Pegging country music duo Native Run is tougher than it might seem. "Very instrument-driven with acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin," suggests the pair's Rachel Beauregard. "Country themes and very sing-able choruses."
Bryan Dawley, her partner in music, appends, "We value songs that take common experiences and translate them in new and interesting ways. Things like love, heartache and life, but with our fingerprint on them."
Getting closer. Maybe an understanding of some influences would help. "We really admire Keith Urban and Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek), because we gravitate toward exceptional playing, melodic hooks and vocals that really connect," Beauregard continues. "We love layers of sound and melodies ... a lot of that comes from bluegrass, as well as Bryan's classical training. It adds up to a very unique sound."
Unique, how? Perhaps a bona fide expert could provide context. "They are such a mix in terms of the acoustic instrumentation and popular sensibilities," says GRAMMY-winning producer Luke Laird (Kacey Musgraves). "Instantly, it just made sense that it could have mass appeal."
Finally, some clarity. Now all Native Run needs is a snappy catchphrase. Something simple, like – organic, acoustic, musically smart, powerful, playful-yet-heartfelt arena rock country music.
Okay. Maybe just this: Hard to define, but undeniable. Not surprisingly, that dynamic has existed from their first moments making music together. Bryan and Rachel grew up 20 minutes from each other in the rural/suburban sprawl of Northern Virginia west of the D.C. area. For both, church shaped their musical growth. "I just kept getting the solos," Rachel says of her childhood worship experience. "I was like, 'Oh, I guess I have a singing voice that people want to hear.’"
"After college, we ended up at the same church in Virginia," Rachel says. "And we figured out pretty quickly that there was something there. Making music with Bryan was not only an absolute blast, but it really felt effortless."
"I started playing guitar and bass," Bryan says, noting that his multi-instrumentalist talents were forged by necessity. "The interesting thing about worship ministry at church is that you don’t always know if your drummer or keys player is going to show, so it’s sort of trial-by-fire. Can you fill this spot today? Sure."
A focus on vocal performance and theater carried Rachel through school and college. "I trained in Germanic opera, too," she says, "but I realized I really liked mainstream music and quit ... but I kept singing." Bryan majored in music and, similarly, pulled away from the classics. "I wanted to make music people want to listen to," he says.
"At the time, we were just doing odd jobs," Bryan says. "I was teaching lessons and she was making chicken salad at a club in our area, among other things." Rachel quips back, "Really, I was teaching. But I do make a freaking great chicken salad, I will say. With grapes and balsamic vinegar. It’s amazing."
Turning serious, she adds, "When we started writing together, it just clicked. We immediately knew it was something very chemical and awesome. Other people who heard us had the same reaction and encouraged us to keep doing it."
Anchored at a local coffee shop, the duo began writing and performing original material, eventually touring the east coast. A residency at a New York club sparked contacts that led them to Nashville, but finding a home in country required little in the way of adaptation.
"We've always just wanted to figure out what we do and make the best version of that," Rachel says. "From the beginning, there was something special ... and it just happens to sit so nicely in country." Bryan agrees. "When we’re writing together, it’s not a convoluted approach to try to be more country or less country," he says. "It's just what comes out."
Their publisher and eventual producer Luke Laird saw the connection immediately. And with 14 No. 1 hits as a writer, he knows something about contemporary country music. "They have a hard to find combination. Bryan is a session-level musician. Rachel is a great vocalist and they're both great writers. I was instantly drawn to that credibility – they have the chops. Plus, they can really deliver in a live setting and are so seasoned. They have that performer's sensibility in knowing what fans will react to."
And they are definitely reacting. "We jumped on a couple tours while we were finishing the album...opening for David Nail, Billy Currington, etc...and were able to add the new songs into our setlist." Bryan says. "We were absolutely floored at the response from fans. We just felt so strongly like we belonged, and that they thought we belonged."
That acceptance is easy to understand when considering songs like "Good On You." A relaxed drum loop anchors sparkling banjo and mandolin over a huge, crowd-friendly hook. Likewise, "What's Not To Love" frames a mass-appeal theme and melody in a level of musicianship and performance that holds up to serious scrutiny. "When I'm Taken" showcases the harmonies that were the earliest spark of their pairing.
Even though Laird is their publisher, using him as producer wasn't a foregone conclusion. "Every song we’ve written with Luke, we’ve loved," Rachel says. "He was working on Kacey Musgraves’ album at the time and we spent a lot of time talking about what our process might look like. Eventually, the conversation opened up in that direction."
"Anything we can do to help his star rise," Bryan jokes. "But, really, a lot of different ideas you’ll hear as a through-line in our music have come from experimenting with Luke. We were able to figure out where our foul lines are as a band."
"They have great production ideas on their own," Laird says. "And the process was really organic – from writing to being in the studio. They know who they are, they work hard and they're also really great people."
As their major label debut takes shape, Rachel and Bryan continue to follow the music – and the inexplicable magic – that first brought them together. "When you have that kind of experience, it becomes something you just have to commit to whether you know where it's taking you or not," Rachel says. “You sort of do a big swan dive into it ... and you hope."