Budweiser Presents... Futurebirds
Nov 1, 2012 at 8:00 PM
Hailing from the bohemian college town of Athens, Georgia, Futurebirds play laid-back country-rock with an atmospheric, psychedelic twist. The group began turning heads with the release of a self-titled EP, whose backwoods harmonies and pedal steel riffs helped earn a contract with Autumn Tone Records. With the label’s help, Futurebirds booked time at Chase Park Transduction — one of Athens’ most renowned studios, with a client list that includes R.E.M., Drive-By Truckers, and Jason Isbell — and recorded Hampton’s Lullaby. The debut album was released in August 2010, and the group issued a follow-up EP, Via Flamina, while touring in support of both releases.
Wussy is a five-piece rock and roll band comprised of ex-Ass Ponys frontman Chuck Cleaver (guitar, vocals), Lisa Walker (guitar, vocals), Mark Messerly (bass, keys), Joe Klug (drums, keys) and John Erhardt (pedal steel). They formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in the early 2000’s with original drummer Dawn Burman.
Cleaver and Walker began playing together in 2001 as a result of Cleaver’s stage fright when asked to perform a brief run of solo shows. The duo’s first performance was largely unplanned and yet went without incident… so they agreed to continue and expand. Mark Messerly joined in 2002 as bassist and utility man, and Dawn Burman joined on drums shortly thereafter. The four-piece released three full-length albums and one EP on their native Cincinnati’s Shake It label. Klug joined the band shortly after Burman’s departure in early 2009. The new lineup recorded some demos, a single, and an acoustic re-imagining of their debut album Funeral Dress (for Record Store Day 2011) before finally completing their fourth original full length Strawberry. It was recorded (as were their other releases) at Cincinnati’s Ultrasuede Studios under the direction of the Afghan Whigs’ John Curley.
The band is known for its use of “an army of alternately droning and jangling guitars” (Uncut 6/09) to offset the traditional three-minute pop format. Lyrics are typically split evenly between Cleaver and Walker. Their work has met with consistent critical praise from such sources as Rolling Stone, SPIN, NPR, Christgau’s Consumer Guide, New York Times, Village Voice, Washington Post, Pop Matters and Uncut. Rolling Stone gave the band’s last three albums four stars each, and critic Robert Christgau placed the band’s first two albums (Funeral Dress and Left for Dead) on his Best of the Decade list, while all four Wussy full lengths ranked in his end-of-year Dean’s Lists.
Shortly before SXSW 2012, Wussy added Cleaver’s former Ass Ponys bandmate John Erhardt on pedal steel. The band will undertake their first full US tour throughout summer of 2012, followed by a stripped down UK tour in September to support their newest release, Buckeye, on London-based Damnably Records. more >>>
Brimming with confidence and creativity, Arrow sees Heartless Bastards pushing their distinctive sound forward with their most eclectic, energetic collection thus far. The album – the Austin, Texas-based band’s first release with Partisan Records – is marked as ever by singer/guitarist/songwriter Erika Wennerstrom’s remarkable voice, at turns primal and pleading, heartfelt and heroic. Songs like “Parted Ways” and the searing “Low Low Low” expertly capture the Bastards’ multi-dimensional rock in all its strength and spirit. Following upon the difficult introspection of 2009's acclaimed third album, The Mountain, Arrow stands as a powerhouse new beginning for Heartless Bastards.
“The Mountain was me going through some things after being in a relationship for nine years,” Wennerstrom says. ”This album is kind of like me being comfortable again.”
Arrow serves as the recorded debut of Heartless Bastards’ current iteration, their latest and greatest line-up since Wennerstrom first convened the band back in 2003. Drummer Dave Colvin and bassist Jesse Ebaugh – both of whom played on the Bastards’ first-ever demo recordings – returned to the fold in order to play live behind The Mountain. Soon after embarking on tour, Wennerstrom decided to put more meat on the band’s raw bones by enlisting guitarist Mark Nathan, who had ostensibly come aboard to handle the live sound.
“I wanted to add another guitar,” Wennerstrom says, “so I asked Mark, ‘What do you think of joining the band?’ and he was into it. I’ve always planned on being a four-piece, but it just takes a while to find somebody that you feel you click with. I’d rather have it be stripped down than just have somebody there for the sake of having them there.”
The expanded line-up brought additional color and dynamism to the Heartless Bastards’ already colorfully dynamic rock ‘n’ roll. With their sound honed to a razor’s edge by night after night of playing live, Heartless Bastards were soon ready to record for posterity. But having spent so much of the past year on tour, Wennerstrom knew she needed some downtime in order to turn her musical ideas into fully-fledged songs. In Fall 2010, she embarked on the first of what would be several solo road trips designed to clear the cobwebs and help focus her songwriting. Wennerstrom visited friends and family in Ohio, hung out at All Tomorrow’s Parties in the Catskills, spent alone time in Arkansas, a lake cabin in the Allegheny Mountains and at a ranch in West Texas.
“It was really nice,” she says. ”I didn’t feel like I was getting much done, but I realized that a lot of that experience ended up being reflected in the songs. I didn’t get a lot of the writing done right then, on that trip, but I feel like getting out there really helped me later on.”
2011 saw Heartless Bastards hitting the highway once more, taking the opportunity to road-test Wennerstrom’s new songs on a bare-bones “acoustic” tour as well on a series of dates supporting Drive-By Truckers. The band set to work on Arrow just two short days after their return to Austin, a revved-up, well-oiled rock ‘n’ roll machine.
“We just went right in,” Wennerstrom says. ”There’s a definite sound that comes from a band that’s been on the road and I really feel like it’s translated on the album.”
The band spent the next month with producer Jim Eno at his Public Hi-Fi home studio. Eno – known far and wide as the drummer in Spoon – guided the Bastards through the recording process, helping them to infuse their myriad influences and ambitions into the songs.
“Jim was really great to work with,” Wennerstrom says. ”He asked me what kind of approach I wanted to take towards each song and we’d take it in that direction. It was like, what were you thinking for each song, as far as inspiration?”
Arrow showcases the depth and breath of the band’s indelible sound, with songs like “Got To Have Rock and Roll” and “Down In The Canyon” lighting upon spaghetti western film scores, Seventies soul, psychedelia, funk, blues, glam, and mudhole-stomping hard rock. Two years of nearly non-stop touring resulted in an astonishing musical telepathy among Heartless Bastards, with all four players intuitively able to craft Wennerstrom’s songs into maximum form.
“I’m so in synch with this band,” she says. ”Songs seem to go where I want them to go and it doesn’t take a whole lot of time. Even though I’m not very communicative, they know me well enough and get it.”
Kicking off with the widescreen vision of “Marathon,” the album is more wholly fleshed than anything in the Bastards’ prior oeuvre, while simultaneously securing the band in all their straight-on, unadorned majesty. Arrow is the glorious sound of a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll outfit in full flight, with little outside accompaniment bar conga player Matthew “Sweet Lou” Holmes’s performance on the evocative “Skin and Bone.”
“It’s a pretty stripped-down album in a lot of ways,” Wennerstrom says. “There’s really not a lot added to these tracks, they’re really mostly live takes. We talked about adding things, but when we listened back, we thought, ‘I don’t know if this really needs more.’”
With Arrow complete, Heartless Bastards are now itching to get back out there. Inveterate road warriors, the band is at their electrifying best while on stage, making deep connections with both their audience and their music.
“It can be hard at times,” Wennerstrom says, “but I love it. I love playing on stage. It’s that hour and a half, that time that we’re up there, that I love most. There’s a lot of sitting around, trying to find things to fill in the time, but then we finally start to play, it’s so worth it and rewarding.”
Arrow sees Heartless Bastards doing what all great bands do – furthering their artistic scope with each successive effort. With its impressive range and undeniable vigor, the album flies straight, honest and true, the finest distillation yet of this extraordinary rock ‘n’ roll band’s fiery, unforgettable sound.
“I feel like this is the strongest record I’ve ever done,” Wennerstrom says. ”I feel like playing with these guys, us all being so connected, really helped make it so fully realized. I’m really, really happy with it.” more >>>
Baba Yaga, the second full-length album by Athens, GA’s Futurebirds, marks a milestone in the continuous evolution of the eclectic ensemble. The 13-song album finds Futurebirds – Thomas Johnson, Carter King, Dennis Love, Brannen Miles, Daniel Womack, and Payton Bradford (who has since left the lineup to pursue a non-musical career path) – delivering an expansive yet intimate set that takes the band’s trademark mix of earthily accessible songcraft and free-spirited experimentation into inspired new territory.
Like the band that made it, Baba Yaga defies easy categorization, boasting a beguiling blend of warmly catchy tunes, stirringly evocative lyrics, distinctive sonic textures and unexpected melodic twists. The music is both intense and uplifting, capturing a good deal of the soaring, primal, sweat-soaked spirit of Futurebirds’ live shows, which have already won the group a rabidly devoted fan base and a reputation as a singularly inspired, bravely unpredictable performing unit.
Throughout Baba Yaga, Futurebirds’ inventiveness and energy are suffused by a bittersweet, introspective melancholy that lends added emotional resonance to such compelling tunes as “Virginia Slims,” “Serial Bowls,” “Death Awaits” and “St. Summercamp,” which showcase the band’s indelible melodies, vivid lyrics and vibrant instrumental rapport.
“This album definitely feels like a big milestone for us, no question,” King says. “Just the fact that it’s finally coming out feels like a milestone in itself,” adds Johnson. Indeed, Baba Yaga’s long journey to the public’s ears is a story in itself, but the music more than justifies the album’s long and often frustrating birth cycle.
Early in their existence, Futurebirds’ balance of homespun roots and forward-thinking exploration made the band a favorite in and around their bohemian hometown. The 2009 release of their self-titled debut EP was followed the next year by their first full-length debut album, Hampton’s Lullaby. It was followed by the self-released EP Via Flamina, and the limited-edition 2011 Record Store Day release Live at Seney-Stovall Chapel, which sold out on the day of its release.
Futurebirds continued to build its fan base by touring relentlessly, sharing bills with the likes of Drive-By Truckers, Widespread Panic, Heartless Bastards and Alabama Shakes and performing at such prestigious festivals as Austin City Limits, Outside Lands, Hangout, Wakarusa, Forecastle and Bonnaroo. Futurebirds was also featured on 2011’s Bonnaroo Buzz tour, playing between Gary Clark Jr. and headliner Grace Potter & The Nocturnals.
Futurebirds’ combustible musical chemistry reaches inspired new heights on Baba Yaga. “In some ways we’re like one organism with six brains, but at the same time everyone in the band is vastly different,” King observes. “We had five different songwriters in the band on this record, with very different influences and inspirations. We get into the studio and people bring in their songs, and by the time we get done with a song, there’s a piece of everybody in it.”
“We all come from different backgrounds and chase different sounds, but when we play together there’s this weird dark chemistry amongst us,” Johnson notes, adding, “I can hear a song that someone else wrote and know exactly what I can bring to it, and the same goes for the others when they hear my songs.”
Baba Yaga was recorded in 45 studio days over the course of seven months, with the band touring between sessions in order to pay the recording bills. The musicians originally demoed about 30 songs for the project, 25 of which they recorded during the sessions, before paring that batch down to the 13 that appear on the finished album
“The songs on this album seem to all come from a similar place,” adds Johnson. “They don’t all sound the same or have the same vibe, but we’ve shared so many experiences that there’s an unspoken understanding amongst us as to where a song is coming from and where it wants to go.”
The bumpy road to the album’s release – which resulted in a near two-year gap between Futurebirds releases—included making difficult decisions in finding the proper home for the album, but helped to inspire the band to name it Baba Yaga, after a forest-dwelling, child-eating witch from Slavic folklore.
“It was a long and painstaking process trying to get this album out,” King explains. “We got pretty discouraged, feeling like maybe it would never see the light of day, and one day I was talking to Thomas and started saying, ‘God, is this record some mythical creature out in the woods that only exists in our imaginations?’ Then we read about Baba Yaga, and that perfectly described how we were feeling about this record.”
Fortunately, Futurebirds has emerged from its business travails a more confident and determined creative unit – a fact that the band plans on demonstrating by touring as much as humanly possible.
“The songs can take different lives from night to night,” King says, “because you feed off the energy of the crowd, and that energy can be really different from night to night. The most important thing is to keep things fresh and not be up there going through the motions.”
“Musically, we’re a lot sharper now than we’ve ever been, and that’s a product of playing so many shows,” Johnson concludes. “Going into the recording of the record, we were much better musicians, songwriters and collaborators than we’d ever been, and we feel like the end result reflects our maturity and development.”
With Baba Yaga finally a musical reality rather than an elusive myth, Futurebirds are more than ready to show the world how they’ve grown.
Covered in kudzu and swathed in a blanket of humidity, spanish moss, feedback and reverb exists Futurebirds. Here, at this intersection, we find a synthesis of the two extremes of Neil Young’s yin and yang. It’s at this crossroads, on this plane that Futurebirds meld the sweet, lilting, pedal steel and harmonies of the Stray Gators with the raucous, buzzing, distortion of Crazyhorse Aquarium Drunkard more >>>
Ticket sales ended Nov 1, 2012 8:00 PM. Additional tickets may be available at the box office.