The Apache Relay

The message has been relayed. Those who were fortunate enough to stumble upon The Apache Relay’s performance at Bonnaroo this year are taking the word to music lovers everywhere, and it’s spreading like wildfire.

The Apache Relay truly are the next big thing. The four guys who make up this indie roots quartet hail from all over but were linked together through Belmont University in Nashville. Michael Ford, Jr., Mike Harris, Kellen Wenrich and Brett Moore are on the brink of a promising, even exploding, career.

The story of how this band came together is quite simple actually. Harris and Ford lived next door to each other in Belmont’s Pembroke Hall, where the two became friends. It wasn’t until a few years later, when Ford was playing solo acoustic shows, that he found out Harris had launched a bluegrass band with a few other guys and named it The Apache Relay.

“So I gave Mike a call and asked if they would play a show with me,” Ford tells us backstage at Bonnaroo. “Then, that formed from a little acoustic quartet into what is now The Apache Relay.”

This young, up-and-coming act already has two albums under their belt. Their first album, 1988, featured musical guests Jessica Lea Mayfield, Byron House and the Avett Brothers’ Joe Kwon. Harris says having these guests on their debut album was a dream come true for him.

The Apache Relay released their sophomore album, American Nomad, this past April, and the record has a slightly different feel than their debut. “We didn’t sit down and say, ‘OK, now that we have made our folk record, let’s make an indie rock record.’ We didn’t plan that out—it just evolved into that,” Moore says.

That said, one thing The Apache Relay say they tried to keep consistent with both albums was the feeling of intentionality, or as they describe it, coming from a place of honesty.

American Nomad has a bit more of a rock vibe than the first record, offering a brilliant cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper.” Speaking of “The Boss,” Springsteen is a musician these guys credit as one of their top influences.

“Bruce is the musical forefather of all this musical movement which is really pure and based on honesty,” Moore says.

Along with Springsteen, Apache give props to bands like Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers, which is pretty impressive since Apache have actually collaborated with both of these bands already in their young career. In addition to these groups, the guys point to 1960s soul music and add Motown, The Beatles and Wilco to their list of influences.

When it comes to writing their songs, Harris says he believes inspiration is not always something you can pinpoint.

“It’s a very reactionary thing,” he says. “Maybe we will be at a festival like Bonnaroo and just randomly walk up on a band we’ve never heard of or planned on seeing. That’s the type of thing that is just neat to react to.”

Ford is the primary composer when it comes to the band’s lyrics. He says things are constantly popping into his head to write and that he is always being inspired. For him, being on tour has proved helpful in the songwriting process.

“Being on tour is awesome because you can pull from experiences and vibes from different cities and write songs based around that, so that’s been really exciting,” he says.

This year was The Apache Relay’s first year to hit the stages of Bonnaroo, and boy did they hit the ground running. Folks just walking by the lounge area that Apache Relay played couldn’t help but to be drawn in by the band’s overall enthusiasm.

Ford tells us that one of his Bonnaroo highlights from this year was when Mumford played Which Stage and The Apache Relay were able to be side stage for the show.

“To see the impact they’ve made and see tens of thousands of people together where everyone was so passionate, it was like this community,” Ford says. “I get chills even thinking about it. Those guys are amazing.”

Harris says he has a whole new outlook on Bonnaroo after coming down to Manchester and being in the hustle and bustle of things. “I just have so much respect for people that want music this bad. It’s such a man versus wild thing—stay hydrated, get rest—it’s serious,” he says.

This quartet does a lot of touring, and they spend a good deal of time together out on the open road. Their band is still fairly young, but thanks to the number of hours they spend in close proximity, they seem to have a good read on each other. “We know when someone needs company or needs space or whatever it is,” says Ford. “We don’t have a lot of dramatic moments.”

Wenrich, who has remained pretty quiet for the whole beginning of our conversation, takes the opportunity to chime in and say, “We all get along really well. Any band has its trials and turmoil on the road, but ours are generally about people taking their shoes off in the van or something like that. We don’t have big fights. It’s just like, ‘Man your feet stink. Put your shoes back on (they all laugh).’”

On a more serious note, Wenrich adds, “One of my favorite things about this group of people is that we all are somewhat different, but we are incredibly similar. I think that’s just a beautiful thing. We manage to get along so effortlessly.”

Before The Apache Relay leave, they’re kind enough to pull out their acoustic instruments and entrance us with their song “Set Me Free.” As they wrap up the tune and start packing up, a writer from Rolling Stone steps out from behind us and praises the band on what a wonderful job they have done.

The best is truly yet to come for this talented, easygoing group of young men. When asked what their future goals are, Harris replies that they only have one goal: “Keep having as much fun as possible,” he concludes. “I think that’s the only goal worth having.”

Check out our exclusive Bonnaroo Brite Session with The Apache Relay.