August 21, 2012


You Need to Know: The Fervent Folk-Rock of the Apache Relay

Shannon Hall for Fuse
Shannon Hall for Fuse

Nashville's folk-rock outfit The Apache Relay—who are currently wrapping up their stint with friend-band Mumford & Sons on the Gentlemen of the Road Tour—derive their name from the least rootsy source possible: A Ben Stiller movie.

"[The name] Apache Relay actually came from this movie called Heavyweights [1995], which was Ben Stiller's breakout role," frontman Michael Ford, Jr. says. "We were six or seven when it came out. It's about a fat camp called Camp Hope, and they have this huge race at the end with these jerk-campers to see who is actually better. It was called 'the Apache Relay.' That's the inspiration. It was a joke at first but then it was like, 'Actually, it's a cool name for the band.'"

Disney and Ben Stiller aside, the influence of Bruce Springsteen weighs heaviest on their second album, American Nomad (Hot Tip: The digital version is going for just $5 at for a limited time). Think the emotional nakedness of Nebraska but amped up with the raucous energy of Arcade Fire and you have a pretty fair idea of how great this band sounds.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with Michael Ford, Jr. and learned how the Tennessee-based band befriended breakthrough British folk-rock outfit Mumford & Sons before they hit it big. 

"It was actually very random," Ford says from a roadside service station (the band's tour bus had pulled over for a break). "We were playing Telluride Bluegrass Festival—our band started out as more of an acoustic thing—and they were playing that year as well. This is before Mumford & Sons blew up. We became buddies with the Mumford guys—they have members that live in Nashville—so we were hanging out as mutual friends for a while. Really, they were just a mutual-friend band who happened to blow-up."

Despite the Mumford connection, Ford notes, "The way the music industry is now, it's hard to come by record deals. It's hard to come by tour support." So when they were short on cash and wanted to promote their album, he says they had to turn to Kickstarter! (hey, even Americana acts know how to use the Internet these days).

"We did Kickstarter because literally, we couldn't afford to do a coast-to-coast tour and we wanted to get our record out there and play our music for people," Ford says. "Kickstarter is a good way to mitigate the struggles of the music industry and just do it by yourself. Well, of course you're relying on the help of others. Not that you're mooching off of people, but you can find your own means of supporting your band [with an online fanbase]."

For a band that turned to Kickstarter to fund a cross-country tour, Apache Relay still look good posing in high-end clothing. They recently did a shoot for men's retailer Mr. Porter, which gave them a chance to indulge, if only for a moment, in the fast land. "We can't afford Mr. Porter's clothing," Ford admitts, "But the fact that we got to put on some clothes and play some songs [in them] was fun for us."

As with Apache Relay's pointed, heartfelt lyrics, Ford had an off-the-cuff candor when I spoke with him. When asked what Springsteen song the band might cover next (they turned in a lean version of "State Trooper" on American Nomad), he laughs and poses the question to his nearby bandmates. After fielding a few suggestions, he offers "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" might be "in the running." So if that comes to pass, you heard it here first.

And if you haven't heard Apache Relay yet, listen to the rambunctious "Home Is Not Places" below, and check them out with Mumford & Sons at the final Gentlemen of the Road stopover performance in Monterey, CA.