Sarah and Austin McCombie are the singer-songwriters behind Chatham Rabbits, a North Carolina-based Americana outfit riding the line between classic country and roots rock. The spousal duo’s new album, If You See Me Riding By, is a natural extension of these sounds. Compared to previous efforts, it’s a more electric affair, with longing pedal steel and heavier percussion meshing nicely with inviting acoustic strings. Their harmonies are well-defined, with husband and wife swapping off the lead on tracks with equal mettle. If You See Me Riding By is molded around the couple’s experiences during the ongoing global pandemic.
Their tune “Kill the Snake” is a sweet ambler, riding a mid-tempo country melody with Austin upfront. Strong allegorical lyricism makes it easy to convey the nostalgic picture they were aiming for, reflecting on lighter moments shared over the last couple of years. One might interpret it as subtly sardonic or cautionary, but the McCombies are certain to wrap it in their trademark warmth. It’s Chatham Rabbits‘ latest single from If You See Me Riding By and is due out on 15 April. The full album releases on 3 June and was produced by Saman Khoujinian (Watchhouse, Sylvan Esso, Mipso).
Sarah McCombie tells PopMatters, “As I have stood back and listened to this album as a finished product, one of the things that come to mind is that it has a ton of emphasis on working with your hands, getting back to your roots, and reflecting on the very tangible things in front of you. Prior to the pandemic, this was something that Austin and I were not really doing. We are very gung-ho people and go-go-go all the time. We rarely slow down, and the pandemic forced us to.
“We did more gardening, more cooking, more working with our animals or building a fence for them, more playing music together. It kept us a little bit more grounded. This album is also a record of the pandemic; it highlights insecurities and nuances of aging that we haven’t previously taken the time to approach. It made us have to look these things in the face and grapple with them a little bit more.”
McCombie says about their work with Khoujinian, “We are not worthy of his presence. He is so talented and gifted. He could work with anyone he wants to, but he chooses to work with people like us. We are so grateful we got to do another album with him.
“We recorded half of the album at our friend’s lakehouse studio in the mountains of Virginia, where Watchhouse’s self-titled album was recorded. There’s a lot of great music from this makeshift studio. We recorded the second half at Betty’s, which is Sylvan Esso’s home studio in Chapel Hill. Saman was there curating both experiences, and he’s just incredible.”
Regarding “Kill the Snake”, McCombie recalls their individualistic experience when recording it with Khoujinian. If You See Me Riding By was recorded in the early stages of the pandemic. It was decided early on that it would be recorded with only an essential number of people. “So,” she says, “Saman had us rub Vaseline all over our hands and clap them in front of my microphone. It created a more sustained sound to make it sound like more people were there, which was really interesting.
“We so badly wanted to get out of the pandemic. We wanted to get back to work and get paid again and get back to doing normal things. As awful as the pandemic was, there is nostalgia about parts of it. Like when you’re eating supper on the floor in your first apartment, and you’re pissed because you don’t have enough money to buy a table, but then you look back on it and remember it more fondly. As we move further away from it, we remember the little things from when the world made us slow down.”
McCombie continues, “I lost a cousin to COVID. We don’t want this to sound like the pandemic was fun; it is tragic, and so many horrible things have happened.” The song reflects the better moments experienced between her and Austin despite and because of the ongoing pandemic—a wish they had appreciated the slower moments a little more as they experienced them.