Heather Hoy loved to sing when she was growing up in Warren.
That didn’t change when she moved 11 years ago to Switzerland, her husband’s native country.
After several years of performing with a cover band, Hoy now is fronting the country band Unifour and singing original songs she cowrote with guitar / banjo player Bodo Neumeister. The band released its self-titled debut album last month.
”Before I came to Switzerland, I was composing music with some people from the Cleveland area,” she said during a telephone interview from her home in Switzerland. “When I came here, I didn’t know anybody. I just wanted to sing. That’s what I’ve always done … I was looking for people (to write with) but not aggressively looking for people to write with.”
In fact when drummer Renato Roncaglioni first asked if she would be interested in singing with the country band they were starting, she said no because they rehearsed more than an hour from her house and she didn’t want to spend that much time away from her husband and two daughters on something that probably wouldn’t work out.
But Roncaglioni was a good salesman, she said, and talked her into coming down just once to see if they gelled together. Hoy didn’t need much persuading after that.
”I just knew,” she said. “You just know when you work with people immediately if it’s going to work out. The incredible level of musicianship, they were so talented. And when I found they were looking for someone to write with, I was so interested because I had been looking for a partner to write with.”
The band has an international background. Neumeister is German, Roncaglioni is Swiss and bass player Nik Ilic is Serbian. The name Unifour doesn’t come from uniting their four backgrounds but from a region in North Carolina where Neumeister briefly lived.
Just like the name, Unifour’s music has very American origins.
“Switzerland has a huge country audience,” Hoy said. “I was so surprised. When we started booking festivals, there are festivals literally every weekend of the year. They start in February and go until almost November.
“I think the European music world is very inspired by American music. The country music scene started with Johnny Cash. They’re known for liking that old traditional style.”
Europe has been embracing contemporary country more in recent years with acts like Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry touring overseas, and Hoy believes that exposure is making it easier for Unifour to broaden its audience.
Along with the 10 songs by Hoy and Neumeiter, “Unifour” does include two covers. One is Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which they included because it was one of the most requested songs in concert.
“We started playing ‘Jolene’ live before we recorded it,” Hoy said. “There’s just something about the arrangement that people really love.”
And Hoy is a big fan of Parton’s.
“Personally, no one is better than Dolly Parton. People have no idea how talented she is. Looking at what she’s done over the years, she’s zones away from other people, not only with music but also as a businesswoman.”
The other cover may be less expected on a country album – AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie.”
“We decided, let’s try something really different and open it up to a different audience. Someone who’s a rock will hear it in a new way, although I don’t think most people recognize it.”
Unifour is using one of the originals, lead track “Love Everything About You,” to try to be Switzerland’s entry in the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. One doesn’t have to live in Switzerland to vote for Unifour. Those interested in voting can go to www.eurovisionplattform.sf.tv, clicking login and then choosing the “connect with Facebook” option. A link also can be found on the band’s website – unifour.ch
The top vote getters through Monday will get to compete in front of a live audience with the winner representing Switzerland in the competition. That’s where Hoy believes Unifour can stand out among groups more interested in spectacle than music.
“We’re real live musicians who not only can produce an album but also can produce it live.”