A lot of artists get their start playing in a band, fine-tuning their songwriting skills, and then they decide to set off on their own, breaking away to become a solo act. Becca Smith, one half of the duo Admiral Radio, did something like the opposite version of that trajectory. Smith had been writing songs since she was 10 years old. She released her solo debut, I-26, in the summer of 2018. She had been playing shows and getting positive attention from the local press in Charleston, South Carolina. And then in the fall of that year, she and Coty Hoover decided to start Admiral Radio, an acoustic duo that showcases the pair’s tight vocal harmonies and original songs.
Admiral Radio will perform at the Crown at the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, on Feb. 1, with the Brown Mountain Lightning Bugs.
“I was ready to move on from that particular project,” said Smith about the decision to put her solo work on pause for a little while. “I was a little exhausted by it.” She said she spent about three years writing, recording, and finishing up the album—the process was tiring.
Even the title track of that debut solo record, “I-26,” speaks to a kind of fatigue with solitude, with being between places, and with spending time on the road. That particular interstate highway in the song happens to connect Charleston, where she was living and where she went to school, with Columbia, her hometown and the place where she and Hoover were planning to make their home base.
Hoover and Smith had met waiting tables when they were both students in Charleston. They had been a couple for over four years at the time they decided to pursue music-making as a focus. They had a shared interest in foreign languages and acoustic music.
“With Coty, it kind of happened kind of serendipitously,” Smith said.
Both Smith and Hoover write material for the group, and Smith said she plans on making another solo album, possibly as soon as this year.
Admiral Radio is a project that celebrates the joys of both making music and listening to music in an intimate and possibly old-fashioned way. Hoover and Smith took the name Admiral Radio when they found an antique wooden radio console made by the Admiral company. The radio was both a piece of cool vintage decor and technology, but it was also a symbol of a time when listening to music was a group activity, something that drew people together, which created a brief period of communal focus in people’s lives.
Music is entertainment and art, of course, but it can also be something that spurs mindfulness, allowing listeners to set aside the bustle of their day and to let a few minutes of time unfold without any distractions.
“Sometimes, it can be almost soothing to have an excuse to disconnect through the music,” Smith said.
Admiral was an appliance manufacturer that made radios, TVs and other products. The company has family connections for Smith and Hoover, who are getting married in the coming weeks. Smith’s grandfather had worked as a salesman for the Admiral Corporation. (There are old photos of him on the band’s website, bringing the story of simpler times, bygone technology, the power of music, and family history full circle.)
If you’ve ever sung, then you know that the simple act of shaping air out of one’s lungs into notes and sound can be a powerful experience. It’s like a cross between expression and exercise. Or, rather, it’s a form of expression that requires a specific kind of physical exertion. Singing requires breath control in the same way that certain types of meditation do. And if you’ve ever sung with other people, blending your voice in harmony, then you know that the power of two or more voices together has a captivating and mysterious force. There’s something entrancing about voices joined together. It’s what we hear in the Everly Brothers, the Carter Family, the Beatles, the Blind Boys of Alabama, or the Tallis Scholars.
With Admiral Radio, Smith and Hoover make their paired voices the centerpiece of the music. (They cite another harmonizing couple from South Carolina, Shovels & Rope, as an influence.) It’s the sound of two people working closely together, and on stage one can see that the vocal harmonies are the product of each member of the duo’s close attention to the other.
“That’s just what we naturally did,” said Hoover of how they found their dynamic. “It’s just kind of our sound. We really like connecting with each other. When we’re playing all these songs, we’ll very often be looking at each other on the stage. It’s a good way to gauge each other’s energy.”
Singing harmony is something that Smith has been doing since she was a child.
“It’s always just kind of come naturally to me, just immediately being able to pick out the harmonies and singing along in the car with my parents,” she said.
Admiral Radio has only released one song so far, the single “Two Star Motel,” which is about how good company can be more important than fancy accommodations or creature comforts. It’s sturdy, acoustic music, with guitar and vocals, music that can be made without electricity or digital technology. Smith and Hoover are busy finishing up a record that they’re set to release in May.
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
See Admiral Radio at the Crown at the Carolina Theatre, 310 S. Greene St. in Greensboro on Saturday, Feb. 1, (336) 333-2605, carolinatheatre.com