It’s no easy decision to leave a well-established band for a solo project, and a band like Old Crow Medicine Show is as well-established as they come in roots music.
Chance McCoy, a multi-instrumentalist and singer with Old Crow since 2012, wanted to stay with the band, but he needed to make his own music, too. The result is “Wander Wide,” a record due on Sept. 20, and a touring itinerary that brings him back to one of his old stomping grounds, Floyd. He and his band will headline the final show of this year’s Floyd Small Town Summer Series on Thursday, at Warren G. Lineberry Park.
McCoy, 40, lived in Floyd County while he was with old-time band Old Sledge, which started in 2009 and released an album in 2011 before breaking up. Old Sledge played plenty of Southwest Virginia shows, including sets at FloydFest in 2011. McCoy has returned since for the occasional show, including The Floyd Country Store’s Floyd Radio Show, and with honky-tonker J.P. Harris, at Dogtown Roadhouse. Other times, he’s come back just to hang out with friends he made there.
“So many great memories, and so much nostalgia for Floyd and that area, that little log cabin we used to live in,” said McCoy, who grew up in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. “It was a really cool time. It was a really hard time, but a very beautiful time. You have to really appreciate that, because you can never move backward in life. You’re moving forward, whether you want to be or not.
“Those moments, they come and they go, but they never come back again. I get to come back a little bit of a hometown hero, which is always very exciting. I really have no idea what to expect, and we’ll be playing all the new music, as well. Maybe we’ll get booed off the stage. Hopefully not.”
Probably not. Online publications including Rolling Stone, Billboard, The Boot and American Songwriter have streamed songs from “Wander Wide.” Rolling Stone wrote that McCoy “channels youthful wanderlust in the idyllic folk meditation ‘No One Loves You (The Way That I Do).’” The Boot calls McCoy’s vocals on “Lonesome Pine” “slow-burning and vaguely mystical,” lending “an ethereal quality” to his ode on nature’s “stunning, lonely beauty.”
“Rolling Stone debuted the first single, and that was great,” he said in an Aug. 7 phone call. “They had some nice things to say about it, and that’s always good. You need those little quotes when you’re starting out, those feathers in your cap that [make] people think, oh, maybe I’ll check that out.”
Don’t expect Old Crow-style music, or Old Sledge-style music, or the vibe of the one-off Chance McCoy and the Appalachian String Band. This album has electric and electronic instruments, and drums. In places, it rocks like crazy; in others, it’s deep in meditation. “Sugar Babe” features sad pedal steel over a brushed snare march, then transitions into the rowdy, rocking country of “Jitterbug Bayou.”
“I guess I’m trying to leave a lot of doors open, musically, at least, creatively,” said McCoy, who produced the set. “There is a flow to the record ... the first half was written as one piece of music that takes a listener on a journey of the facets of music I write. It does flow from one thing to another. Moving forward, I want people to know my music is my music, and not be stuck in some kind of box, like oh, here’s another folk record, or here’s a traditional fiddle thing — even though that’s areas of expertise I have, and I love, and I have a lot of passion about.
“I wanted to be able to spread out a little bit and just be completely creative with it.”
Nor should the performance be an issue. McCoy has always been blistering on fiddle, clawhammer banjo and guitar, with an as-yet under-appreciated vocal style. Onstage, he’ll have longtime Floyd resident Joe “Bass” DeJarnette, Lewisburg, West Virginia’s Ben Hunt on drums and Jackie Turner (McCoy’s girlfriend) on sampler and looper.
As for his Old Crow mates — with whom McCoy won the Grammy Award for Best Folk Album, in 2015, for “Remedy” — all is well. Bassist Morgan Jahnig engineered “Wander Wide” and helped McCoy record it. Joe Andrews played pedal steel. Critter Fuqua co-wrote “Jitterbug Bayou” with McCoy.
“When you leave a project, they have to carry on,” McCoy said. “They have to find people to play with and keep touring. The door is open as far as friendship and camaraderie and music. The door is always open with Old Crow, because I didn’t leave on bad terms. ... It was just one of those things where it was just impossible to be in two bands at once. Even when you try to do that, if a big gig comes up for me and a big gig comes up for them, you’re in a really tough position. We tried to work it out this year where I could do both, and the schedules just weren’t working out. So I decided, hey, I’m going to take this year off.
“You never know if you can come back. It’s always scary leaving. Even though we’re all friends, and they love me playing with them … they have to hire somebody else and do their own thing.”
McCoy sold his house in Nashville, Tennessee and moved back to his West Virginia farm. He spent the new year making the record, hiring a publicist and going on tour overseas. He started to worry when his money was about to run out, then he caught a couple of intriguing breaks.
First, the background: A friend of his got a job with a D.C. company that works with the Smithsonian Institute and other museums. That connection got him the gig scoring a film created for viewing at The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson, near Nashville. He followed that up with one created for Mount Vernon, President George Washington’s home. Scores for the Atlanta Historic Center and Historic Jamestowne came next.
“They were good projects and really professional productions, and I got some experience scoring, which was great,” he said.
Big breaks emerged from those projects. The first came in the spring, when McCoy got a call to write a song for the Shia LeBeouf movie, “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” released on Aug. 9. He wrote “Whipporwill” for it.
“That’s my music in the trailer, and they use that song again in a key sequence in the film,” he said.
Then came yet another call, one to score a mini-series. Soon after arriving to begin the work, he was asked to act in it. McCoy couldn’t discuss the details of the project, which he called “a huge opportunity.”
“I’m thinking, OK, maybe I should start to develop this as a part of my career and get some representation and see if I can’t go and do some more good projects, but doing it with the attitude of not making it a career, not making it your bread-and-butter thing.”
He’s already got one of those, and he’s bringing it back around to Floyd.