"I've never had a feeling like I've had with this band."
Normally, you'd dismiss that as hyperbole. But when it comes from the mouth of Marti Frederiksen — the chart-topping producer and songwriter for the likes of Aerosmith, Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill (and successful musician in his own right) — you take notice.
Today, he's most proud of The Loving Mary Band, a new Nashville sextet of successful singers-songwriters-musicians who prove that old idiom about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Besides releasing this year's most celebrated debut album, The Loving Mary Band's also landed a spot as Steven Tyler's backup band on his inaugural solo tour.
Collectively, the group — featuring Frederiksen, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Suzie McNeil, Elisha Hoffman, Andrew Mactaggart and Sarah Tomek — utilizes decades of songwriting prowess, some beautiful three-piece harmonies and a shared love of classic rock, country and Americana to craft their memorable first release, Little Bit of Love. It's an album you could set proudly next to Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac and Lady Antebellum in your record collection.
(Before you ask, there's no Mary in the group — the band name is a small inside joke.)
Getting together this all-star lineup involved a series of coincidences, luck and timing. "Suzie and Marti knew each other for years," explains Howard, a two-time Grammy Award winner who's had #1 charting singles in America and Australia. "And they were both working with me, separately and unknowingly. We roped in Suzie's husband Andrew, who's played with a ton of country bands. And Marti saw this drummer [session drummer extraordinaire Sarah Tomek> at a bar near his house rip through ‘Lord of the Thighs' and said ‘We need her!'"
Add in Howard's husband Elisha Hoffman (who co-wrote Faith Hill's "Give In To Me" and has racked up several international #1 hits on his own) on mandolin, banjo and guitar, and you've got the makings of a supergroup.
Minus the egos.
"We wrote songs as a group, and we noticed what we had was becoming its own sound," says McNeil, who initially won the heart of America when she was the last woman standing on the TV show Rock Star: INXS (she's also landed several hits in her native Canada). "It made all the sense in the world to keep going."
It was especially fortuitous for Frederiksen, who, after years of behind the scenes work as a songwriter and producer, craved a return to the stage—a deserved spot for the man who provided the vocals for the band Stillwater in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. "I wanted something with a little more excitement," says Marti. "I hadn't done the live thing in forever. There's a real energy there when we play together."
So you've got a dynamic band ... with some interpersonal dynamics. Reminiscent of their musical heroes Fleetwood Mac, The Loving Mary Band features two couples within the group (Suzie and Andrew, Rebecca and Elisha).
"Hey, it's the best to do what you love with the one you love," says Mactaggart—and his better half agrees. "Look, we're not 20 years old," adds McNeil, laughing. "We're successful, we've lived our lives. We're a family band. It's a good vibe, and being a couple adds to that." (Frederiksen sees even more advantages. "When we tour, it saves on hotel rooms.")
Besides that family-like connection, the disparate members of The Loving Mary Band share some strong musical touch points: the Eagles, Tom Petty, June Carter. Think expert musicianship with great harmonies. And you'll hear a bit of those Petty-esque moments on Little Bit of Love's title track and "Broke But Not Broken," where Frederiksen takes lead. The women, meanwhile, take center stage on "Where There's Fire" and "Knock Knock," which Hoffman declares is "the song. Those harmonies, that's ‘The Loving Mary Band' sound "
"We do have a unique sound together," adds Howard. "As individuals, we had such different musical backgrounds: rock, country, pop. On a song like ‘Where's There's Fire,' you'll hear Suzie's raspy vocals. And I sound the opposite, but paired together, we sound like sisters."
While focusing on the different aspects of love, Little Bit is also a fun record that possesses a sly sense of humor: you'll notice a celebratory proclamation of "Drinking With You" is followed, knowingly, by the Southern rock tinged confessional "Hungover."
While The Loving Mary Band will be thrilled to get out and showcase their new songs in a live setting—they've been able to schedule several headline dates—the band is already well road tested. Just after they formed, Steven Tyler called up his old songwriting buddy Marti to see if he knew a few players to back him up on a tour. "I said, hey, a few people? I've got a whole band!" says Frederiksen, whose work with Aerosmith dates back to 1997.
That tour certainly helped the band gel quickly. Tomek agrees, but notes: "You're never going to outshow Steven. He's truly an American icon and a rock legend. It's been a trip."
That said, expect to hear a lot more of The Loving Mary Band in their own right in the near future, be it a fall tour or potential second album.
"Individually, we bring perspectives the others couldn't bring. And that's what makes the sound of The Loving Mary Band," says Howard.
"And when you throw it all together, that's kind of what makes it interesting."