Growing up in Virginia Beach, Will Overman picked up the guitar at an early age thanks to his dad. When his father turned 40, they decided to learn an instrument together.
“A big part of our relationship has been music,” he says. “It’s just always been festering throughout my life and has grown to be something I hold very dear.”
Those lessons started Overman on a winding journey both through the geography of the East and the craft of songwriting that led this month to the release of The Will Overman Band’s self-titled debut album.
“I think that once I tasted it and started performing and being able to express myself, I just couldn’t stop,” Overman says from Charlottesville, where he’s a rising senior majoring in sociology (and playing in a traveling band). “I played sports when I was younger. I had other endeavors. I’m a big backpacker. But as I thought about other life paths, nothing ever seemed as fulfilling and satisfying.”
He writes because he has to write, he adds, quoting a Springsteen line about even if he was an electrician or a plumber, he’d still come home to write every night.
Overman’s physical journey on the way to building the band and completing the album began with writing songs at home in Virginia Beach.
“Son,” the first single, began when he was 16. It appeared on his solo EP, but was rerecorded for the album and included at the insistence of the band. Now, it sounds like Springsteen-gone-country on “Tunnel of Love.” Overman’s world-weary vocals are framed by a sighing pedal steel.
“That was the kind of song through high school when we all drank too much, we would pull out the guitar and play it,” he adds. “It was definitive of that era of my life.”
After high school, Overman hiked the Appalachian Trail, then headed off to the University of Vermont. He lasted one semester. He returned to Virginia, went to community college in Charlottesville, and then enrolled at UVA. “I definitely took the scenic route through college,” he cracks.
In Charlottesville, Overman knew he wanted to start a band. So he did what every Internet savvy musician does: he posted an ad on Craigslist.
Guitarist Daniel McCarthy, who is classically trained, joined him first. They played as a duo for a while before the wild card, drummer Chis Helms, was added to the deck. Helms, who is welder a few decades older than Overman, knew the friend of a friend from Virginia Beach. He came, he played, he stayed. A backup singer played a few gigs but couldn’t commit to the group. Then Brittney Wagner came to see them play and ended up joining to sing. That was it. She signed on.
Bass player J Wilkerson didn’t arrive until the winter of 2014. The band went a long time playing without one. In the interim, Overman made it through two rounds of The Voice auditions in Nashville in 2013. He was interviewed by producers, but was not chosen to be on the show.
“I learned that I really wanted to make music and build what it stood for organically,” he says. “That almost seems antiquated in the current music climate. But I really think there is a lot of value in a band scraping their way through, earning their fans one at a time. The music I want to write and I want to create is made for that process. “
The band created a Kickstarter campaign with a $10,000 goal. They surpassed that quickly, reaching $12,000 to record and release the album on CD and download. “We luckily have a pretty devout following for how long we’ve been around,” Overman says.
He says The Beatles made him a music fan, but he’s loved The Avett Brothers since childhood. “My number one influence,” he adds. “They still are. Loved their raw energy. Seeing them live made me love that band. Their live influence is more so than the writing. I try to take that raw live performance and apply it to our shows.”
He ticks off a list of top shelf songwriters as influences. Ryan Adams, Guy Clark, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Josh Ritter and The Woods Brothers.
He likes to stay up late, writing when the birds stop singing and everyone is asleep. “I can think and be critical, write my better songs,” Overman says.
The songs for the album were road tested, ridden long and hard on trips down to Nashville and up to New York and Philadelphia as well as bars and festivals that should not have been called festivals, he jokes. “Anything to get our name out there,” he adds. Overman scheduled his classes Monday through Thursday so the band could hit the road for long weekends. He also worked a part-time job, but confesses he’s since been fired for missing work.
The sound fits his influences with the foot-stomping folk-rock energy of the Avetts on a cut like “All I Say,” but the introspection and craft of a Guy Clark on a cut like “The Gravedigger.” It’s an effort that from beginning to end makes you want to hit replay as soon as the final notes of the last cut, “Pilot Mountain,” fade. The disc is not just a promising band debut; it’s a catchy, accomplished album.
They recorded at Monkeyclaus in Roseland beginning in February and adding the final touches in May. Throughout, there’s a Virginia vein in songs like “Assateague Island,” “Ode to Virginia” and “Pilot Mountain.”
“Pilot Mountain” was born on a road trip as the band drove back through North Carolina and saw it in the distance. They hopped off the Interstate and onto backroads, a decision that featured watching a mama bear and her cubs and a jump into the New River.
“It was revitalizing. It got us ready for our next gig, which just happened to be in an empty room with just bartenders,” he says. “That song means a lot to every person in the band.”