Northern Vermont alt country/Americana act Maple Run Band announces sophomore LP, Used To Be The Next Big Thing (out 11/18)

Article Contributed by Baby Robot Media | Published on Sunday, September 25, 2022

There’s a lot of power in not taking yourself too seriously. On Used To Be The Next Big Thing, the sophomore LP from Northern Vermont Americana/roots-rock act Maple Run Band, vocalist/songwriter & multi-instrumentalist Trevor Crist spins yarns of lost love, shattered dreams, and lost potential with a wry wit and a tongue-in-cheek lyricism that would make John Prine proud. The stories Crist pens rarely come with happy endings, but there’s an intangible glimmer of positivity that radiates throughout the album, keeping the mood from ever getting too dour. “Nowadays it feels like you have to either be super earnest, or be a novelty act,” says Crist. “But guys like Roger Miller and Buck Owens, and John Prine nailed that middle ground. I wanted to really explore that middle ground with these stories.”
Used To Be The Next Big Thing is a ten-track collection of Americana vignettes that primarily highlight Crist’s evocative lyricism and storytelling prowess. Rather than acting as a confessional, the album serves as a work of fiction, a collection of short stories about the average everyday woes that wear us down as we progress through life, but with a playful irreverence that reinforces the idea that things just might be okay in the end. Vocalist and drummer Nicole Valcour takes the wheel on a few songs as well, with her expressive but ambiguous lyricism playing the foil to Crist’s direct storytelling style and giving the album a sense of balance.
To record their sophomore LP, Maple Run Band—comprised of Crist, Valcour, guitarist Bill Mullins, and bassist John Spencer—retreated to Crist’s home studio in Northern Vermont, hunkering down through the Winter to arrange and track the album, with Crist acting as the primary producer. The band then brought in their longtime collaborator Joe Egan to mix the album, as well as Grammy Award winning mastering engineer Emily Lazar (Beck, Haim, Foo Fighters) to put on the finishing touches. To round out the record, Crist and Valcour tapped banjo player David Kammerer and cellist Nelson Caldwell, their former bandmates in the ‘90s alt-country band Construction Joe. “Recording at home, and producing everything ourselves, is perfect for us because we have all the time in the world and a ton of freedom,” says Crist. “We’ve got the time, we’ve got the gear, and Joe [Egan] is really collaborative with us on the mixes. We knew what we wanted and how we wanted it to sound when it was complete, and we knew we had the right people for the engineering and mastering to help us get to that point.”
Used To Be The Next Big Thing follows Maple Run Band’s debut self-titled LP, released in July 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. With no option to tour in support of the album, Crist decided to take the time to branch out and experiment with new instruments and genres, which would ultimately come to shape the overall sound of their sophomore effort. “Over the lockdown portion of the pandemic, I really spent a lot of time playing the Rhodes piano and the Hammond organ,” says Crist. “Our first album was very acoustic guitar driven, but this one was really built on keyboards. We wanted to really tap into that retro-vintage country sound, but produce it almost like a 70s soft-rock album.”
Used To Be The Next Big Thing opens with its title track, a driving, jangly roots-rock ripper about a Nashville musician on the brink of success that never comes, an expertly woven tale of the tragedy that occurs when the commodification of art takes the place of expression. From there, the record moves to the stripped-down acoustic country ballad “Loretta,” a eulogy for a lost companion inspired by The Louvin Brothers and Billy Joe Shaver that showcases Crist’s ability to blend genuine emotional expression with clever witticisms.
Elsewhere on the album, such as on the honky-tonk piano-led “Tears of a Fool,” Crist channels artists like Ray Price and Roger Miller to create a classic country barroom shuffle about regret and self-loathing. Occasionally, Maple Run Band do wade into the pool of sincerity, like on the album’s sweeping, seven and a half minute long closer, “Sunny Day,” which finds Crist singing in earnest about the need for support through dark days and belief in a brighter future. “‘Sunny Day’ was the quintessential pandemic song,” says Crist. “I literally wrote it to make myself feel better and to be like, ‘This shit is going to be over someday…right?’ But even with that, I wanted to write it more from the perspective of a character, not just my own perspective.”
Much of Used To Be The Next Big Thing is buoyed by Crist’s ability to create three-dimensional characters and rich, emotional narratives in just a few words. Each song stands on its own as a narrative poem, rather than as a chapter in a novel, and the characters in each are developed to help explore different perspectives and experiences through fiction. “Most of the songwriters that influence me typically aren’t confessional,” says Crist. “So as a result, I’m almost never the protagonist of my writing. I always try to find the voice of the character and let them speak in the song. Our last album had a number of storytelling songs but that were based on actual experiences or places that I’d been, but for this one I wanted to push it to be pure fiction.”
In the years since Crist and Valcour stepped away from Construction Joe, they’ve continued to hone their craft, pushing their songwriting to new heights and, with Used To Be The Next Big Thing, setting up Maple Run Band to be the next big thing once again.