Hymn for Her used to be the kind of band you could take home to meet your grandma. The couple and duo of Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing played sweet acoustic country-folk shadowed by mountain murder-ballad darkness. That changed when they plugged in on their second album, 2010's Lucy & Wayne and the Amairican Stream. With their forthcoming third album, Smokin Flames, they turn it up to 11.
"The first album is very folky. No kick drum, high hat, or cigar-box guitar, and then we dropped a grenade bringing those instruments in for the second album," explains Waxing. "This one is more like an H-bomb."
Tight and Waxing are lifelong musicians from Philadelphia who hooked up in the 1990s. Tight worked at a music store and would give Waxing free strings. He worked at a sub shop and would give Tight free hoagies. Prior to that, Waxing had been a part of the hip-hop act the Goats with his buddy E.J. Simpson. The Goats put out a couple albums in the early '90s, including an ill-fated self-titled '94 major label debut, after which Waxing (then known as Pierce Ternay) and Tight (going by Maggi Jane) formed the Americana act Maggie, Pierce, and E.J.
MPE band, as they were known, released seven albums across a 14-year career before going their separate ways in 2008. That year, Tight and Waxing launched Hymn for Her with Year of the Golden Pig, a disc much more in keeping with MPE's shambling, eclectic, but generally folky sound that was deeply informed by Jeff Buckley.
"I saw him a couple of times live, and the giving was so intense and painful to feel," Tight says. "What he was giving out, you could just feel his soul when he performed, and it was so incredible. But it's so important to feed that as well, because sometimes people give give give so much of themselves that then they end up floating in a river."
Fortunately, Tight and Waxing have a cute little anchor that prevents them from drifting too far downstream. Diver, their six-year-old daughter, joins them everywhere they go, as she has from the beginning in their Airstream trailer. Though they bring a nanny with them these days, there have been times it's just been Waxing and Tight.
"We'd tune in and that's when we throw our kid in the bass drum case and she does her LeapFrog with her headphones on," Tight says. "She's in the back while we're playing. It's pretty funny."
Waxing adds, "Sometimes at the end of the show suddenly everybody would be taking pictures of us, and I'd be thinking, 'Wow, they are really digging the show. Then we look behind us and our daughter's head is peeking out of the bass drum case, smiling."
Tight jumps in. "Or her cute little foot is dangling out."
It was with a then-three-year-old Diver in tow that the duo recorded their second album in the Airstream at various stops along the way. They took the recordings to producer and Dirtbombs bassist Jim Diamond for mixing. They'd met Diamond while backing Alison Lewis in alt-country act String of Ponies. Diamond, who was recording a live album for Lewis, saw them and offered his services, which they took him up on for their latest.
With Smokin Flames, Diamond's a big part of that H-Bomb sound as he muscles Hymn for Her's chunky swamp-stomp into a ferocious beast that makes the walls sweat and the ceiling lose its top. It's present from the hypnotic throb of "Mojave" to "Landescape," with its bloozy slow-burn swelter, and the rocket-fueled throttle of "Rosa Parks Blvd." The latter really showcases Tight's licks as she pile-drives her custom-built cigar box guitar through the heart of the song with a thundering punkabilly racket.
"The kick drum, high hat, and cigar box guitar brought it up a notch, and that really got people's attention," Tight says. "It's much more what we want to hear, what we want to play. It keeps growing and changing, which is fun."
Speaking of fun, Waxing's come up with a banana-infused hot sauce the band will be selling to commemorate the release of Smokin Flames. After forging the original recipe for a barn party in Maine, and selling all 24 mason jars of it, he figured he might be onto something. So he connected with Armando y Jorge's Orlandoñan Hot Sauce, which helped him hone and create the recipe for mass production. The album and the hot sauce are being supported with the band's very first Kickstarter campaign, which recently surpassed its modest $7,000 goal. They couldn't be more gratified by the result.
"I was intimidated at first to put it on. We were asking for money, but we kept it kind of low. We've only really been out there as a band for a short while," she says. "We're really surprised at all the support and all the people out there that we didn't know. It's pretty exciting."
The whole experience has reminded the band how fortunate they are, both for their little family and the opportunity to share their art each night.
"We're so lucky that we can do it and live off of it," Tight says. "To have it be our lives is amazing."