first 20 seconds of the song?'” says Davies. “Sadly, I feel like that plays a big role. Because if you’ve never heard of a band and they pop up on your screen, and you don’t like the first 20 seconds, you’ll probably skip.”
Lyrically, the band maintains the vulnerability of those heartbroken teenagers navigating an unclear path nearly a decade ago. But as they’ve grown in numbers, Boy Named Banjo continues to push their sonic bounds to make space for each member.
“Circles” presents the ubiquitous banjo, masterfully blended with Logan’s lead riff to create something they jokingly describe as “Kings of Leon on a tractor.”
“Our mindset was, ‘How do we showcase the band in the best way?’ Because this is the first music we will release as a five-piece, though we’ve actually been in this group for five or six years now. We can make singer-songwriter music all day like we used to, but that’s not exciting to us anymore,” says Davies.
The band concludes, “There are not a lot of bands in country music right now, so we are able to ride the line of what other bands are trying to do by taking it into the country fringe. We’re between many genres, so you’ll hear lots of different flavors on the EP. We wanted to give a little something for everyone to see what sticks.”