Brothers Justin Harris ’02 and Ryan Harris ’05 have been busy touring across the country as the country-rock band McKenzies Mill, but now they’ve found time to return to where it all began.
McKenzies Mill will return to Greenville this Saturday February 28 to perform at the Buccaneer Music Hall, a new country music venue located at 2120 E. Firetower Rd. in the Harris Teeter shopping center, formerly a bar called Live.
Originally from West End, a small town near Pinehurst, the brothers named their band McKenzies Mill after the road where they grew up. They started the band in 2005 after Ryan graduated from ECU. They released their first album in 2007 and the second in 2010.
The duo is currently working on their third album, produced by New Voice Entertainment, which recently worked with Parmalee, another band with local connections.
Justin and Ryan describe their sound as “southern fried rock ‘n roll.” The brothers reside in Nashville, TN, which is where the band is based. They mostly tour in the southeast but they have performed in about 30 states from California to New York.
McKenzies Mill has received many honors in recent years. In 2014, the Country Music Awards named the band a “New Artist to Watch.” They won the national Bud Light Battle of the Bands in 2012. They’ve performed twice in Las Vegas as the official after party band for the National Rodeo Finals. In 2011, they won Nashville’s Wild Horse Saloon Battle for the Saddle.
“Justin began playing guitar and writing songs while at ECU,” Ryan said. “I had grown up singing my whole life. So, it kind of all started hanging out with friends around ECU playing and singing songs. Shortly after my graduation, Justin had moved back home and we played a while in our hometown, and eventually moved to Nashville to pursue it on a greater scale. I love stepping on that stage and pouring my passion into singing and entertaining.”
“When people start singing songs you wrote, it’s a powerful feeling. We were hooked,” Justin said. “That’s my favorite part of being in a band, the freedom of it all, and the ability to turn an idea into a song, and to then have people like that song so much they sing it back to you… it’s a hard thing to describe.”
The first time Justin ever performed one of his original songs live was at Ham’s. While at ECU, Justin majored in business and Ryan majored in criminal justice. While the brothers are primarily focused on their music, they both feel that ECU prepared them well to pursue other careers if they ever tire of performing.
“Our uncle, who we are very close with, went to ECU, so I always gravitated towards going there. I’ve always liked to have a good time, and ECU is kind of known for that,” Justin laughed. “But really, I couldn’t be prouder that I went to ECU. All partying jokes aside, I truly love ECU for the “brotherhood” that I felt there. It’s cool meeting people on the road who went to ECU. You can feel the pride and its like you instantly bond.”
Ryan followed his uncle and older bother’s leads. “ECU had a lot of family support. I loved attending ECU. I had some of the best times of my life there. I learned to just be myself and grow as an individual. I received a great education, made a lot of really awesome friends, and matured through my experiences with others. As far as my career in music goes, meeting and connecting with people is a huge benefit.”
Justin says being back in Greenville to perform is “awesome. We had a lot of good times here and haven’t been back in a few years. We’re looking forward to visiting our old stomping grounds.”