by Sussan Marquez
Resonant Rogues are a two-person powerhouse of sound with a real passion for folk music, or “folk noir” as they call it, seasoned with hints of Appalachian folk, swing manouche, vintage country, New Orleans jazz and a bit of Euro folk thrown in for extra flavor. Their sound showcases traditional music with true innovation that spans several continents. Songs are crafted from a variety of vintage styles, featuring vocal harmonies, along with accordion, guitar, banjo, fiddle, and upright bass.
The duo perform together seamlessly, one playing off the other, just as they do in our interview together at the Folk Alliance International conference in New Orleans earlier this year. Sparrow is the female half of Resonant Rogues. She only has one name, and it suits her. Pretty and petite, with blonde hair done up in a vintage style. Her big smile and comforting openness made me feel as if we’d known each other forever.
“I grew up in Colorado,” she says. “I was in the choir and orchestra, where I played the viola. When I was twelve, I went to a children’s choir competition in London. I was in theater in high school. There was always a lot of flexibility built into my schedule.”
Not that arts were her main focus in school. “I had a wonderful geography teacher who instilled in me a love of culture and traveling. I spent three weeks in Istanbul with my family, which was a crossroads for me,” says Sparrow. “I love Turkish food, music, and culture.”
Her vagabond lifestyle began at age 18 when she hitchhiked from Colorado to California. “I was a full-time activist,” she says. “I cooked for protests. I played music throughout that time, mostly guitar, as a busker, to earn extra money.” When she was twenty, she moved to Asheville, North Carolina, but over the next three years, she relocated to New Orleans, then back to California. “I had a son, and felt the best place for us to settle was in Asheville, so I returned there to live.”
The other half of the duo is Keith Josiah Smith. Sparrow and Keith met on the front porch of a house in the autumn of 2012. “We had an instant connection,” Sparrow recalls. “I needed a guitarist and washboard for a recording session I was doing three days later. He was on the road, sharing his demo that was recorded earlier in Seattle. The chemistry carried over into the studio, and in 2013 Sparrow and Keith formed Resonant Rogues.
Keith was born in Joshua Tree, where he lived for the first eight years of his life before moving with his family to Menomonie, Wisconsin. He played drums in punk and rock bands while in his early teens before developing a passion for songwriting after learning his first chords on the guitar. He, too, left home at age 18 to travel around the United States. He hopped freight trains and performed on the streets to make a living. In 2010 he traveled to Nashville with hometown friend Jason Dea West (Intuitive Compass) and formed Barefoot Surrender with Benjamin Tod (Lost Dog Street Band). The group accompanied other street bands between the Pacific Northwest and New Orleans. In 2012, he gained a renewed focus on songwriting and studying the guitar, which led him to record the demo in Seattle.
Now the couple are not only musical partners, they are husband and wife. Resonant Rogues are dedicated to crafting and sharing their music, touring extensively around the world. From their mountain home in western North Carolina, they have performed in Turkey, Australia, around Europe and all over the United States, sharing their music and learning traditional styles along the way to incorporate into future works.
Their third studio album, Autumn of the World, was released in May 2019. At the time of our interview, they were about to record two singles. “We are going to record at Big Tone Records in Virginia,” says Keith. “It’s a studio that has all analog equipment from the 1950s and 60s, and we really love that big sound.” They were hoping to release the recordings in June and tour in July, but the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has put a plug in those plans.
Like many musicians, Sparrow and Keith are getting creative in their efforts to continue making a living from their music. In addition to teaching online music lessons, the duo are promoting their PATREON page, a modern-day way of gathering patrons of the arts together to support artists and allow them to do what they do best – create. For monthly fees ranging from $3/month to $100/month, fans can have access to their original music rooted in traditional styles and more. The different levels of support include Ally, Contributor, Cohort, Comrade, Accomplice, and Advocate. “We have a passion for connection, travel, adventure, and of course, tunes, and we are excited to share our fans,” says Sparrow. “We are committed to creating new, high quality, inspired content for our friends and fans every single month, including new songs, videos, and blog posts.”