It was a Friday afternoon and Rachel Cox, singer and guitarist for bluegrass-rock band Oakley Hall, was lounging in McCarren Park.
With her band set to release its fourth album, “I’ll Follow You,” in September and go on a national tour this fall, Cox was soaking up the lazy summer while she still could. That is, when she wasn’t waiting tables to pay the bills.
“I’m not one of those lucky people with an independent income,” Cox, 37, lamented, referring to the influx of trust-funded dilettantes that Williamsburg’s rock music scene seems to attract.
And she isn’t only hustling at her day job. Since forming in 2002, Oakley Hall has worked against the odds — it isn’t easy out there for a band with a fiddle player to make it in the big city.
In 2002, Cox was living in North Carolina and happened to meet Brooklyn-based musician Pat Sullivan, who was on tour with his then band Crazee and Heaven. The two hit it off and Cox soon moved up to New York, playing subway station duets with Sullivan and joining Oakley Hall in 2004.
That same year, on the heels of the 2002 EP “Sweet & Low,” Oakley Hall released their first, eponymous album, and — despite some personnel shifts that pared them down from 10 — launched onto the rocky rock band road. Even now, the band seems to be in flux. Just this year, drummer Greg Andersen left the fold, giving his former band mates little time to find a replacement for their upcoming tour. According to Cox, the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle isn’t for everyone.
“Greg is definitely a grandpa,” she remarked dismissively, “and I’m like a kid just raring to go.”
That’s no understatement. Rocking the local club circuit endlessly, the band kept plugging away and, in an 18-month span of 2005 and 2006, released two full-length records and hit the road opening for Bright Eyes.
But how did their Southern-tinged sound go over with the finicky Bright Eyes fans? “Our sound is more edgy,” explained Cox, “we’re more of a rock band with country elements.”
Joining the current phalanx of bands who refer to themselves as “psychedelic,” Cox said her band has been influenced by pioneers like Neil Young and the Byrds, but maintained that, “we’re writing for a very contemporary audience.”
While psychedelic rock has obviously influenced the band, the bluesy sounds on the album are really what catch a listener’s ear. “I’ll Follow You,” sounds a lot more like Wilco than Iron Butterfly, and while Cox claimed to have hated country music until her stint in Winston-Salem, she sure has a convincing twang. The tracks on “I’ll Follow You” that really shine, like “All The Way Down” and “Angela,” are the ones that she and Sullivan share vocal duties on.
With a prolific few years behind them and a tour with the Clientele and Black Mountain (Canadians who are perhaps the most enthusiastic “psych” band around, they’re often accused of taking their influences a bit too seriously — let’s call it re-psych-ling) looming, it looks like Oakley Hall’s cowboy boots are planted in Brooklyn for good.
Oakley Hall’s “I’ll Follow You” will be released on Sept. 11 on Merge Records. For information, visit www.oakleyhall.net.