Scents and sensibilities: North Carolina’s Lowland Hum

Although husband-and-wife duo Daniel and Lauren Goans, aka Lowland Hum, is based in North Carolina, the couple have spent much of the last two years logging miles up and down the Eastern Seaboard. “For the most part, we have gone where people reach out to us,” says Daniel. The Goanses love touring, and recent national coverage by the likes of PopMatters has helped to build a burgeoning fan base, but they also have a soft spot for their home state. “We love North Carolina and want to be connected with communities here,” says Daniel.

So the indie-folk outfit mapped out a “North Carolina Love Tour,” with 15 dates across the state. They’ll play Asheville on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 6 and 7, at a house show and at One Stop, respectively. “Asheville was going to be one of the first stops back in August,” Daniel says of the band’s release tour for Native Air. That show didn’t work out, which was especially sad for Daniel, who counts author Thomas Wolfe among his creative inspirations.

In a happy turn, the Asheville shows will be that much more special, incorporating the duo’s multi-sensory production. Infusing music with multimedia presentations (live painting, projections, backup dancers) is not new, but the Goanses have added their own touches. They work in lyric books, an art installation and scents. “Smell is the strongest memory trigger,” says Daniel. “It’s all about creating an atmosphere in which people can be present with the music.” In venues that allow it, the couple sets out up to six essential oil burners with mixtures like lavender and cedar wood.

“Our goal is to remove any barriers between us and the audience,” says Daniel. Lowland Hum also opens the floor, at points in the concert, for comments or questions. “The audience brings so much to the experience,” Daniel says. “I think it can’t be superhealthy when every night you’re the main event. It’s wonderful to have other people give their thoughts. We’ve learned a lot from people.”

Visual and aromatic aspects of the live show began as an opportunity for Daniel and Lauren to make use of their individual strengths. Lauren comes from a visual art background — she “experiences things in totally different ways,” says Daniel. “A lot of the multisensory ideas evolved from conversations about what it means for us to make music together and how we can do it so one of us doesn’t get diminished by the collaboration.”

That shared project has led Lowland Hum to engage more deeply in art and interpersonal relationships. “Our music has a lot of tension in it, lyrically and also melodically,” says Daniel. “On this record we just released in August, we’re unpacking lots of questions and confusions about identity. Our identity as people, but also as married people trying to create together.” Daniel says that his instinct, in working on music, is to involve others. He describes the process as a “communal artifact,” noting that a song often ultimately communicates something different from its original intent.

The recording process for the Goanses has been as experimental as their performances. Before the formation of Lowland Hum, Daniel tracked his solo album, BrotherStranger, in a library overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. “I have not had tons of control over the spaces, but the spaces ended up becoming an integral part of each of the different albums,” he says.

For Native Air, the couple set up a makeshift studio in Daniel’s parents’ basement. “It’s very quiet in there and it sort of felt like going back to the start, to discover this new identity as a band,” says Daniel. After all, Lowland Hum is a young group, and the album resulting from those basement sessions was a debut. Daniel says, “It felt appropriate to record in the house where I spent my young years.”

Originally posted in Mountain Xpress.

Oh Tennis with your preternaturally breezy sound, your vintage cool, your soft-focus and late-summer haze. I have missed you.

If the rest of your forthcoming EP lives up to this teaser track (“Born and raised on the mean streets / that’s where she learned how to keep the beat”), then I can’t wait.

Matrimony at Bele Chere

If you’re a fan of the current wave of earnest roots-rockers (The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, Langhorne Slim & the Law, Mumford & Sons) then Charlotte, N.C.’s Matrimony is probably playing your tune.

The family group (husband and wife Jimmy Brown and Ashlee Hardee Brown, with Ashlee’s brothers CJ and Jordan Hardee, and brother-from-another mother, Ethan Ricks) took the stage at Coxe Avenue yesterday afternoon. (You can read an interview with Jimmy here.) Their set (possibly seen by the most audience members with pastel hair) was energetic from start to finish — even with a rain shower at the end — and ranged from rockers and power ballads to romantic slow songs that built to fevered pitches.

CJ played banjo on many of the songs (one of the elements that keeps the group anchored in the roots realm), but he also pulled out an electric ukulele foe one number, a light balance to the intense and ragged edge of Jimmy’s vocal. Jimmy and Ashlee took turns singing lead — her vocal is smoother and poppier, and even her stomp-ballad, “Mecklenburg Co. Jail” was delivered with a sort of polish that elevated the twist on a traditional prison song to a new level. During that song, a couple waltzed in the crowd.

Jimmy, though originally from Ireland, invokes Southern soul. His voice rose like an airplane taking off at the pinnacle of the songs on which he sang lead. And while most of Matrimony’s tracks are built in layers of instrumentation and intensity, it was the raw keen in Jimmy’s voice that opened each song out into its expansive possibility. Meanwhile, Jordan’s drumming was thick and driving.

It was that drumming, the bigness of it, that turned even slower songs with their plaintive notes into the kind of well-timed bombast that whipped the crowd into, if not a full-on frenzy (this was well before dusk and blood alcohol saturation), certainly happy revelry.

Matrimony played a number of songs from the band’s new EP, Montibello Drive: “Golden City” and “Giant” were among those. They also did a rendition of Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly,” which was largely unrecognizable — thanks in part to CJ’s understated banjo (other roots-rock outfits could take a lesson) — until the chorus.

Photos by John Zara.

Guns blazing: Matrimony on major labels and major magic

Jimmy Brown is from Ireland, but he considers North Carolina to be home. Probably because that’s where his band, Matrimony, is based. And because that band, as its name suggests, is a family affair. It began with Brown and his wife, Ashlee Hardee Brown (and whomever they could find to fill out the lineup for live shows) and grew to include Ashlee’s brothers CJ Hardee (banjo and mandolin) and Jordan Hardee (drums).
Photo by Harper Smith

So, if home is where the heart is, wherever the group travels (and they log some serious miles), they’re already home. But, says Jimmy, “We love Charlotte and we love the music scene here. Everyone asks if we’ll move to New York or L.A., and we’re like, why?

But the question isn’t a crazy one: Matrimony signed with Columbia Records a year and a half ago and the major label just released the band’s EP, Montibello Drive. The four songs in that collection are big and richly orchestrated, though Jimmy says it’s not necessarily a change in direction from 2010 debut, The Storm & The Eye. That record was rooted in folk, though it more than hinted at the raucous power captured on Montibello.

Besides the lineup, what has changed? “We don’t have fiddle and not as much accordion,” says Jimmy. “The live show is more rockin’.”

That means something, coming from a band that has always been known for its high-energy live performance. It’s also great news, since Matrimony is slated to play Bele Chere. The group loves outdoor events, says Jimmy. “Everybody’s in that festival mood. With a club gig, you just never know.” They shined at Bonnaroo this year where, along with a brag-worthy set they also “did a bluegrass thing,” as Jimmy puts it, with The Bluegrass Situation, a resource/hub/festival/traveling event created, in part, by Ed Helms of The Office and The Hangover.

Matrimony is decidedly not a bluegrass band, though. At least not usually. Montibello Drive is based in American roots — there’s “Mecklenberg County Jail,” written and sung by Ashlee, a spin on the traditional prison song. Opener “Golden City” is banjo fueled and powerful, with a vocal duet and a jangly, driving beat that propels the whole album. “Obey Your Guns,” one of the band’s older songs, also builds into huge moments, which Jimmy says the band feels as succinctly as the audience does.

And the songs morph from night to night, live show to live show: something a group of musicians can do when they know each other like family. “We never even talk about what we’re going to do,” says Jimmy. “That’s the magic in this band.”

Since I’ve already said much about Wages (and am sure to say much more, in the future) I’ll just let the awesomeness that Nick Campbell and James DeDakis speak for itself on this gorgeous and chillbump-inducing new video.

Wages - A Little Thing (by wageswages)

An interview with one of my favorite Asheville bands, Even the Animals. Here, they talk about choosing a band name, melancholy vs. sentimentality and the evolution of songwriting. And they perform Fire to Metal” and “Love and Loss.”

Even the Animals perform and chat with Alli for Mountain Xpress (by Jesse Hamm)

Crush-worthy Crushed Out

Brooklyn garage-rock duo Crushed Out is 1) adorable, 2) nearly impossible not to dance to and 3) one of all-time best bands to review. That last point is completely inarguable because guitarist/vocalist Frank Hoier introduces almost every single song with a title and an story. And the songs that he doesn’t introduce, he announces after the fact.

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Opening for semi-Asheville-based indie-pop outfit Darwin Deez at the Grey Eagle last weekend, Crushed Out kicked off an energetic set with “Want to Give,” the first song off last fall’s album of the same name. Frank’s bandmate (and wife) Moselle Spiller is the drummer and backup singer; she plays the kit like a jazz percussionist with lots of wrist flicks and elegant gestures, her constant smile belying the complexity of her performance.

"Push Down & Twist," their "dance craze song" had a definite ’60s-era Corny Collins show feel, with a garage edge. The guitar tone was deep and mechanical, equal parts stringed instrument and chain saw. The drums were insistent, pushing the front row of the audience to dance, though Moselle played through the push and kick with a light bounce, her long hair shimmying in time to the heavy beat.

That Frank and Moselle look they just arrived via time machine from “That ’70s Show” (he with a surfer blond shag, she a brunette Marsha Brady in a purple and green leotard) adds to the ambiance they create. But there’s also a sincerity to each song; the sense that this is not a throw-back act. They might be drawing on the dance-pop and surf-rock of the ’60s, but it’s filtered through later eras of grit and rock. “Black & Purple” (a song inspired by Frank’s mom and her Black Sabbath album), played later in the set, was a slow song that picked up in the chorus and recalled The Ramones — the way the Ramones tapped ’50s and ’60s rock and pop and gave it a punk edge.
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"Temper Tantrum," which began with Frank pushing his raspy tenor to its high edge, contained as much menace as whimsy. "Weigh You Down" (released as a free download last fall) was less melodic, more repetitive and underscored by surf guitar.

"Sharkbite," another surf-rocker, moved fast and deliberate, with Moselle driving the beat and whipping her hair. And while the duo could probably stick to the addictive and retro-cool surf licks, their repertoire included the rhythmically-complex "Firelight" and a pitch-perfect cover of the Marvelettes’ "Wait a Minute Mister Postman." On that song, Moselle added a sweet and dusky vocal (part background, part harmony). Frank sang the lead, sticking with the "boyfriend" reference, which added to the song’s charm. (The band’s versatility is not limited to ’60s rock motifs, either: Moselle also makes all of their merch.)

Crushed Out wrapped with “Ghost of Bo Diddley” from 2010’s Show Pony. Frank danced while he played and Moselle stood at the drum kit on the slowed choruses until the last minute or so of the song, when she leaped off the stage, danced through the audience with a tambourine, then climbed back on stage and flung the tambourine into the crowd while sliding back behind the kit in a fluid motion.

Completely. Awesome.

Photos from the band’s website.

Grandchildren: disappearing into the music

Philadelphia’s Grandchildren (Aleks Martray on guitar, Roman Salcic on percussion, Russell Brodie on bass, multi-instrumentalist Tristan Palazzolo, Adam Katz on guitar and John Vogel on piano/synthesizer) calls itself an orchestra pop band. The term “orchestral,” for the sextet, is “as much aesthetic as it is technical,” as Martray explains below. The group formed around Danger Danger house, and while the songs are written and composed by Martray, the other musicians add input and swap instruments on stage.

Grandchildren’s sophomore effort, Golden Age, was released last month. (Paste magazine just debuted the band’s new video for “End Times” from that record.) Here, Martray talks about sea changes, perfect eras, life in a dilapidated old Victorian house in west Philly, and the art of painting a picture with sound.

Alli Marshall: I love the name of your new album, Golden Age. What does that term represent for you — the golden age of music? Or art? Or society? What time period would you say is the Golden Age, and why?
Aleks Martray: The Golden Age is sort of the overarching concept that ties all the songs together. This wasn’t on purpose, but more of a retrospective realization that helped me make sense of the album as it was being finished. “Golden Age” was the last track written and recorded and it sort of summed up, musically and thematically, what the whole batch of songs was trying to express: this notion that everyone has these idealized moments or eras that they use as a marker for the way things once were or should be, but never really were or will be. I began to see the album as investigating this from all angles: doubt, hope, nostalgia, naivety, etc. Each song was written for, about or from the perspective of someone in my life who was somehow coming to terms with this reality that life isn’t always what you thought is was or would be and the struggle that ensues from this harsh realization. It can be liberating or disillusioning, but either way it’s a coming of age. I think there’s something very true that comes out of an illusion that is ultimately false and I’m always interested in the relationship between fact and fiction.

I understand you all came together around and lived at various point at the Danger Danger house. That’s an evocative name — what’s it like? Are you all still running it? And does it lend some sort of aura to musical projects?
Danger Danger house is a dilapidated old Victorian house in west Philly where Grandchildren formed. Between the six of us, we had known each other since middle school, high school or college, but Danger Danger was the first time we were all living under the same roof, hosting shows, writing and recording, surrounded by music and creativity. I guess you could say it was our Golden Age in a way. Definitely a perfect storm of talent and personalities connecting at the right time and place. I began writing and recording our first record, Everlasting as a solo project in my tiny third floor room at the house. As it evolved and expanded, it began to incorporate the sounds, styles and instrumentation of all the musicians living in the house as well as the wide spectrum of artists who performed there over the years, from emerging electronic artists to Philly’s jazz legends. I think this amazing time and place served as an incubator for Grandchildren to develop a uniquely eclectic yet original sound and it helped set the creative trajectory for us as a band.

Since you all play all of the instruments on stage, do you have to map out who will play what on the album? And then how does a song evolve into the instrument swap — like, does each person initially create parts on his primary instrument? Does the swapping keep you creatively challenged?
I write and arrange all the music through the recording process. I’ll spend a month just recording ideas, a month listening back, a month connecting the dots into songs, and then another month arranging and recording demos that lay out the roadmap or vision of the song. I take this demo to the band and we layer on the various parts through separate recording sessions. So it’s a long process that expands and contracts constantly. I think of it like replacing parts of a car until you have a brand new car, most of the initial pieces are gone but the architectural design is still present. So a guitar part might become a horn part, a synth part may become a vocal part or a beat may become syncopated or simplified. But it always goes back to the questions: What is the song asking for? and What’s essential and what’s excess? I’d say 80-percent of the process is really listening, not playing. With Golden Age in particular, I worked with Chris Powell and Bill Moriarty in the post-production phase to provide an objective and experienced set of ears to answer these questions, to find what was at the core of the songs, and to bring them to their final state. As a composer it’s easy to get trapped inside the arrangements and lose perspective on what other people hear. I really wanted the new music to hit you the way pop music hit me when I was a kid. I wanted beats, hooks, and phrases that could instantly connect and stick in your ear, while still retaining some of the textured nuances of orchestral music. I think this is what differentiates our first album, Everlasting, from Golden Age.

I read a great quote from you about Everlasting where you said, “music is a reflection of a young person processing their own coming of age through constant self-inflicted culture shock.” Was there an esoteric impetus similar to culture shock (or travel or coming of age) that informed Golden Age?
I think people go through a form of adolescence, or some kind of sea change, at several points in life and each is similar, familiar, but distinct. Golden Age is less about youthful self-discovery or coming of age and relates much more to the realizations that come from the things in life we have no control over. It comes from a few years of a lot of weddings, funerals and babies being born. These markers represent a sort of seismic shift that force you to relocate your place in the world. That process is can be cathartic and a bit disillusioning at the same time. I think I processed this through writing these songs without even realizing it at the time.

Grandchildren is often described as an orchestra. I feel like the term “orchestra” taps more into an aesthetic than a size; to something rooted in classicism. At the same time, I feel like this collection of songs (the intense rhythms of “No Way Out,” the frenetic brightness of “Rain Down”) seeks to deconstruct classicism. Am I on to something here? Can you talk about Grandchildren’s idea of an orchestra in a traditional and nontraditional sense?
I do think that for us the term orchestral is as much aesthetic as it is technical. An orchestra has many members, but each one of their jobs is to disappear into the music, so that what the audience experiences is greater than the sum of its parts and transports the listener beyond instruments into the narrative of the music. It’s like going to the movies: you don’t think about the screen or the projector, you’re drawn into the story. I think that’s how people used to experience going to the orchestra. It painted a picture and told a story with sound. I think we’re trying to do that with pop music — something cinematic in scope but instantaneously connectable.

Making all the right moves: Josh Ritter at The Orange Peel

Photographer Rich Orris (all photos in this post are his) noted, early in the Josh Ritter show at The Orange Peel, that Ritter is one musician who makes everything instantly better. And it’s kind of true. Not that Ritter has the power to mend a broken heart or heal the sick or anything like that. But the way he takes the stage with a huge grin, the way he looks so genuinely happy to be there, the way he insists it’s going to be such a fun night and the way he seems to get more energetic, more smiley, more raucously happy as the show goes on — if that doesn’t cure what ails you, it’ll at least make you forget for a couple of hours.

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Ritter started the show solo with “Idaho.” When he reached the line, “Ain’t no wolf can sing like me,” a girl in the audience shouted “that’s right,” which made Ritter grin through his lyrics. It was also the first of many wolf references. (He later performed “Wolves,” with a long solo howl, and led the audience on a participatory howl in the rocking and percussive “Rattling Locks.”)

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The Royal City Band (bassist Zack Hickman, guitarist Austin Nevins, Sam Kassirer on keys and drummer Liam Hurley) came onstage one at a time during “Southern Pacifica” and finally launched as a complete entity with a big drum sound and heavy keys on “Rumors.” Surrounded by smoke machine clouds and a huge all-seeing eye backdrop (the band’s merch booth included a limited-edition glow-in-the-dark poster of the same design), Ritter pushed his voice to a raspy edge on the verse, “The music’s never loud enough.”

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That particular song is one that Ritter has been playing — with full bombast — for years. And yet, each time he’s like a kid who just started his first garage band and cranked the volume to 10. Not that he and his band perform like novices. The show is crisply professional from start to finish. Every stop is clean, every nuance is polished. But there’s the energy of newness, of discovery, of the first flush of success.

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Which is probably partly why people love Ritter. Because he’s not jaded. He’s cool in his not-trying-to-be-coolness; he’s bolstered by genuine enthusiasm. And people respond. The Orange Peel was nearly packed on a Monday, a fact which Ritter noted several times, thanking the crowd for coming out. (Even though he’d just sold out two nights at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. And remember he’s touring a breakup album. But Ritter can pull that off.) He’s also smart and funny, reeling off a crazy pseudo-historical myth about the Orange Peel: “This thousand-year-old venue was build on a much-older temple. We’re not sure what. We’re not even sure oranges were involved.”

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Later in the show, during a solo break, Ritter dedicated the song “Galahad” to local bookstore Malaprop’s (where two years ago he gave a reading for his novel, Bright’s Passage). “Galahad” is an interesting choice for Malaprop’s — look up the lyrics for a laugh.

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Ritter sang five songs from his just-released album, The Beast in its Tracks. Which is, yes, a breakup album. But there’s also a love story in there, and a lot of hope. (Read more about it here.) The musician (and/or his management) made the interesting choice to give away a free download of the album with each concert ticket, a seemingly dubious move until he played that album’s single, “Joy To You Baby,” and the audience sang along. The room was flooded with such a gorgeously twilit and hopeful feel. Calm anticipation.

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That calm was a rare moment in an evening filled with electricity and animation. At times, Ritter pogoed around the stage; he played air drums in “Rattling Locks” and shimmied his way through “Right Moves.” That song’s question, “Am I making all the right moves?” is probably the most rhetorical of the show.

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So, calm moments were few but sing-along moments were many — “Folk Bloodbath” brought one, and “Kathleen” another. During the latter, Ritter switched guitars mid-song and launched into a rap interlude of sorts in which he recited a letter from a fictional member of the Lewis and Clark expedition who, sick of the explorers, had made his own discovery of a town filled with vegetarians. A place where, “everybody plays Frisbee golf. Everybody has a dog.”

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After a short break, the band returned for an encore. Standing in a slice of orange light, Ritter played the achingly sweet “The Temptation of Adam” and then, for the finale, raised the energy level to a fever pitch with “To the Dogs or Whoever.”

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It’s worth noting that the set (see below) covered at least a decade of songs and every one stood up beside the others. As a collection they showcased Ritter’s staggering ability as not just a performer but as a songwriter, too. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait two more years before he makes it back to Asheville.

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Setlist:
1. Idaho (solo), Animal Years
2. Southern Pacifica, So Runs the World Away
3. Rumors, The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter
4. A Certain Light, The Beast in its Tracks
5. Hopeful, The Beast in its Tracks
6. Lillian, Egypt, Animal Years
7. The Curse, So Runs the World Away
8. Joy To You Baby, The Beast in its Tracks
9. New Lover, The Beast in its Tracks
10. Folk Bloodbath, So Runs the World Away
11. Galahad (solo), To the Yet Unknowing World (EP)
12. Snow is Gone (solo), Hello Starling
13. Wings, Hello Starling
14. Evil Eye, The Beast in its Tracks
15. Rattling Locks, So Runs the World Away
16. Wolves, Animal Years
17. Right Moves, The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter
18. Kathleen, Hello Starling
Encore:
1. The Temptation of Adam, The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter
2. To the Dogs or Whoever, The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter