Surry Line: Songwriters Are at the Heart of Local Band

There’s something about hearing a songwriter sing the songs they’ve written. They can cover the songs of the decades that we all know and love, but when you hear a song written about a time in his or her life, of joy or heartache, you can identify with the singer. Knowing that someone has been in a similar place in life is a way we all connect. For Michael Motley and Nick McMillian, members of the local country band, Surry Line, sharing a love for classic country of yesteryear has inspired them to write many original songs that they share with their audiences.

Michael Motley

Life came fast and furious for Michael Motley. Born in Lynchburg, VA, he moved quite a few times during his childhood to different towns in Virginia and, eventually, to Raymond, NH, where, during his junior year, he finally felt like he ‘fit in.’ That year also brought a car accident for Michael and his step-brother, resulting in his brother’s death. Through it all, Michael was exposed to music by his dad, brother, mother, and grandmother, each singing and playing multiple instruments. “I learned the basics of the guitar at a young age and my senior year I was introduced to clawhammer banjo, and I immediately knew that was an instrument I wanted to master. Shortly after, I began to play bass, mandolin, fiddle and drums. In 2000, Michael lost his ‘biggest fan’, his grandmother with whom he lived, when she was killed in a car accident. Music took a back seat after that loss for several years.    

Fast forward to today: Michael has been a successful hairstylist for the past 12 years and with a change in his view of life, he felt an urge to return to music, seeking out old friends and officially meeting Nick McMillian in 2011. “My love of country music started early in life, and I would take note of the writers of the songs; I was drawn to those artists who wrote their own music. I had written poetry in the 5th grade, winning awards, so I found my gift of rhyme, and that’s what a song is, you just have to know how to put music to it, I just needed the confidence to sing” Michael said. With the newfound confidence and partnering with Nick, as well as with musical friend Sandy, they started ‘writing like crazy.’

Nick McMillian

Nick McMillian comes from a family with a long-standing tradition of playing music in the Roundpeak section of Surry County. “I started playing mandolin when I was seven years old, and soon I was learning to play fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass – pretty much most anything with strings on it! I played in many bands and like Michael, I played at festivals and attended conventions all of my life. In 2012, Michael joined my dad and me playing in the Back Step Band. After a trip to Dinwiddie County with Michael, his mom and her boyfriend, Gerald, I was able to attain Gerald’s 1958 Gretsch Anniversary guitar that had been in Gerald’s closet for 50 years. Once I started playing that guitar, Michael and I joined with long time musical friend Sandy Mason playing, and also we started writing songs together,” commented Nick. In 2014, in Pinnacle, NC, Michael and Nick established Surry Line and eventually were joined by Rodney Hodges, Bill Imus, and Wayne Heidel.

For the band members of Surry Line, singing their original songs written by Michael and Nick is the most gratifying time they spend with their audiences. “Lyrics tend to come to me at random times, in the middle of the night, while driving, and I am also inspired by conversations I have with my clients. The guys in Surry Line are like a band of brothers, and I am so thankful that our personalities mesh well together. We can almost read each other’s minds, and that’s a great thing since we often can’t talk during a performance. Our sound has been called everything from Americana to Rockabilly, but lately, we’ve been pinned at Country Blues by our friend and former host of NPR morning radio, Paul Brown, so we are going to go with that. With one album released, we are working on the original material for a second one. We couldn’t have gotten where we are without out our neighbors, family, and friends. Personally, my mom has been a source of love and encouragement, and I have to thank her for dragging me to church all those years, where I learned some of the best music and messages in the hymns. My brother has always been like a dad to me and supported me through it all. Nick and I bring different life experiences to our songs, but a shared love of country music, and Surry Line enjoys sharing our music with others,” Michael said.

For more information on Surry Line and upcoming performances, visit ‘Like’ them on Facebook for the band’s updates.