North Carolina is a place so identifiable by its separate regions – the mountains, the piedmont, the coast – that it has the tendency to feel indescribable, meaning one can conceptualize the state as a mashup of places rather than a single locale. The art and artists born from the state often embody that same sense of blended regions, borrowing from broad cultural traditions and plumbing the histories of others’ stories on the way to telling their own. Because of this, many North Carolina artists can call a particular region home, but their work belongs to the state because the entirety of the state has opened itself to them and they have opened themselves to it. Chatham Rabbits exemplify North Carolina’s tradition of producing artists who embrace the state’s many cultural resources and diverse musical traditions.
In their marriage and in their music, Chatham Rabbits’ Austin and Sarah McCombie also blend their own histories into a shared musical experience. Sarah first took the stage as part of a trio known as the South Carolina Broadcasters, a band that harkened back to the old days of the Grand Ole Opry and AM radio country classics. Meanwhile, Austin played keyboards and guitar for an electronic band called DASH. Given these histories, how would Chatham Rabbits describe their musical marriage?
“We’re not purists,” Austin says.“
And we’re certainly not the hippest,” Sarah adds.
“But we’ve been able to belong nowhere and everywhere at the same time,” Sarah says, and I would have to agree.
The first time I saw Chatham Rabbits play live they were opening for the Steep Canyon Rangers at an outdoor amphitheater in Wilmington, North Carolina. As Austin and Sarah kicked off their set, I was both mystified and confused by what I was seeing. How could two young people so perfectly embody the sound and feeling of old-time music? How could two people so well versed in old-time music recast it in a way that felt new and fresh? As soon as the show was over, I worked my way backstage, hoping to meet Austin or Sarah or both. But they weren’t back there. They were out front, mingling with the audience, signing copies of their new record, and hearing stories from new fans and sharing stories of their own.
That’s how their music feels: immediate, personal, available. With their first album, 2018’s All I Want from You, Chatham Rabbits shared the many stories they’d heard over their years growing up in North Carolina. With The Yoke Is Easy, the Burden Is Full, they’re sharing their own stories. They’re not purists. They’re not hip. They’re more than that: they’re North Carolina musicians, meaning they belong nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
— Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Ballad