At Work: Andrew Marlin

Raffaela Kenny-Cincotta on June 14, 2021
At Work: Andrew Marlin

“Over the past decade, I’ve been diving more and more into my mandolin playing and more into writing instrumental music,” Andrew Marlin explains, comparing his work as one half of folk chart-toppers Mandolin Orange to his more introspective solo material. “Mandolin Orange is so lyrical. I often wasn’t getting to do what I thought I needed to do onstage, which is just focus on playing music. I was having to remember all these lyrics, and then also talk to the crowd. But putting out these two records has also changed the way that I look at what we’re doing as Mandolin Orange. And, once we can tour again, I’ll feel that freedom a little more. I feel like I’m a stronger player.”

As he notes, Marlin dropped not one, but two instrumental albums in early 2021—Witching Hour followed by Fable & Fire. (Marlin recorded the former LP in June 2020 while he laid down the latter set this past December.)

Sitting in his Chapel Hill, N.C. home, Marlin explains that the “vibrant” Witching Hour sessions focused mostly on pre-pandemic material. “Everybody in the band had been missing playing with their friends so you can kind of hear the excitement in the songs,” he recalls. Witching Hour also acted as Marlin’s goodbye to The Butcher Shoppe studio in Nashville, a historic room—co-founded by John Prine—that is now set to be turned into condos. “It definitely felt like the last hurrah,” recalls Marlin, who also recorded his first instrumental LP, Buried in a Cape there. “It’s so sad that a place like that can be bought out and destroyed because it’s got a lot of history, and there have been some really magical sounds made in that room.”

Fable & Fire serves as Marlin’s “pandemic” release, with album-opener “Stormy Point” setting the LP’s tone right off the bat. “It feels like you’re wading into the shadows,” he explains. “And then it keeps getting heavier and heavier until there is a little bit of a reprieve. It just picks you up and takes you to this place where you are learning to live with it.” That concept led Marlin to consider how he and his family are making the best out of a difficult year. The quarantine brought Mandolin Orange’s “12 years of nonstop traveling” to an unexpected halt, allowing Marlin and his bandmate/wife Emily Frantz the chance to explore “a whole different side of living.” Marlin observes that while the band has been “zapped of these extreme highs and extreme lows, everything is so steady right now with being in the same place every day. It’s wild. You kind of have to create your own energy and learn how to do that.” Marlin has learned to accept his new normal, allowing him to spend more with his family and practice his mandolin. Yet, the musician’s yearning for his audience remains: “I don’t even need a whole room. Even if I could just play for two people, it would be incredible.”