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The Sound

A Debut Album, take two

5/1/2013

Ira Grace and the Bible Belt Prophets’ release “Big Tent Whiskey Revival” at Gas Lamp on Friday, May 3.

Ira Grace and the Bible Belt Prophets’ release “Big Tent Whiskey Revival” at Gas Lamp on Friday, May 3.

It wasn’t even a year ago when Marc Bailey and Sara Williams released their first album as Ira Grace & The Bible Belt Prophets. Now, this week at Gas Lamp, they’re doing it again. It’s a very short turnaround for a local band without the financial backing of a label. But for Bailey and Williams, the decision wasn’t about bucking convention.

“I think a lot of it had to with the fact that our first album, we don’t really like anymore,” confessed Bailey. “We didn’t want to be judged by that. We’re applying to festivals and they ask us to send them our stuff; it’s like (groan) ‘do we really have to?’.”

Bailey and Williams were childhood friends. But despite growing up in the same community and going to the same schools, music wasn’t something that they bonded over until Williams moved away.

“We’ve known each other our whole lives,” she explained. “Marc was always a musician, not me. Then, on accident while visiting two years ago — I was living in Tennessee at the time — I ran into his sister (who said) ‘you should give Marc a call.’ I had learned how to play guitar by then, so we just started working on music, back and forth. I went back to Tennessee, he stayed in Iowa, (and) we just kind of formed this musical relationship through CDs and letters back and forth.”

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Throughout their long-distance collaboration, Bailey was continually trying to convince Williams to move back to the Hawkeye State.

“(He) kept badgering me,” she said. “He’d text me a photo of the landscape, saying ‘Iowa misses you!’ I’d been gone for three and a half years. I’d gone to Oregon, Georgia, Tennessee, loving everywhere but Iowa. Then one day — I remember it clearly — I was lying in a hammock behind my house in Nashville, on the phone with my mom. She (asked) ‘Have you been thinking about coming back to Iowa?’ And then it just clicked like ‘yeah. I think I am.’ Just like that. I don’t know why, I just felt like I needed to come back to Iowa and try out a few things. (So) I left everything and moved back to Iowa, and within two months we were in a band.”

The band’s first album is a mish-mash of his-and-hers songs — tracks written individually, then performed as a duo. But the new album,“Big Tent Whiskey Revival,” is reflective of the duo’s collaborative spirit.

“We’re not like ‘hey, let’s sit down and write a song today.’ It just happens,” explained Williams. “He’ll lay down some lyrics, then I’ll lay down some, texting back and forth. We record on our phone and zap it across.”

“We knew what we were doing right with the first album, and we knew what we were doing not so right,” added Bailey. “So on this one I was intentionally looking for places where we could harmonize our voices.”

And it’s those harmonies that make the duo such a compelling listen. The band’s Facebook profile describes their sound as “comfortable and contagious,” and you don’t have to listen to them long to agree. As they move forward now with a more realized sound, the duo can’t help but recognize the debt owed to a specific confluence of timing and location.

“When I looked at Des Moines with new eyes, being three years (gone), I saw potential here that I never saw (before),” concluded Williams. “There’s no way that Marc and I would have the success that we have without the friends that we have and the people we know. That’s why Des Moines kicks ass.” CV

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