Following the release of the Apache Relay's roots-leaning 2011 sophomore album American Nomad and a subsequent round of shows opening for Mumford & Sons, the Nashville sextet started to feel hemmed in by the "folk revivalist" label commonly slapped on it by casual fans and journalists alike.

Following the release of the Apache Relay’s roots-leaning 2011 sophomore album American Nomad and a subsequent round of shows opening for Mumford & Sons, the Nashville sextet started to feel hemmed in by the “folk revivalist” label commonly slapped on it by casual fans and journalists alike.

“I love folk music, but we didn’t want to get cornered,” singer/guitarist Michael Ford, Jr. said in an early February phone interview. “When we made American Nomad it was just a snapshot of where we were at that time period, and I felt like we had a lot more to offer. [Going into recording sessions] we made a pact with each other to be as open as possible with where things go. We had no boundaries.”

This all-encompassing approach is evident from the opening notes of “Katie Queen of Tennessee,” which ushers in the band’s 2014 self-titled album on a rush of strings and “Be My Baby”-esque drumming. Throughout the recording, the musicians flirt with a range of sounds and styles, incorporating elements of Motown soul, mountain bluegrass and 1970s AM radio pop.

In addition to feeling painted in by labels, the musicians were also dealing with the pressures brought on by expectation for the first time, and there were moments during recording when Ford struggled with the awareness an audience was awaiting new material.

“I had a little bit of a difficult time with that, especially when I tried to track ‘Happiest Day of Your Life,’ which is just me and a guitar. It was really hard to get out of my head sometimes,” said Ford, who joins his bandmates for a concert at Rumba Cafe on Friday, Feb. 13. “You’re midway through the performance of the song and you’re thinking, ‘Man, a lot of people are going to hear this,’ and the pressure of just being naked like that was tough. I had to learn to kind of block it out.”

Though certain tracks, most notably “Katie Queen of Tennessee,” move with ballerina lightness, a sense of melancholia dominates the proceedings. The misleadingly titled closer “Happiest Day of Your Life,” for one, builds to Ford’s admission that “the happiest day of your life was the worst day of mine.”

It makes sense, too, since much of the material was first conceived in lonely hotel rooms in the midst of band tours, with Ford often holing up in the bathroom to work since he preferred the acoustics offered by the enclosed space.

“There’s something inspiring about being far away from home and far away from your comfort zone,” said Ford, who grew up outside New Orleans and formed Apache Relay in 2009 while finishing a music business degree at Nashville’s Belmont University. “We’ve taken the mindset to keep moving and changing and evolving and growing, because that’s what life is. That’s what keeps it exciting: not knowing where it’s going to go next.”[Photo: Music_Preview_ApacheRelay_CreditMelissaMadisonFuller_0212]