Rocky Road

Lineup changes and touring disasters have given Ingram Hill - and their new album - a rough ride.

For Memphis-based rock band Ingram Hill, the road from recording their new album, Cold in California, to releasing and promoting it late this summer and early this fall, has been a rocky one. For starters, the band found themselves without a bass player on the eve of their first promotional tour for the record.

Ingram Hill began earlier this decade when singer Justin Moore, guitarist Phil Bogard, drummer Matt Chambliss, and bassist Shea Sowell came together as University of Memphis students. Playing a type of catchy, accessible, straightforward rock popular on college campuses, the band built a strong following locally, then regionally through heavy touring on the college circuit. But Ingram Hill broke out in a big way in 2004, when their song "Will I Ever Make It Home" — originally released on their debut EP Until Now, used again on their first full-length album, June's Picture Show, and featured on the soundtrack of the 2004 romantic comedy 13 Going on 30 — became a commercial radio hit.

But years of touring and the demands of the rock-and-roll lifestyle took its toll on Sowell, and the bass player left the band in January, after the recording of Cold in California.

"We had already finished the record," says Moore, who doesn't seem to harbor any resentment at his friend's decision to leave the band. "We were just waiting for it to come out, but [Sowell] didn't want to do it anymore. Too much stress for him. So we got another guy."

The other guy didn't last long. After recruiting a new bass player, the band went out on the road then came home for a seven-week break to wait for the record's release. Three weeks into that break, the new bass player quit too, for "Lord knows what reason," says an exasperated Moore.

"He told us he wanted to go to seminary school to be a youth pastor, but you have to have a four-year degree to go to seminary school and he'd never been to college," Moore says. "And you don't have to go to seminary school to be a youth pastor. So I have no idea. We had a month to find a new bass player and teach him three records."

Two weeks before the band was set to hit the road, Ingram Hill still hadn't found a bass player, but shortly after a public plea on a local sports-talk radio show, a young local musician, Chris Johnson, emerged.

"He was a guitar player who was doing a little singer-songwriter thing," Moore says. "He's one of those talented musicians that can play whatever he picks up. Those guys make me jealous."

So far, Johnson has stuck, despite the fact that on the third day of his first tour with the band, he found himself staring at an Indiana ditch from the window of an overturned tour van.

"We'd been together for seven years and never had an accident and his third day in, we wreck the van," Moore says.

Moore was behind the wheel of the van en route from Oxford, Ohio, to Chicago when a tire blew out and disaster seemed imminent.

"We'd been in a bus for a couple of years and went back to the van to save some money, and the right rear tire blew on the van, not the trailer," Moore remembers. "On the interstate, going about 65 miles an hour. We started fishtailing like crazy and eventually spun off the road out toward the ditch. The tire had come off the wheel, so there was no rubber to grab the pavement. So we just kept fishtailing and the trailer jackknifed into the van and we went into the ditch, completely turned around backward, facing the other direction. The only thing that kept us from rolling was all the weight in the trailer.

"When we started fishtailing, the first thing I did was look in my rearview mirror and there was a semi right behind us. The guy in the semi stopped to see if we were okay and said, 'I can't believe I didn't hit y'all. I was trying everything I could not to run over you.' Luckily no one was hurt, but we were pretty freaked out."

Band, crew, and equipment came out un-scathed, but the van was totaled and the group found itself stranded in Indiana for several hours, eventually renting a new ride and making it to their Chicago gig just in time.

With a new bass player who has seen the worst and decided to stick around, and back in a bus Moore doesn't have to drive, Ingram Hill is focused on promoting Cold in California. The album is the second the band has released for Los Angeles-based Hollywood Records, but it is the first the band has recorded for the label. (June's Picture Show was recorded and released independently, then re-released on Hollywood after the band was signed.)

Recording an album under the stewardship of a major record label was a new experience for the band.

"It was completely different," Moore says. "Even the process of getting to record the record was different this time. We had to write songs, demo them, and send them in to our A&R person only to have them say, 'Eh, no. Keep writing.' I think we wrote like 50 songs just to get 10 for the record. And at every step of the process you're getting judged. And you better send in a good demo. If it sounds like crap, you don't get a good response, even if it's a good song."

But, according to Moore, the hassle was worth it in the end.

"Having a larger budget, things get scrut-inized even more, because you have the time and the money to do it," Moore says. "But, on the other hand, you get the sounds you're looking for, because you have the means to do it. As far as guitars and amps and guitar tones and microphones, you can get whatever you want. And that was something new for us."

"Before, in the studio, we'd always strummed up and tuned our own guitars. This time, we didn't touch anything, except to play it. Techs came in and set everything up for us. It was kind of weird at first, because I wasn't used to it. But after the first day, I thought, this is definitely the way to do it. These guys know what they're doing." 

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