Meet Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange

North Carolina folk duo Mandolin Orange is composed of singer-songwriter Andrew Marlin, left, and multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz.
Kendall Bailey

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Mandolin Orange is a North Carolina folk duo, featuring singer-songwriter, mandolinist-guitarist-banjoist Andrew Marlin and vocalist-violinist-guitarist Emily Frantz.

Their sound is slow, nostalgic and warm, rich with harmony and understanding, in what’s been called “lamp glow intimacy.” They’ve released albums including “Quiet Little Room” in 2010, “Haste Make/Hard Hearted Stranger” in 2011, “This Side of Jordan” in 2013, “Such Jubilee” in 2015, “Blindfaller” in 2016 and “Tides of a Teardrop” in 2019.

Mandolin Orange takes the stage at Strings Music Festival on Tuesday, Aug. 6. Opening for the duo will be Vermont-based singer-songwriter and playwright Anais Mitchell, who’s known as “the queen of modern folk music.”

Explore Steamboat: How and when did you and Emily begin singing together?
Andrew Marlin: We met in 2009 on Obama’s Inauguration Day. Our buddies used to have a jam every Tuesday at a Tex-Mex joint. It was pouring snow, and all Emily’s classes were cancelled, so she showed up. It turned out she and I knew a bunch of the same traditional tunes, so we ended up playing a lot of songs together. That was the catalyst.

ES: How soon did you both realize that you guys were going to be a serious musical project?
AM: We started playing a bunch of bar gigs, and from there, people would ask us to play weddings. I think it was the Ocrafolk Fest in North Carolina when this guy heard us playing and asked if we wanted to play at his festival. We started touring more in North Carolina and Virginia and Savannah. It’s been a slow burn, not really a super firework moment of “hell yeah, this is it.” It’s been a slow realization that this is something we could do and grow on. 

ES: Your most recent album, “Tides of a Teardrop,” contains a lot of grief. I’m curious to hear about the experience of writing and playing these songs and how that’s been for you.
AM: This album was a long time coming; most of it is about the loss of my mom when I was 18. Sometimes, when the wound is so fresh, it’s hard to put it into perspective and how it’s affecting more than just me internally — it’s shaped so many of my relationships and just how I deal with stress and so many factors in my life. On this album, I tried to put that into perspective for myself, to get some of the frustrations out into the song and, hopefully, make more space to have memories of Mom instead of just carrying the weight of her loss. Singing these songs every night — it’s hard to go there some nights, you know? But you always feel a lot lighter at the end of the show. It’s almost like the repetition of it starts to make some sort of shift happen for me.

ES: Your “Golden Embers” music video is semi-autobiographical and incredibly moving. With the content being so personal and close to home for you, were you overseeing the parts of you and your dad re-enacted or did you have someone else take care of that? 
AM: We handed it off; the guy who’s in charge of that operation lost a parent when he was young and was really able to bring his perspective into it. It really lined up with my story; the story itself is universal. I thought he did a great job of portraying the story, getting the right actors. His use of cameras and lights and simple images captured how weighted the whole experience is.

If you go

What: Mandolin Orange at Strings Music Pavilion
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6
Where: 900 Strings Road
Tickets:, starting at $55

ES: What would you like for people to take away from listening to your music?
AM: Hopefully a sense of inner peace and patience; I think the process of how we write our songs and try to perform them is not being too flamboyant in our approach, of having it just be about the song and where the song’s coming from and allowing some space in there for the listener to breathe and not be overwhelmed with sound. That space gives you time to process. The world is just so fast and, in a lot of ways, disconnected. I hope it establishes a connection with the inner self to think about what’s actually going on, not what’s being flashed at you constantly.

ES: I noticed that you guys have all the lyrics to your songs posted on your website. I’ve never seen a music group do that before. What’s behind that decision?
AM: A lot of times, people post pictures and use our lyrics, which I think is great, but they sometimes put the wrong words. We toil over every lyric and try to find the perfect combination, where everything’s condensed in the right way, and if you miss even two or three words, it completely changes the whole meaning. So, we decided to make them available because it’s important to us, so if people want to read the lyrics they’re accessible, correctly. 

ES: What’s coming up that you guys are looking forward to? 
AM: Everything! We’re looking forward to getting back to Steamboat, haven’t been there for a long time. And we’ll play two shows at the Ryman (Auditorium in Nashville) in September, where a lot of our heroes have played.

Mandolin Orange’s “Golden Embers” music video.
Anais Mitchell’s NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert.

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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