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Photos by Dante Fontana
Although Alex Stephens and Jillian Secor grew up exploring the local mountains, rivers and forests, it wasn’t until after high school (El Dorado, which the couple both attended) that the two connected.
Stephens’ musical history began at age 12 when he taught himself to play the guitar and progressed through punk rock, finally settling on Merrygold’s signature folk and bluegrass sound when he learned the mandolin. In contrast, Secor was raised amongst a clan of tow-headed siblings singing Mormon hymns, never hearing live music until she reached her teens. That was also when she bought her first album, Alison Krauss’ Union Station. (Krauss is the artist Secor’s angelically powerful voice is most often compared to). “I sang before I spoke,” Secor shares. “Melodies are constantly running through my head and songs are how I organize my thoughts and tell stories.”
The duo officially formed in 2008, writing their own songs and performing locally in favorite venues such as The Wine Smith, Cozmic Café and Boeger Winery. Only one year later they released their first album, Headin West, under their former name Trout and Parrot, which to date has sold over 1,000 physical copies. Having grown tired of people asking which one of them was Trout and which was Parrot, the couple changed their name to Merrygold in anticipation of building a larger band. “We just sort of grew out of it,” Stephens says. “We wanted a name that reflected where we’re from, the outdoors, and the history of Gold Country.”
Fittingly, local stories find themselves in nearly every song Merrygold produces. Secor, the main songwriter, has a degree in musical theater and admits she is obsessed with telling stories within her songs. She often visits local museums and historical sites to research people’s lives and in turn, weaves them into the melodies strumming through her mind. “All of my songs come from a mood,” says Secor. “Although ideas slip away like dreams, it’s the ones that keep coming back and coming back that I know have to become songs.”
The band recently finished their still unnamed second studio album. Its production was almost fully funded by the contributions of friends, family and fans. Unlike their debut, the duo’s sound has been enhanced by collaborations with other string musicians. Pleased with the additions, Merrygold have since added a permanent banjo member and are in search of the perfect bass and fiddle players.
Although Merrygold are focusing their energy on playing at larger venues and festivals in Sacramento and San Francisco, they don’t see themselves leaving the area anytime soon. Last year the couple moved to Los Angeles to position themselves in the thick of the music industry, but within a few months they knew they wanted to be back home.
“The songs we write are very organic, coming from the environment where we’re from, and LA was not where we wanted to be,” Stephens explains. “Harmony is very important to what we do and our music just fits here.”
For more information, visit reverbnation.com/merrygold.