Amber Rubarth & Joe Purdy Share 'Townes' From 'American Folk' Movie Soundtrack

Amber Rubarth and Joe Purdy in American Folk
Devin Whetstone  

Amber Rubarth and Joe Purdy in American Folk

If you're going to write songs for a project called American Folk, Townes Van Zandt ought to figure in there somewhere, right? 

"Townes," one of two songs Amber Rubarth wrote for the soundtrack to the new film she and fellow singer-songwriter Joe Purdy star in (premiering exclusively below), is not about Van Zandt per se. But it does invoke his name in the chorus (the line came to Rubarth in a dream) and it evokes the folk and troubadour tradition that's part of the American Folk narrative.

"The song's about how you know people along the way in your journey of life, the connections that you make that bond you together," Rubarth tells Billboard. "The song for me was really trying to honor that journey and how things start getting blurry when you're traveling, even what day it is. But the connections you make with certain people stand out, and you keep them with you and you carry them everywhere. I feel that with touring and I definitely felt that during the movie." 

American Folk, which has been screening at film festivals and opens wide on Jan. 26, stars Rubarth and Purdy as a pair of touring musicians grounded in Los Angeles after 911 when all flights were canceled for three days. Both needing to head east, they find a beat-up 1972 Chevy van and set out across America, meeting people and doing ad hoc performances, with the encounters providing a connection amidst the tragedy. For Rubarth, who was recruited by director-writer David Heinz after he saw a YouTube video of her and Purdy performing together, it was a new adventure that gave her great insight into a creative world she previously knew little about.  

"It was a wild experience," she says of making the film -- which included the van breaking down for real, just as it did in the script. "It's related to music, for sure, and the folk thing is really at the heart of the film, so it was nice for Joe and I to have one thing that we knew we were able to bring to the table. But the whole movie world is such a fascinating experience. I grew up without TV so I'd hardly seen any movies, but it feels to me like what creating an album is with an added dimension -- and so much more collaborative, too, not just one person's vision but a shared creation, which is really inspiring." 

Rubarth and Purdy were hands-on in selecting the music for the film, mostly folk favorites. Each of them wrote two original songs, one each for the movie and another for the soundtrack album only -- though Rubarth's "Townes" is heard in American Folk's trailer. The soundtrack comes out the same day as the film, and Rubarth and Purdy will play eight shows together to promote both starting at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles.

Courtesy Photo

And if Rubarth has her way, this won't be the last we see of her on the big screen.

"I'd love to. I loved the experience," says Rubarth, who released a new solo album, Wildflowers In The Graveyard, during September. "It feels very similar to music to me in the way that it's a challenge in being present. For me songwriting and performing are both the same way; You have to be present, you have to be connected, you have to dig deep into things. Acting felt like another vehicle to do that, so hopefully I'll have a chance to do some more."  

The full run of Rubarth/Purdy American Folk dates includes:

January 26 /// Los Angeles, CA /// Hotel Café
January 27 /// San Francisco, CA /// The Independent
January 28 /// Seattle, WA /// Triple Door
January 30 /// Washington D.C. /// The Hamilton
January 31 /// Philadelphia, PA /// World Cafe Live
February 1 /// Boston, MA /// Brighton Music Hall
February 2 /// New York, NY /// City Winery
February 3 /// Derry, NH /// Tupelo Music Hal