Rockland Road finds harmony on road to discovery, first single thanks to Oak Ridge Boys
Rockland Road split into two groups — the three girls on one mic and the three boys on the other. The country pop group stood in front of a crowd of 60,000 sports fans — its largest audience to date — at the Music City Bowl. Texas Martin, 14, noted that in a crowd that big, she couldn’t pick out individual faces in the stands.
Twelve-year-old Tallant Martin hit the first note of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Texas took over lead vocals at the third line, and her brothers March Martin, 21, and Kell Martin, 18, along with their parents, Paul and Jamie Martin, chimed in behind the girls.
Known for its rich, intricately layered family harmonies, Rockland Road has become an instant go-to when event organizers need national anthem performers. They’ve belted it at the NBA playoffs, for the Nashville Sounds and do so frequently for Vanderbilt University when the sports teams anchor down. For the Music City Bowl — which pitted the Louisville Cardinals against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Dec. 30 at Nissan Stadium — the family went out and did its job just like it was any other crowd. The difference struck them when they walked on the field. Despite the size of the audience, their nerves faded.
“You don’t see them looking at you,” Texas explained. “You can’t see their eyes.”
Added her spunky younger sister: “It’s just a bunch of heads.”
But the Martin family does more than sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Over the last decade, Rockland Road has cultivated an impressive list of tricky, harmony-rich covers and has performed them everywhere from the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry to the White House. But now the group is taking it a step further. Rockland Road released its debut single, “Caroline,” at the end of last year. And, it promises, more original music is right around the corner.
“We just feel like the songs that we started with are really who we are, and we keep adding to it,” Jamie said. “I think we’d just like to see it get to the point where we’ve got songs out there that mean something to people. Music is a healing thing, and it’s fun. So, we would love to have that kind of music that people think, ‘Oh man, now crank it up.’ ”
Rockland Road started as Martin Family Circus — almost by accident. Paul Martin, who has played with Marty Stuart and the Oak Ridge Boys and was lead singer for Exile, and Jamie Martin, whose father is Oak Ridge Boys singer Duane Allen, sang together around their home constantly. About a decade ago, the two were singing together when their oldest walked by and absentmindedly added the third harmony part. They summoned a then-12-year-old March back into the room and had him chime in again. Then the couple asked Kell if he could sing the harmony part, too. And, he did.
The girls were barely more than toddlers then, but as they grew, their voices grew with them. The band’s original name was born from a quip Vince Gill made backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, where Jamie’s mother is a member of the Opry Staff Backup Singers. Jamie was there with her four children in tow, and Gill said, “It’s a regular Martin Family Circus around your house.” When it came time to name the act, Gill’s moniker stuck.
As the band grew over the years, Jamie left her corporate job and dedicated more time to her family. Paul stepped down from his position in Marty Stuart’s band. Together, the parents turned their attention to their children and fostered the next generation’s love of music. The kids learned to play multiple instruments, worked up several songs and put together a set list. They got an RV and the group started playing fairs and festivals.
Over the years, however, the Martins realized that because of the band’s name, they were often mistaken for a circus act or people thought they played only children’s music.
The name Rockland Road came from the address of the Oak Ridge Boys’ old recording studio. Ricky Skaggs owns the Hendersonville building now, but the facility played a significant role in Jamie Martin’s childhood. Rockland Road is meaningful.
With a new name, the band was ready to tackle new music — its own music. While the Martin kids wrote many of the songs they recorded, the family was relentless in its search for its first single. It wanted something up-tempo and age appropriate, a song that aligned with its values and catered to strengths as a family band — which includes its distinct wall of soaring harmonies.
Everyone went to pitch meetings with song pluggers. They took notes, liked some of what they heard and kept listening. The Oak Ridge Boys were also preparing for a new album. To get ready, Duane Allen listened to almost 1,000 songs and then culled them down to a manageable amount. The Oak Ridge Boys went a different direction with their music, and Duane Allen passed along his CD of favorites to his grandchildren. He told them to listen to all the songs, but he thought one of the cuts was particularly suited to them. His directions were to listen and guess.
“We listened to the whole thing and … the demo for ‘Caroline’ played,” March recalled. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, what an amazing song. That’s gotta be it.’ It was the one he was hoping we would hear. We’re like, ‘Oh, we love that.’ ”
One week later, the group’s producer Greg Bieck called and said he was digging through some hard drives and found a song Greg Barnhill, Reed Waddle and Stan Karcz had written he thought fit the group. When he sent it over, it was “Caroline,” the same demo the family fell in love with the week before. A few days later, a publisher sent them “Caroline,” too.
It’s complicated for Rockland Road to find songs that work for the tight, six-part family harmony. They want songs to be edgy but believable, upbeat but not bubblegum. And every player has an opinion. This time, they all agreed — but for different reasons. The infectious melody, Paul thinks, is their new single’s strongest point. Kell thinks it might be the way “Caroline” showcases the family’s vocal blend. Jamie cites the song’s fresh feel.
“We were like, ‘I think we’ve got to cut this now,’ ” March said. “It just felt like all of Nashville was wanting us to record this song.”
The children are home-schooled, which allows Jamie to structure their learning schedule around music, shows and last-minute performances. Every person in the band plays an instrument, so when the band is on stage there’s no help from extra players. Texas is behind the drums, and her mother proudly states she plays with the confidence of a grown man. Kell is on keyboards. Tallant can play acoustic and electric guitar, percussion and keyboards. March, who sings lead on “Caroline,” also plays acoustic and electric guitar, bass, drums and cajon. Paul plays guitar, bass and keyboards for the band, and Jamie covers synth and percussion.
Rockland Road applys those skills to more than country music. When it was taking song pitches, it asked for a variety of genres so it could make each song its own. The result is a forthcoming project with an eclectic mix of new music that ranges from R&B to contemporary country.
“I’ve always seen this as a platform for them,” Paul said of Rockland Road. “They seem to all want to do this. They’re constantly creating, and we’re here doing what we need to do for support.”
Jamie adds: “When the harmonies lock in like puzzle pieces, it becomes part of you, like breathing. We want to create go-to music that tells real stories and lift hearts.”
Reach Cindy Watts on Twitter @CindyNWatts. She wrote and reported this story before she left The Tennessean in January.
This content was originally published here.