All one planet, all one family
Nicole Storto and Paul Knowles, the songwriters who front New Earth Farmers, met in a record store in Arizona, flipping through the latest country albums. “We discovered both our dads had Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and Roger Miller records,” Knowles said. “We started talking about music and realized we shared a lot of influences.”
When they discovered they both played guitar and wrote songs, they spent an afternoon together, singing and playing. Something clicked and they began performing as Mars, AZ. They both had a unique approach and their voices quickly meshed, creating the inimitable harmonies that have become their trademark.
The couple moved to Chicago and began performing, but the inhospitable winters prompted them to relocate to the Bay Area. The music on their albums as Mars, AZ slowly shifted from country, to folk/rock and on to Americana. They changed their name to New American Farmers to reflect their evolution, recently replacing the word “American” with “Earth” to become the New Earth Farmers. “We’ve moved away from the country Americana vibe, back towards our rock and folk/rock roots,” Knowles said. “We changed our name because we don’t want to be elite or nationalistic. It’s all one planet; we are all one people.”
“Our songs have evolved as we’ve aged,” Storto said. “Being human is a tough gig, and our songs are similar to keeping a journal, but a little less specific in details. The songs are direct, yet vague and impact each of us differently, depending on where we are on our journey and how we are relating to our environment.”
Knowles said their recent album, The Good Ones Got Away, was partially shaped by the COVID pandemic. “The lockdown put a hold on our music for a while. Fortunately, we have occupations that allow us both to work from home. My father contracted COVID, before vaccines were available, and passed away in 2020. I wrote ‘Temporary Road’ [a song on the album] about that experience. Not from my point of view, but from his. Life is short, even if you live to be 80 something. It’s a short little road trip, and the road eventually washes out in the end.”
The songs on The Good Ones Got Away cover a lot of emotional, political, religious and musical territory. “Oh Mary” is a ballad with twin electric guitars, organ and piano supporting a lead vocal by Knowles that uses biblical references to describe the tension between hope and despair. Musically, it builds slowly to its conclusion. They also take on religion in “My Dog God.” The lyrics turn Christianity inside out, while a steel guitar contributes long sustained notes to support the lead duo’s harmonies on the chorus.
“The Garden” was recorded live at The Great American Music Hall and gives Deprato, and guest artist Dave Zirbel, a chance to show off their lead guitar work as Storto and Knowles harmonize on the chorus. The set ends with “Temporary Road,” a quiet showcase for the duo’s conjoined lead vocals.
With things opening up again, the band is heading back to the clubs to share their new songs. “I love the band format; it’s more of a community,” Knowles said. “Nicole and I feel fortunate to play with world class players like Nigel, James and Kevin. Times are tough for artists these days. The money’s vanished, and we aren’t getting any younger. It all gets back to what we wrote in our song, ‘Judgement Day’: ‘Go ahead and play the song and some of them will sing along.’ We have a lot of empathy for people going through rough times. We’re here to help, if you want to get away for a bit.”
New Earth Farmers will play an afternoon acoustic show at 4pm on Sunday, May 7 at The Ivy Room, 860 San Pablo Ave., Albany. 510-526-5888. ivyroom.com.