They may be newcomers to Gainesville’s arts scene, but Malachi Mills and Logan Simmons’ ties to the city run about as deep as the Chattahoochee River.
Hall County born and bred, the 26-year-old singer-songwriters are the two halves that make up The Band Loula.
A couple of years in the making, the duo described its genre as a mix of classic and alternative country with a hint of Americana folk and the Southern gospel influences “sewn into” their childhoods, drawing inspiration from country music legends John Prine, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter.
“It’s very much like a Johnny and June type of dynamic,” Simmons said of the band.
For Simmons, who grew up mere minutes from downtown Lula, “The Band Loula” is a wink to her roots — as is one of its songs.
Slated to release in November, “Cedar Creek” is inspired by Lebanon United Methodist Church in Gillsville’s annual camp meeting. A tradition since 1846, the weeklong summertime revival is “something that my family has looked forward to every single year and something that the community really pours into every year,” Simmons said.
“(The song is) based on the feeling that surrounds me going to that — that nostalgic feeling. It also is kind of a blend of everybody’s nostalgic feelings toward summer and being young and that whole youth experience being in a small town.”
The Band Loula’s debut also marks Simmons’ own.
A former worship leader, Simmons had never performed beyond church walls prior to joining the band. She may have written an occasional song, but they never saw the light of day.
“I have always been the one to write songs and not show them to anybody ever,” she said. “So writing songs has definitely been a vulnerable moment for me.”
For Mills, songwriting is as intrinsic to his being as his own DNA. He’s been doing it professionally for the last five years, frequently co-writing and recording with fellow artists and Nashville publishing houses.
“I’ll write music until the day I die,” he said.
Loyal to hometown soil
While the duo shares a love for exploring and pursuing the avenues their respective careers lead them down, they agree there’s no place like home.
“I’ll never give up my Georgia peaches,” Mill said, borrowing from the band’s song “Travelin’ Bone.”
“We’re passionate about our lines of work, which cause us to travel, but … we’re both really bought into Gainesville. It’s where our roots are and it’s probably where we’ll end up laying our heads at the end of the day. There’s this magnet that always pulls us back to Gainesville.”
As a photographer for 11 years, Simmons’ career has taken her to many corners of the U.S., but Gainesville has a way of tugging her home by the heartstrings like no other.
In fact, Simmons was all set to move to Charleston, South Carolina, when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic altered her plans — and she had no qualms about it. Today, she runs a photography studio off the Gainesville square, and from her vantage point, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened.
“I do love Charleston, but being at home and being in Gainesville and really discovering the ins and outs of how good the community is, being able to dive into the community head-first and see it a different way that I’ve never seen before and being so immersed in it has been so incredible — so life-giving,” Simmons said.
“As much as I want to do the whole ‘Move and see new places in your 20s and get the heck out of your hometown,’ as much as I tried to do that, it just didn’t make sense because of how good Gainesville is. There’s too much to love about it. There’s honestly too many good things to leave. Gainesville is an anomaly.”
Coming of age in the chicken capital hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for either of them, which they acknowledge in their songwriting, employing authenticity and vulnerability to tell their stories.
“We write completely based on a feeling,” Simmons said. “We don’t sit down and say, ‘Let’s see if we can write a really positive song about our hometown.’ Our songs are all across the board based on several different life experiences, and there’s definitely a couple in there that aren’t so easy to write and aren’t so easy to perform. I think everybody has negative experiences or not-so-light-and-happy experiences about their town. We definitely have that side of the coin as well.”
“We just want to be honest,” Mills said. “I’ve always had a Gainesville address, my whole life. We’re tied in here, and the last thing we want to do is put out art and put out music that’s dishonest to who we are. We just want people to see an honest testimony of what our lives have been.”
While planning the exodus from their hometown may be typical of the teenage experience, the band has its heart set on opening young Gainesvillians’ eyes to the array of opportunities at their fingertips, particularly in the arts scene.
“There is a community of artists here in Gainesville — audio artists, visual artists,” Mills said. “It really is growing, and we would love to be pioneers of that. We just want to inspire people in the arts scene that it’s not a lost cause to invest your art and your time here in Gainesville. You can’t do anything without a good foundation, and Gainesville is our foundation.”
Without Gainesville, neither member of the duo feels they’d be who they are — or where they are — today.
“The community’s poured into me and molded me into who I am,” Simmons said. “I owe so much to Gainesville, and it only feels right to write our music about it.”
“We have seen the value of pouring back into Gainesville and using our skill sets and making those connections,” Mills said. “That’s the only way we’re able to do what we’re doing now — through the support of our hometown.”
The band’s debut single, “My Mama Likes You,” is slated to release Friday, Sept. 23, on Spotify, iTunes and Apple Music.
To commemorate the milestone, the band is hosting its debut show at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28 at Meadows at Mossy Creek in Cleveland.
The event is a “linking of arms” between the band and several local businesses including Tap It, Meadowlark Coffee, Gab and Gather and The Fresh Bloom.
Available on Eventbrite, tickets are $20 for general admission and $75 for VIP supporters, which includes entry for two guests, two drink tickets, discounted merchandise and VIP seating.
With two songs recorded and awaiting release, the band aims to return to the studio later this year to produce a five-song EP with two acoustic bonus tracks.For more on The Band Loula, follow @thebandloula on Instagram.