Growing up in Nelson County, Virginia, a small town along the Blue Ridge Mountains, Koda Kerl and Marie Borgman met each other in elementary school. Little did they know then that one day they would be touring with each other as a musical duo. While both considered the duo as a side project in the beginning, they eventually decided that it was time to sit down, formulate a band, and officially start making music. Marie made chamomile tea and luckily, Koda happened to bring a fifth of Evan Williams. They instantly decided that mix — of earthy tea and a strong, warm kick of bourbon — embodied the exact sound they were working toward.
In that moment, Chamomile and Whiskey was born.
The band started playing bigger venues around the nearby city of Charlottesville and eventually landed a record deal with a small, local indie label called County Line Records. In 2012, they put out a four-song debut EP titled The Barn Sessions while continuing to focus on touring. The following year, they released their first full-length album, Wandering Boots. Over the years, they added some members — Marsh Mahon on bass, drummer Stuart Gunter, lead guitarist Drew Kimball, and banjo player/supporting vocalist Ryan Lavin (commonly referred to as just Lavin). They’ve toured nationally and played along giant acts at notable festivals like Floyd Fest and Festy. And in the beginning of 2016, they started working with producer Rob Evans on their second studio album, Sweet Afton.
Chamomile and Whiskey make connections between people — they did it with their name, and they’re doing it with their new album, Sweet Afton. Lavin, who was raised in Galway, Ireland, used to smoke Sweet Aftons, the cheap, unfiltered, and now defunct brand of Irish cigarettes. Coincidentally, fiddle player Marie grew up on Nelson County’s well-known Afton Mountain, which also happened to be the backdrop for many of the songs from the record. Between the bluegrass fiddle melodies and traditional Irish rhythms, it’s easy to hear both of these childhood connections and inspirations in Sweet Afton.
Fittingly enough, the record begins with an ode to their roots, “Nelson County”. The band loaded up a cooler of beer, invited a group their favorite local musicians, and all gathered around just a couple of mics to give the track an intimate, live recording feel. The album also features the first studio recording of “Good As It Could Be”, one of the band’s most notable songs and a fan favorite. “Lavin wrote it years ago and it’s become our ‘party anthem’ at shows. It’s got a good energy to it, it kind of personifies who we are as a band,” says lead singer and guitar player Koda. But the band isn’t afraid to dig deeper — Koda wrote the record’s first single, “Gone”, after the passing of his father, who was one of his biggest musical influences growing up. The emotional storytelling and sentimentality of the song is coupled with the perfect amount of pedal steel, which is one of the many instruments you can hear on the album; others include flute, cello, and a tin whistle.
In the past, the band has been dubbed “mountainous folk rock”, but their combination of complex rhythmic patterns, varied influence of cultural music, and multi-utilization of instruments makes them unique, yet relatable, to a number of different genres. But beyond the skill that lies within each player of Chamomile and Whiskey is the band’s ultimate goal: to genuinely engage and have fun with the audience. “We have some serious material — some songs are lighthearted, some are serious and even sad. But at the end of the day, we really try to have a good time. We’re a very energetic band and any time we have a show, we want it to be a party.” Whether you’re listening to Chamomile and Whiskey live or tapping your foot along at home, Sweet Afton is the unprecedented masterpiece where tradition and innovation meet.