For University of Memphis graduate Justin Moore, it's a story that made the perfect song.
"About four years ago," he says, "I was on a trip to Europe, and when it was time to come home, we had so many travel problems -- a bomb threat being one of them -- that what should have been a one-day flight turned into an almost three-day scenario."
Moore, frontman for local rock quartet Ingram Hill, wrote the band's signature song, the ubiquitous-on-local-radio "Will I Ever Make It Home," about the frustrating flight back. "Once I even got back in the States," he remembers, "I was stuck in Boston and still couldn't fly home, and it got so ridiculous. All I really wanted to do was see my family and my girlfriend, and that song was written out of the frustration of having no control over being able to get back home."
In those days, before anyone knew him as the lead singer of Ingram Hill, he was just another wandering troubadour in search of an audience and the perfect song. Today, he's the lead singer of the promising pop quartet who recently recorded their first proper album, Until Now, a collection of eight original tunes penned primarily by Moore and co-produced by Tonic lead singer Emerson Hart and Memphis producer Jeff Powell. The record was released in March and has sold around 5,000 copies since then.
Moore is a striking vocalist, a tenor whose voice can soar with palpable sweetness, and he's also an accomplished writer. He tends toward low-key, tastefully radio-friendly tunes such as "Will I Ever Make It Home" and "Your Smiling Face," pop treasures that appeal to a twentysomething crowd that craves mellow gold over heavy metal.
He's lively and energetic when he talks about the band; sometimes, the words come so fast he stumbles and stutters over them. "Signing autographs," says Moore, "is still a really big deal to us." So too, he says, was opening for Blues Traveler at a concert in Atlanta in front of 45,000 people.
The group keeps its schedule booked solid, playing mostly college and festival dates. On September 18th, they performed at the University of Memphis -- a homecoming of sorts, since the band is made up of U of M graduates.
The band formed in 2001, with Moore and lead guitarist Phil Bogard splitting from a band that, of all things, hated touring. Soon after, Moore was introduced to drummer Matt Chambless, a fan of everything from jazz to Jeff Buckley. With the final addition of bassist Shea Sowell, the only thing they needed was a name.
Moore says the inspiration came from a road sign on the way back home to Memphis. "It actually came from a little town called 'Ingram's Mill,' Mississippi, real close to the Tennessee border, right off Highway 78," he remembers. "There's an exit sign that says Ingram's Mill. It's the last exit before our exit to go home, and we used to travel Highway 78 a whole lot, so we just came up with different variations on it. Ingram Hill sounded the best."
One of the refreshing qualities about Ingram Hill is their endearing honesty. The band's lyrics are very plainspoken --no clever turns of phrase or profound ruminations on life. It's almost as if all the band knows how to do is mix honest sentiment with the crunching power of rock-and-roll riffs and backbeats.
Take "Your Smiling Face," the song that always closes the band's set. The lyrics -- "Sometimes, I think that you don't see the difference between you and me/Sometimes, you got to let me be, I know the truth will set you free/But when I see your smiling face, I know I would not trade my place/I tell you, girl, I'm so in love with you" -- offer a simple sentiment, but Moore's black-velvet vocals and the band's tight backing get the song across.
Emerging quietly over the past year as one of the city's most popular bands, Ingram Hill seems to have crossed a threshold: Now, they know who they are as a band and where they want to go. Watching them get there will be half the fun. n
Andria Lisle will return to Local Beat next week. You can e-mail comments, suggestions, and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.