In the annals of American music history there is a recurring trend that appears across all genres, regions and creeds: the music reflects the culture. Be it 1920s old-time, 1960s psychedelic or 2010s hip-hop, the music of America often represents and illuminates the realities of its citizens. In particular, Americana music has long been a diary of sorts for the collective consciousness of a certain kind of American. This ‘Americana American’ comes in many shapes and sizes, yet a longing for genuineness and an attachment to community seems to be instilled in all of them, and thus in the music.
One band that serves as a phenomenal example of this is Rookin, whose member’s hail from all over the country and whose music is a celebration of the American music ethos. On June 5th, the band put out a new single “Southern Lights” which showcases their signature sound of blending electronic and acoustic elements into Americana music. The single comes ahead of Rookin’s sophomore album, Infinite Georgia, due later this year.
“I’ve been away from my home state of Kentucky for most of the last decade,” vocalist Adam Horn told American Songwriter. “I get a little more nostalgic for home every day, but this song tries to push past that nostalgia to tap into what I think I was, and really still am, longing for: deep commitment to a specific place, people and community. That’s a feeling I think that, in a lot of subtle ways, we’re all taught to sacrifice, in the north and south and everywhere in between. It’s always a little awkward, a bit of a risk, to voice it. The song’s main character is certainly a little rough around the edges, more than a little awkward and sloppy, but at least he can say what he wants. Hopefully, the song speaks to that longing in its own small way.”
As Horn outlines, the song is a beautiful appeal to those who long for that sense of community — a feeling which seems to be rising in popularity for a younger generation of Americans who are becoming more and more alienated from the commercialized world around them. Musically, “Southern Lights” is also an effortless demonstration of the ever-changing sounds of American folk. Rookin layers synthesizers, acoustic guitars and pedal steels together so seamlessly that the electronics feel as at home in the ensemble as a banjo in a Bluegrass band.
“We wanted it to feel swampy, and a bit menacing,” guitarist and keyboardist Ben Naddaff-Hafrey said. “We hit on the synth bassline when Ethan Schneider [Rookin’s drummer], Adam and I were preparing for an acoustic gig and we had to loop a few parts. The gig was in Virginia, and our Jeep broke down in Maryland so we never actually performed this version of the song, but we knew we wanted to record it that way. This arrangement coalesced around that sound — the goal was to conjure a wide spectrum, cinematic ‘80s quality with the synthesizers especially.”
Touching on how the lyrics tie into that cinematic quality, Horn added that “the palette we were working with was: a surrealist naturalism, a landscape of snowfall and southern heat somewhere ‘on the edge of the Carolinas.’ Other lines are more personal: ‘I was scared that New York City would get to you,’ for instance — as a Kentuckian-turned-New-Yorker myself, that’s just one of my deepest fears.”
Listen to Rookin’s new single, “Southern Lights” below: