Charlottesville is a bona fide cornucopia of new music. The Anatomy of Frank is currently touring Europe under their North America album released Oct. 2; Post Sixty Five released an EP back in September; Devon Sproule is gearing up to tour under her new album. Tonight, Oct. 23, Borrowed Beams of Light plays the Ante Room in support of its new 7″ released on Charlottesville’s own WarHen Records. Next Friday, Oct. 30, the Sally Rose Band will drop its latest album, Gotta Be Gold, and play a record release show at the Southern. And there’s more to come.
I can’t play music of my own, so I’m fascinated by those who can do it and do it well. When I started consuming music at steady rate as a teen (I consume even more now– when I’m home, there’s a record on my turntable; I wear headphones at work; I listen in the car), I started reading about my favorite bands and about the album creation and songwriting process. Reading about Brian Wilson’s songwriting and sound engineering process makes Pet Sounds all the more interesting to me. Knowing about the making of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours— the breakups, the new flames, the heartbreak, the arguments, the drugs, the pain and elation– makes the album all the more devastating and uplifting. Listen to “The Chain” and imagine Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham sing to one another about their breakup. You will feel every word, every note in that driving beat.
Maybe I could unleash my inner Karen O. or Jenny Lewis or Cate LeBon if I just practiced. Or got over myself and let someone hear me sing into my hairbrush. But probably not. It’s not easy to make good music.
I’m more at home telling stories.
I’ve been fortunate enough, for this series and for C-VILLE Weekly, to get to know a number of Charlottesville musicians, hear about their music, their lyrics, their lives and the people and places they love (or don’t love). There’s a lot of great music being made and performed here in Charlottesville, and it’s made by some pretty rad people. And I have a sweet gig myself: I get to help tell their stories.
This will be a continuous Tuning In, an article and playlist periodically updated with new and new-ish tracks and the stories behind them. I’m keeping it to Charlottesville for now, but might expand it to “kinda local,” with bands like Avers (I’ve seen them more than any other band ever), the Trillions, Those Manic Seas and Manatree coming into town frequently from Richmond. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ll embed the tunes here and keep a running playlist on indie-friendly SoundCloud. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates on when new tunes are added. Updates will also be added to the Cville Niche social media accounts.
It’s an exciting time for local music, so support your talented neighbors! Buy it, listen to it, read about it and go hear it live! Nothing beats a good show.
Oct. 23, 2015
WarHen Records, Oct. 23
Adam Brock says that Sky of You/Sea of Me is a very significant release for “cosmos pop” band Borrowed Beams of Light (or “the Beams”) for a few reasons. First, the two tracks represent the work of the entire band, not just Brock. “I’ve always had a strong vision for the band, and with the help of my main collaborator and co-Beam, Nathan Walsh, who no longer plays live with the band but often plays an important role in the songwriting process, I tend to put records together sort of piecemeal and alone. ‘Piecemeal and Alone’ would be the rather depressing name of my Behind the Music documentary,” says Brock. The “live” Beams have been incorporated into previous recording sporadically, but this was the first time they went into a studio and played together. “It was brilliant, so much fun,” says Brock. “You can really hear the energy, something that’s really present in our live shows that I struggle to achieve on record.”
Sky of You/Sea of Me was engineered by Adam Smith of Invisible Hand and Y’ALL and mixed by Brian Knox of Naked Gods. Both Smith and Knox play some guitar on the record, and Knox created and screen printed the single sleeves. It’s the Beams’ first release on Charlottesville’s WarHen Records. “It’s a very special piece of wax,” says Brock, and it’s super limited edition, so if you’re a Beams fan– and fancy yourself a Beams completist– snag one soon before they’re gone.
Check out the title track, “Sky of You/Sea of Me,” and “Long-Necked Wife,” Brock’s favorite song from the Beams’ split cassette with New Boss on Funny/Not Funny Records.
Oct. 30, 2015
Gotta Be Gold
County Wide, Oct. 30
“It feels great to kiss the folk genre goodbye…for now,” says Sally Rose Monnes of her band’s new record, Gotta Be Gold. “This one is heart and soul rock n’ roll.”
The Sally Rose Band made a name for itself with a folksy, honky-tonk doo-wop sound as sweet as Sally Rose’s dimples. But more and more, they’ve been moving towards a grittier, more rockabilly sound as they’ve stabilized the band’s lineup and welcomed new sounds into their repertoire.
Gotta Be Gold is the climax of years’ worth of untapped rock and grit that’s been bubbling up beneath the band, Monnes says. It’s her fifth release, but only the second for the full band. “I’ve always dreamt of having a full-on band as opposed to a group of musicians backing me. I know it’s safer to play by the book and cover your bases to cope with inevitable band shifts and transitions, but I feel so free and honest now that I’ve got a group that collaborates on my songs,” she says. Monnes and guitarist Sweet Pete Stallings co-write most of the songs and other band members add their own special ingredients to the potion.
Monnes also credits musician Lauren Hoffman (The Secret Storm) and the record’s producer, John Morand, with helping the band step into this new sound.
But the Sally Rose Band won’t— or can’t— forget its roots. In the reverb-drenched “Pop My Balloon,” Monnes sings:
You’re the lamest hero I ever knew / With your crooked smile and your broken tooth/ You look like a hillbilly / And you smell like one too. / You hit the bottle hard and try to play guitar / I hear you singing my songs to no one in the dark / I watched you as you stumbled out and pissed in the yard. / You’re crazy, I never seen anything so bad / You amaze me, you’re just trouble waiting to happen.”
The lyrics are clever, catchy, and then you hear the doo-wop: “You make me blue — oooh oooh— baby I’m the one for you.”
Keep an ear out for Sweet Pete’s stellar guitar tones and David Jones’ tight, sassy percussion. Don’t miss Monnes’ blood harmonies with her mother, Catherine Monnes, who plays cello for the band— they’ll send a shiver down your spine.
Nov. 13, 2015
Home Problems (upcoming release)
These new tunes from New Boss represent a new phase for a band that has gone through, well, a lot of phases recently.
“I guess that happens to most bands when they’re starting out,” says Thomas Dean, but “I think we all have a better vision for our music now.”
The band is getting ready to release a new cassette (and digital album), Home Problems, its first full release with singer Jordan Perry and recent collaborator Devon Sproule. As the band moved through its lineup changes— Perry took over lead vocals when Carolyn Zelikow stepped away from the band— its sound changed a bit as well. Dean says that when he writes songs for New Boss, he considers who will be singing and writes with that person’s voice in mind. So it’s to be expect that the band would sound different— vocally and musically— after changing from a laid-back female vocalist to a more urgent, more energetic male vocalist.
New Boss’ Twee Boogie Vol. 1 and 2 release showed a band in transition: Side A is Zelikow New Boss, Side B is Perry New Boss.
But the songs on their upcoming release, Home Problems, “is the first material with Jordan that really found the sweet spot,” says Dean. The band found something new, something they hadn’t yet discovered on that second half of Twee Boogie, and though he likes those songs, he says something is missing from them.
Having two and sometimes three vocalists— Perry, Sproule, and other members of the band— “opens things up even more” as far as songwriting goes, says Dean. He can think of multiple voices, many sounds, as he writes the music, and then he lets Perry (and now Sproule) apply the lyrics. Perry says that Sproule’s melodies and lyrics— she is a master lyricist— are adding yet another layer to the band’s recordings and live performances. As a result of all this, the songs are richer.
“I’ve mostly been choosing lyrics based on their sonic quality (words that feel good and interesting to sing) and have tried to let content arise rather than choosing a topic as a starting place,” says Perry. And with that in mind, he guesses that “Break Yourself” “is most likely about the nutrition of friendship.”
After an extensive fall tour (in Big Red the Suburban) that brought them from New York to San Francisco to Nashville and many cities in between, the Will Overman Band returned home to Charlottesville with a November 27 homecoming gig at the Jefferson Theater. Now that they’re home, the band is making plans to release their debut album, hopefully in April 2016. I asked Will Overman himself to talk about how audiences across America responded to some of their tunes. From a mostly-male hoedown to playing Americana music in the big electric city, here are a couple of Overman’s most memorable tour moments as seen from the stage:
Whippoorwill: This past October we played a show on the Italian Market in Philly, on the same street Rocky runs down before he runs up the steps. We had a bunch of our friends there that night but unfortunately for them (they were mostly guys) there was a lack of women in the room, so all of our friends decided that, as soon as we went double-time on “Whippoorwill” that they’d just have a hoedown with each other. So for rest of the song we all watched from the stage on as our buds danced with each other.
Ode to Virginia: Every time we play “Ode” out of the state it’s always a special feeling, and it gets stronger the farther we travel from the Old Dominion. Playing “Ode” in New York City couldn’t have made us more proud to be from Virginia, especially after the show when people came up to and said, “Man, we don’t get to hear that kind of music much up here!” Things like that make you proud.
January 3, 2015
The Strip EP, and “Shut Eye” (new single)
On a warm golden evening back in the summer of 2014, Post Meridian played a handful of songs for a few friends* in a Belmont backyard.
Vocalist Shivani Bhatt, guitarist Sam Hewitt and keys player Stephen Oklesson had been playing together for a few months at that point (Bhatt and Hewitt met through mutual friends; Hewitt and Oklesson worked together at Rimm-Kaufman Group), and the trio debuted a couple of original songs and some covers for their small audience.
They’ve come a long way since that backyard show.
Now a five-piece rock band— they’ve added drummer Jon Combs and bass player Ryan Gilchrist to the lineup— the band plays atmospheric rock music with shades of neo soul. Bhatt cites Florence + The Machine and Yeah Yeah Yeahs as major influences, but says that they’re not afraid to get a little grungy. “We’ve got a lot of emotion and energy in our songs that we want to rock out to.” This is true— Bhatt’s groovy headbanging is a powerful contrast to her ethereal voice.
Post Meridian has a pretty wide variety of covers in their repertoire— Muse’s “Hysteria” and Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” to name just two— but the band’s strengths lie in its original songs. They’re catchy, real, and easy to dance to. Post Meridian only recently rounded out the lineup with Gilchrist this past spring, and they’ve spent the last few months getting comfortable with each other and their sound.
“We have a very democratic songwriting process. If one person isn’t on board with a part in a song, we probably won’t keep it,” says Bhatt. We all care so much about sculpting the song until it resonates strongly with all of us so that we can ROCK OUT. So if there is anything in a song that doesn’t hit home with someone and would impede said rocking out, we pretty much nix it. There are always exceptions, but I’m proud that we all care about the songs enough to make this laser focus on them happen.”
Listen for the back and forth between Bhatt’s vocals and Hewitt’s guitar on “Wait A Minute,” and the dynamic buildup in their new single, “Shut Eye.” When you see them live— and you must see them live, because they’re a band that can rock out a three-hour set at World of Beer the night before Halloween— Bhatt loses her shit on the “Hysteria” cover.
Post Meridian will release a new single, “Shut Eye,” at the Tea Bazaar on Tuesday, Jan. 5, when they open for Joshua Powell and the Great Train Mystery. They’ll have copies of their The Strip EP available at the show as well. The two songs included on the playlist, “Dream Girl” and “Save Me,” come from that release but they’re indicative of where the band is headed lyrically and sonically.
“Dream Girl,” says Bhatt, is about being completely and unexpectedly unraveled by a performer on stage. It’s the first song they wrote as a band.
“Save Me” comes from an experience that Bhatt had when her partner was in the hospital. It’s about feeling overwhelmed, about caring for someone else so much that you forget to take care of yourself. (So, it’s about love.) It’s also about not knowing how to ask for help when you really need it. But it’s not the somber tune you might expect. It’s a sexy take on vulnerability, one where Bhatt’s hauntingly sultry vocals are matched with echoing guitar, fuzzy synth, heart-catching bass and crashing cymbals, all coming together to say, “We’ve got this.”
*Full disclosure: I was one of those friends. I’m friends with the entire band; I’ve held off on writing about them until they booked multiple shows at some of the more visible venues in town. So, until now.