Harmony On and Off the Stage

Renowned Americana duo Mare Wakefield & Nomad to perform in Whitefish on Aug. 19

By Emily Hoeven
Mare Wakefield and Nomad. Courtesy Felix Bird

In September 2001, Mare Wakefield and Nomad Ovunc began classes at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Nomad sat behind Wakefield in their very first class on the very first day. Wakefield remembers the professor struggling to pronounce someone’s name while taking roll call, and then hearing a voice behind her pipe up, “Call me Nomad.”

This comment, reminiscent of Moby Dick’s famous opening line “Call me Ishmael,” intrigued Wakefield, and she turned around in her seat to face him.

Three years later, they were married. That same year, they went on their first-ever music tour as a couple, making a trip around the western United States from their home base of Nashville.

This year, they are embarking on a massive two-month, 32-show tour to promote their newest record, Time to Fly, which will be released in January 2018, and are performing at the Stillwater Landing Ranch in Whitefish at 7 p.m. on Aug. 19. 

Mare Wakefield & Nomad are an Americana duo, and their respective backgrounds and approaches to music are as diverse as the strands of music and culture that converge in the Americana genre itself, a distinctive blend of folk, country, blues, R&B, and rock and roll.

Wakefield describes herself as a self-taught songwriter and guitar player. “When I went to Berklee,” she says, “I had the emotion of wanting to write and play music, but I was always intuitively finding my way. Sometimes I would play a song without even knowing what key it was in.”

“I had the artistic side,” she adds, “but I lacked the craft, the technicality.”

Nomad, on the other hand, had been classically trained in piano performance and composition since the age of 8 at the esteemed Istanbul State Conservatory in his native Turkey. He is so well versed in technique and theory, Wakefield says, that when he listens to a song, “He hears lyrics maybe the third or fourth go-around. At first he’s just listening to the chords, the arrangement of the music.”

Prior to immigrating to the U.S., Nomad had never encountered Americana music. And, he says, “Left to my own devices, I probably would have had a very different career. Maybe I would have been part of a punk band or a jazz quartet or I would have just been involved in music from the production side of things.”

“But,” he continues, “the most important thing was for me and Mare to be together.”

Americana music has always been “near and dear” to Wakefield’s heart. Growing up across the Pacific Northwest, Wakefield was surrounded by variations of folk music, and it was the genre she gravitated to when she launched her solo career in 1997.

Now, as a duo, Nomad says Wakefield brings “the spiritual and the creative” to their music, and he supplies the “nuts and bolts,” working on the arrangements and the production.

Wakefield writes most of the lyrics for the duo’s songs. When she’s completed a draft, she brings it to Nomad and the two of them finish it together.

Each one appreciates the skills that the other brings to the table, which is representative of their valuation of complementarity and harmony, both on and off the stage.

“Nomad and I both grew up in households with parents who fought a lot,” says Wakefield, “and so we both value peace.”

This informs the ultimate message — and the purpose — of their music.

“If we can play for farmers in Iowa, and people in Northwest Montana, and for crowds in Southern California, and if we’re able to connect with all of them and talk about shared stories, sentiments, and emotions, this is proof of the fact that we all want the same things,” Wakefield says.

She continues, “We’re so divided right now, but we all just want peace and security.”

This is a message that has rung true with Wakefield and Nomad’s fan base, which has only increased over the years. Their 2011 album, Meant to Be, was completely funded by a crowdsourced Kickstarter campaign that raised over $22,000.

Wakefield, however, is hesitant to use the word “fans” when describing supporters of their music. “The more appropriate term is ‘friends,’” she says. “And I don’t mean that lightly. We stay in really close contact with the people who support our music.”

The duo operates a Free Song of the Month Club on their website, and subscribers to their mailing list receive a newly written and recorded song in their inboxes every month, free of charge.

“A lot of songs on our new record originally came from there,” says Wakefield. “It’s really cool for our subscribers, because they get to see how the music has evolved, how the lyrics or the sound may have changed or been adapted.”

Even though Wakefield and Nomad are currently promoting an album that hasn’t been released yet, they’re already working on new music.

“The thing is that music doesn’t stop,” Wakefield says.

At their last couple of concerts, she and Nomad have previewed their newest song, Safe Heart, which they plan to release via the Free Song of the Month Club in October.

“It’s our favorite song, even though it isn’t on any record,” Wakefield says, laughing.

She adds that attendees of the Whitefish concert will have the unique opportunity to hear one of Nomad’s original instrumental piano compositions, as the venue has a baby grand piano that’s more effective than the keyboard the duo travels with.

“We love Montana and we’re so happy to be coming back,” says Wakefield. “It’s a dream that Nomad and I get to do this tour together, make music together, and have this kind of life.”

There is a suggested donation of $15 to $20 at the door of the duo’s Whitefish concert. For more information, visit http://www.marewakefield.com. Listen to the full band session for their song Breathe, from Time to Fly, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo5_F8duwVg.

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