By Steve Wildsmith firstname.lastname@example.org | 0 comments
Posted on Aug 26, 2015
The guys in Futurebirds have emerged from the darkness, and the buoyancy they’re experiencing thanks to the sunnier sounds of “Hotel Parties,” their forthcoming new album, is reflected in the songs it contains.
Last time around, “Baba Yaga,” released in 2013, saw the band hit some rough patches that nearly derailed the whole thing, member Carter King told The Daily Times recently.
“That record cycle was particularly bleak, because our old drummer quit, and our manager was quitting and getting out of the business,” King said. “We were on this particular tour that had no tour press, so the shows were just terrible. It was all just silent van rides, not a lot of laughing and not a lot of smiles. That was a pretty dark time.”
Not so for the current album cycle, which brings the band to Scruffy City Hall in downtown Knoxville on Friday night. The Wall Street Journal recently premiered a video clip of one of the new songs, and with the record coming out on a new label — Easy Sound Recording Company — things are definitely looking up for the Southern rock ensemble, which got its start in 2008 in Athens, Ga., a city in which it’s not exactly easy for a working band to get noticed. Since the early 1980s, bands have catapulted onto the national stage out of that town, giving it a vibrant, though often overpopulated, music scene.
It helped that Johnson and his bandmates shared similar influences and a love of the soulful feel of Americana. From the outset, he added, the sound the guys made as Futurebirds seemed special. Those early sessions felt comfortable, and while they didn’t set out to establish a Southern-sounding band, the members’ Georgia roots can’t help but show through. A cursory listen to “Hotel Parties” is a road trip along Southern backroads, a soundtrack to the dreamy haze of the sun crossing the Southern sky as one drives from highway to mountain road, from urban centers to rural farms and back again. Banjo, mandolin and pedal steel give the music a distinctly rough-hewn feel, making it easy to understand how the band draws comparisons to bands like My Morning Jacket.
“With bands like My Morning Jacket and the Drive-By Truckers, it’s hard to stay under those shadows, but we’ve got a lot of different influences among ourselves,” King said. “We’re six deep in the band, and everyone kind of comes from a different place, and you just see where it all kind of meets in the middle. We’ve gotta be kind of cognizant of not ripping off anyone too bad, but there hasn’t been such a contrived effort to not sound like this band or that one. We’re just letting it go where it goes, based on what we’ve got and trying to nurture it in one direction or another.”
Futurebirds released a self-titled EP in 2009, and friends graduating from the University of Georgia around the same time carried it with them as a memento of their college experiences. As they spread out across the country and shared the EP with new friends, Futurebirds found itself with a ready-made fanbase when the guys hit the road. The highway added to the tapestry of the group’s sound, and the band’s 2010 full-length album, “Hampton’s Lullaby,” is a shimmering, reverb-drenched picture of the band’s American experience. “Baba Yaga” was more complex and more dense, and going in to make “Hotel Parties,” King and his bandmates wanted to come up with a cleaner album that was more to-the-point both sonically and lyrically, he said.
“We decided to angle the sound that way a little more, because these songs that were brought to the tabke tended to demand a little more,” he said. “They didn’t call for so much reverb or delay; they didn’t have that washed-out sound. We were really stoked about the outcome, and I think it does sound a little different.”
And when the guys were finally able to hear the final mix, he added, the end result was enough to put a little more gas in the tank of willingness the band runs on from show to show. The shows are the easy part, he said — once the instruments are plugged in and Futurebirds start to fly, there’s little that can dissuade the guys from giving it everything they have, especially when everyone is locked in on one another, and even songs that have been played dozens of times become something new.
“Right now, we’re all psyched for this fall tour,” he said. “Everyone’s feeling healthy and got a nice hue to their skin. I’m sure that will all change a month into the tour, but right now, we’re raring to go.”