With their bowed dulcimer, droning echo, and mysterious psychedelic touches, Starlings, TN combines the otherworldliness of John Cale-era Velvet Underground with the tradition of string and bluegrass bands of the '20s and '30s. The Nashville group released its debut, The Leaper's Fork, on Chicken Ranch Records in 2002.
Ex-punk rockers Steve Stubblefield (formerly of the Methadone Actors) and Tim Bryan (formerly of the Habitual Sex Offenders) founded the group in the late '90s. The two eventually hooked up with T.J. Larkin and Jose Lovato. (The latter would leave the group shortly after the debut album was completed.) Stubblefield, who had been exposed to gospel music in his Baptist minister grandfather's church, drew inspiration for the Starlings, TN from listening to the archival albums of renowned folk collector Alan Lomax and from meeting noted dulcimer player David Schnaufer (Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams Jr.). Stubblefield eventually came upon the sound he wanted for his new group when he bought a dulcimer and took lessons on the instrument from Schnaufer. The group's debut found them exploring tradition yet wrapping it in utterly forward-thinking arrangements and production.