Rebecca Chaisson: Hodgey and I lived in the same dorm freshman year. We knew (Blake Dodge) somehow, and then Maddie and Blake knew each other from kindergarten.
Maddie Fisher: So Blake, Hodgey and Rebecca knew each other early on in college and started playing together from what I hear. From what they’ve told me, they just randomly played together at little jams.
Hannah Hodge: There would be jams [in] the halls of our dorm building where a bunch of people would show up, and me and Rebecca lived there. So I guess we just started showing up. The three of us started playing music outside of those with another person, and then we decided we actually want to play our own music. And then Blake brought Maddie along to an early band practice.
Fisher: Well, I’ve known Blake since preschool, and we’ve pretty much been in school with each other since then and been pretty much friends since that little baby age. She just brought me to one of the practices...when they were preparing for one of the gigs that they were doing. I really didn’t want to go to the practice because it sounded like a bunch of extroverts hanging around each other and that wasn’t something that I wanted to do.
Hodge: Blake hyped up Maddie coming as Maddie being like a prodigy singer, and we were going to be blown away, but we had to be super nice and super polite and calm down a little bit. But I feel like our initial meeting went pretty well. It’s been destiny since then.
DTH: How did the idea of the name “Dissimilar South” come about?
Chaisson: How many names did we have before Dissimilar South? I think three.
Hodge: They were bad; we don’t need to talk about them.
Chaisson: So we had a lot of names before, and it kind of just kept shifting toward –
Fisher: Something that was less cringe-worthy.
Chaisson: I think we were trying to encapsulate our sound. Yes, we sound Southern because there is a banjo, a mandolin, a guitar and occasionally a harmonica for crying out loud, so it sounds pretty Southern. But content-wise I think we tend to be outside the bounds of traditionally Southern music. So, dissimilar.
Hodge: I also think that we wanted to encapsulate (our sound), like what Rebecca was saying. We’re within in a Southern tradition, but we aren’t explicitly writing Southern folk songs or country songs or bluegrass songs. We are just situated within that tradition, but it’s pretty non-traditional to have four women playing and fronting a band, and so I also think we wanted to capture that and that we’re kind of weird.
DTH: How long have you been playing together?
Chaisson: The four of us have been together since the beginning of our sophomore year.
Hodge: So we are going on year three. Rebecca left for a semester, and that was tough because she was studying abroad. That was last semester.
Chaisson: We are still recovering.
Hodge: Yeah, emotionally. (with laughter)
DTH: Are you excited to play at Local 506 on Friday?
Fisher: Yeah, we’re pumped. We’re excited to play there. We’d opened for MKR there at Local 506 in January of this year. And Gabriel David, we opened for those people. We’re pumped to go back because we think it’s a really cool venue and we’re really excited to be able to headline our first show where it’s like, on the event page, it’s a picture of us. It’s not in a backyard and it’s not in someone’s living room. I think we are probably nervous because of that. With that comes a little bit of pressure to really be prepared and professional and know your shit. We need to be a group of musicians that know what we’re doing. But I think for the most part we’re just pretty excited about it.
DTH: What does your set list look like for this Friday?
Hodge: Oh, it’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be wild. We are never really intentional about our set list. It’s usually just throwing together whatever we can before we play a show. But this time we started with a set list. It’s going to be very fun. It’s definitely focusing on new songs written in the last six months to a year as opposed to older stuff. I think we are excited because everyone is songwriting and arrangements have developed. So these songs are more exciting to play and more exciting to showcase and give a better show for people to watch. I think it’s going to be really cool. We will play a couple old songs, but it will definitely focus on new stuff. We are going to do a very fun cover; we have decided. But we can’t tell you what it is because it’s a surprise.
DTH: How would you describe your music?
Hodge: Blake calls us heart-twisting, meaty folk I think?
Fisher: It’s usually meaty, twisted, Southern folk. That’s her description, which is not so descriptive.
Hodge: I think, technically, folk is the genre that most accurately represents what we play because it’s falling somewhere between folk and country. We are writing the songs ourselves, and a lot of them have this darker, heavier twist that is kind of exciting and not as anticipated in folk music. And then there are some that are happy and pretty quintessentially within that genre. I think alternative folk is technically correct.
Chaisson: I think it’s pretty off-the-beaten-path sounding. I don’t think a lot of people would put our music in the background. I think it requires a little bit more intention sound-wise — not requires — that’s a little demanding.
Hodge: Or, actually, I’ve heard that people do listen to it while doing their homework, which is pretty sweet.
Chaisson: Aw, that is sweet.
Hodge: Definitely the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s also hard because it’s really eclectic. We all write songs. Maddie and Blake probably write the most songs. Rebecca writes some songs and I write a couple songs. Within our own songs, we are pretty eclectic because we are growing as artists and composers, but between the four of us, it’s a pretty mixed bag. It’s a hodgepodge, if you will.
DTH: How does UNC-CH play a role in your musical aspirations?
Hodge: Hindering. I mean, it’s really tough to be a student and to try and focus on being an artist. And you go through phases and you can be a student band. And we are a student band technically, and we have been, but if you want to push into a professional band, then it takes effort and time and an investment of money and energy. As a student and as four very busy students, we are invested in a lot of different things that are in the realms of being a UNC student. So it is tough to have the time and energy for me to invest as much as I’d like to and grow as a musician.
Chaisson: But as far as helping, you’ve got Mipso and Steep Canyon Rangers, to name a few of the more well-known bands. And you’re like, hey, they did that thing, so that’s something that feasibly we could do.
Fisher: I think also it provides an interesting backdrop of who we are individually and how that comes together with us being a group. Just because UNC generally seems to be pretty progressive, especially in comparison to some surrounding universities. And I think, in a way, it makes us more novel. I’m specifically referencing our queerness, which I don’t know if we even want to bring up because I feel like we always bring it up, but in reference to our queerness, the University (has) just a progressive feel. I think it creates a pretty welcoming environment for that. I think it makes people interested in who we are and in that aspect of who we are.
Chaisson: I guess on the opposite end of that spectrum, we are located in an admittedly progressive little bubble, still located within the South. And there’s plenty of fodder. Like there’s HB2. The other three grew up in North Carolina, and I grew up in southern Louisiana, so I think we all have a lot of stuff to draw on, just from our experience in the South with respect to our queerness and our gender and just who we are as people. I think we just wouldn’t have that nuanced perspective at a different place.
Hodge: Also, in a very tangible way, UNC gave us a...really easily accessible platform to give us momentum when we were just starting. As soon as we could play 10 covers, we would get gig requests from really assorted and silly things. Like fundraiser, after fundraiser, after fundraiser for totally different causes, like people’s sorority fundraisers and people’s fraternity brunches, and administration is doing this. So it definitely was a unique platform to start developing together and it was very encouraging to be pushed to learn new material and perform it in front of people who were generally super supportive and kind to us.
DTH: What are your plans post-graduation as a group?
Chaisson: Que panic. Well, three of the four of us are graduating in May, with the fourth here for another year. So I think we all tentatively agreed to the end of next summer? Last I checked.
Hodge: I think we are all open to continuing to play, and again, it’s kind of tough, because there is a lot of effort required to make this a bigger activity in our lives that doesn’t happen until school drops away. It’s kind of an unknown, but I think there’s a willingness and an openness to continue to do this after school. Right?
Chaisson: Yeah, I feel like that’s been a gradual realization though, because none of us went into it like "OK, we’re going to make a band, and we’re going to make it." Like, we’re going to do it. It was kind of just like, “Well let’s play some covers. Oh, you wrote some things; let’s play that thing.” And now we are evolving toward being a band. We aren’t a student band. We are just students playing in a band. I think that was in another DTH article; I don’t know, I didn’t come up with it. I’m not that clever, but yeah, we are open to it.
DTH: If you had one thing that you would want the audience to take away from Friday’s performance, what would it be?
Chaisson: I don’t think I have a particular take-away. I think my favorite part of concerts is when people come up afterwards and just say something that they felt. It’s usually not a cohesive feeling and it’s usually not the same across the board, but someone felt something. And I think that’s kind of a powerful connection because we’re not. Maybe I can speak for y’all, but when I write, I’m not really writing for a large, generic clump of people, but just my own experience. And I just emote so strongly and a song comes out of that emotion. If someone else feels something, it’s just really validating, and that’s a really powerful connection. So I think I would just want someone to feel something.
Hodge: I think people normally react to individual, technical things that happen during shows. I think people get really blown away by big singing moments or love it when Rebecca plays the harmonica or (gets) really into a rhythm change and dig a song. I think for this show specifically, because it’s a next step for us, for me it feels like a big deal to be arriving at this spot at this point in our lives. I want people to walk away thinking that they saw a whole show and a whole experience that was delivered with thought and intention. We wrote a set list, and that’s a big deal. I want people to have a more cohesive, polished experience, which is something I think we are trying to focus on.