Archive for the ‘Wil Wright’ tag
Confession: I’m an idiot.
The lovely Zoe Ruth-Erwin, Knoxville expatriate now living on the West Coast and bandleader of the indie-rock project Little Red Lung, reached out to me several months ago. She was in the middle of recording “Little Red Lung,” a self-titled EP that follows up “Get on the Boat,” which she recorded before she left East Tennessee in the fall of 2010. She was excited about the new material, and while I fell in love with her gossamer voice back then, I never managed to find time to give it a listen.
Now, I have. And I’m a moron for not doing it before now, for it is a thing of beauty, filled with magic and labyrinthine twists and turns that defy expectations.
Ruth-Erwin first came to East Tennessee from Los Angeles after striking up a friendship with Senryu genius Wil Wright. Wright was on tour at the time with Physics of Meaning; the two stayed in touch, and Ruth-Erwin, who also works as a photographer, stopped through Knoxville to see Wright during a photo tour of the South. She liked it so much she stayed, joining forces with Wright’s merry band of artists and scenesters (Senryu drummer Steven Rodgers and band friend/collaborator Cecilia Miller both provide their skills to the latest Little Red Lung release) and she quickly established her photography business on a local level, and she took up music again.
Upon moving to Knoxville, she hadn’t tried writing a song in several years. Even then, the thought of performing them in public was terrifying — crippling stage fright had, in her past, led to bouts of nausea both before and after a show. But in Knoxville, she built up her confidence at Senryu performances — singing at many of them, accepting Wright’s encouragement and bonding with the other musicians in his circle. And after a couple of Little Red Lung releases in East Tennessee, she went back to Los Angeles, and the fruits of her labor are wondrous to behold.
The new EP opens with “50 Fingers,” a shuffling march that seems to draw inspiration from Rasputina or My Brightest Diamond or any number of other female-fronted projects that rely on a quirky combination of cabaret and vaudeville to craft a mood as much as a song. A sense of unease rests just below the surface, and the listener gets the impression that Ruth-Erwin is hiding something sinister behind her crocodile smile.
That unease transforms into urgency on the plaintive “Ink Blot,” the EP’s high point, in my opinion. “Your better half is on parade / internal organ pop display / stars just as deadly as the day …” — I’m still wrapping my head around the song, but I close my eyes upon listening and get the sense that Erwin is trying to tell me something VERY. IMPORTANT. And she’s getting frantic about making me understand. Things slow down on the languid “Rare Bird,” and “Fangs” drifts ethereal before transitioning “Into a Landfill,” the next song. Again with that beautiful urgency, and by “Strangling Tree,” the album’s closer, that sense of unease so prescient from the beginning has grown into a complex tapestry of shadows. Ruth-Erwin offers you her hand, but you’re almost afraid to take it.
Throughout endless listens, I kept coming back to a number of comparisons — the aforementioned Rasputina and My Brightest Diamond … Tori Amos … Wye Oak … but nothing fits, exactly. Trying to determine a point of reference for Little Red Lung is like searching for that elusive fit in a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle: You can find dozens that almostbutnotquite line up the way you want it to, but not the one you need.
And perhaps that’s a good thing, because it means Ruth-Erwin stands alone, on her own. She’s part of a full band these days, but it’s still her baby, and it paints her as complex and emotional and artistic a woman as ever. She’s the mysterious beauty who intimidates and captivates, the girl you don’t quite understand but can’t stop thinking about. Hopefully, she’ll find an audience on the West Coast that feels the same way, because those of us who know her and love what she does back here in East Tennessee would accept her back into our fold immediately and with great joy.
North Mississippi Allstars to open ‘Shed’ season
We’ve been on the ball with keeping you abreast of the forthcoming spring/summer/fall concert season at “The Shed” at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson, 1820 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville, but here’s something extremely cool — the North Mississippi Allstars have replaced Unknown Hinson as the season opener.
“Due to unforeseeable circumstances Unknown Hinson is not able to open our Shed Season as he has in the past,” according to Aaron Snukals, marketing and special events director at “The Shed.” “He will return to the Shed to host our Halloween show October 29, 2011.”
The Allstars will open the season on Saturday, April 2. Tickets for all April and May shows go on sale March 1. Here’s that lineup:
- April 2 – North Mississippi Allstars
- April 9 – Big Gun
- April 15 – Al Nelson’s Tribute to Roy Orbison and Rock & Soul Review
- April 16 – Hayes Carll
- April 23 – John Anderson
- April 30 – Todd Snider
- May 7 – The Nighthawks
- May 14 – Devon Allman’s Honeytribe
- May 21 – Scott Miller & The Commonwealth
- May 27 – Mustang Sally
- May 28 – Marty Stuart
The North Mississippi Allstars recently released “Keys to the Kingdom,” their first album since the death of Jim Dickinson, the father of NMAS members Cody and Luther Dickinson.
i105 Listener Appreciation concert set
WFIV-FM, i105, has announced that a free listener appreciation concert featuring up-and-coming British band Scars on 45 will take place on March 11 at Relix Variety Theatre, 1208 N. Central St. in Knoxville.
Travis Singleton in the awards running
It was just last month that we wrote about singer-songwriter Travis Singleton prior to his gig at Maryville’s Vienna Coffeehouse, and now comes word of his continuing success:
He writes on Facebook: “After advancing from Round 1 in the 2011 Peoples Music Awards (over 2000 entrants), Travis Singleton’s song ‘Breathe’ made into Round 2 with nine other artists/bands in the Pop category. That round was voted on by a panel of music industry executives, and their votes and critiques have been tallied: ‘Breathe’ is now a FINALIST in the 2011 Peoples Music Awards Pop category! Beginning March 1st and lasting for 5 weeks, the online vote will be reopened, and listeners from around the world will be able to make their choice from the final 5 artists in the Pop category. The top TWO artists at the end of the five weeks will then perform at the Peoples Music Awards ceremony in London England this June.”
The organization behind the awards is based in London and showcases up-and-coming artists/bands from around both Europe and North America. To vote for Singleton, go here: http://peoplesmusicawards.com/travissingleton/
WUTK nominated for a ‘Woodie’
WUTK-FM, 90.3 “The Rock is already respected in East Tennessee — the station has been voted “Knoxville’s Best Local Radio Station” in Metro Pulse’s “Best of Knoxville” Readers’ Poll from 2006-2010. Now, it’s getting some national recognition — the station has been nominated for an MTV-U “2011 College Radio Woodie Award,” a prize that honors the best college radio stations in the nation that break the latest, emerging music and “act as pioneers in the industry.” The nomination means that MTV-U recognizes “The Rock” as one of the top 50 stations in the nation, and now WUTK has made it into the top 10.
Now the station is seeking listener help to win the top prize. To vote: Go to http://radiowoodie.ratemyprofessors.com, locate WUTK in the list of nominated stations, and click on the “vote” button. You can also visit the station’s website for more information and links. (You can vote as often as you’d like, by the way.) You can vote through March 1. If WUTK wins, you can tune in to MTV, MTV2 and MTV-U at midnight, March 16, to watch the awards ceremony broadcast.
Things are not looking good for Wil Wright, frontman of that most wonderful indie-rock outfit Senryu. We reviewed “Half Wild,” the band’s forthcoming new album, here. We’re no strangers of our love for Wil and this band. Which is why we urge you to help save that most flamboyant, maniacal genius from the clutches of those who hold his life in their collective palms.
Watch the “ransom” video here, then contribute to the band’s Kickstarter campaign so that the new record can be disseminated in the manner that benefits both band and fans. You have 23 days left. The goal has almost been reached, but don’t let that deter you — making it and exceeding it will likely ensure that Senryu continues to make future recordings.
Please. Wil is a friend of mine. I don’t want to be one of the unfortunate few who get one of his body parts/organs mailed to my house. That would seriously ruin my day.
The Boxer Rebellion, “The Cold Still”
Release date: Out now (Absentee Recordings)
If you were not at the Clayton Center for the Arts on the Maryville College campus last October to see The Boxer Rebellion perform, don’t tell me. Because your absence makes me want to slap you.
Not only did you miss an absolutely amazing show, you probably helped ensure that the band — fronted by singer Nathan Nicholson — won’t be performing in this area for quite a while. I hope that’s not the case, but when you do well to fill 300 seats of a 1,400-person venue … and the audience sits for most of the show even though you’re parting their hair with some amazing rock ‘n’ roll … well, can you blame them?
If they pass up East Tennessee on future tours (and we’re certainly not a stop on the recently announced U.S. jaunt), then that, to put it crudely, sucks hairy testicles. Because this band … right now … is doing something amazing.
They’re not reinventing the wheel here, and the boys will be the first to tell you that. They’re humble, good-natured dudes who just want to play music. What makes “The Cold Still,” the band’s most recent album so bloody brilliant (sorry; their Britishness affected me momentarily) is the context of it. Go back and listen to “Exits,” the band’s first full-length. Linger a little while listening to “Union,” released in 2009. Then, I think, will you full appreciate just how committed these musicians are to growing and evolving and making the next album even better than the last.
The record kicks off with the beautifully haunting “No Harm,” a somber dirge that allows Nicholson’s vocals room to soar. Producer Ethan Johns is the album’s mastermind, and his deft touch turns a good song into something amazing at about the 1:20 mark, when bassist Adam Harrison’s few simple notes rise to the surface with the breathtaking beauty of a dolphin breaching the waves a few yards away. “Step Out of the Car,” the lead-off single/track, is certainly a high point — it’s got the dark energy and the razor-sharp guitar work of Todd Howe and comes as close as anything to replicating the big sounds off of “Union.” (Naturally, it was the choice for the guys to play when they rocked “Late Night with David Letterman” on Feb. 2.)
But the somber mood prevails — sometimes with urgency, as on the song “Locked In the Basement,” and sometimes with a swirling kaleidoscope of vibrating sonic flourishes, as on “Caught By the Light.” Then there’s a track like “Organ Song,” which sounds similar to, and as good as anything on, The National’s 2010 masterpiece “High Violet.” Once again, the band takes something beautiful and elevates it — this time at about the 2:12 mark, when the melody circles back on itself and Nicholson’s repetitive refrain builds into a ballad of urgency and longing.
The album fades on even quieter notes — the hushed, haunting “Doubt,” which features Nicholson’s croon reduced to a near whisper, with other instruments slowly adding to the understated mix. It’s unlike anything long-time fans will expect from The Boxer Rebellion, but in my opinion, that’s a good thing. After all, this band makes Blount County look good, and the boys are so genuine, so spot-on nice that they deserve continued success. If their subsequent efforts add to their catalog the way “The Cold Still” does, they’ll surely have it.
Royal Bangs, “Flux Outside”
Release date: March 29 (Glassnote Records)
Although the three members of Royal Bangs (Sam Stratton, Ryan Schaefer, Chris Rusk) are Southern boys, I do not know if they like gravy. Nor do I have any idea why, upon listening to “Flux Outside,” the forthcoming new album from the Knoxville electro-rockers, would my brain think of gravy, that quintessentially Southern condiment that so often gets poured over biscuits but goes quite well with mashed potatoes, country ham and just about any other food product. Other than making myself hungry, the association is rather pointless and stupid, but that’s what I think of — electronic gravy.
It would be easy to declare that “Flux Otuside” is the album the Bangs have been working so hard to make, but that’s a retarded statement. Of course it’s the album they’ve been working so hard to make, but it’s brilliance (yes, it is brilliant) doesn’t diminish “Let It Beep,” the album the guys put out in 2009 on Audio Eagle. I loved that record and still do; “Poison Control” may be among my Top 20 Most Favorite Songs Ever, because listening to it makes me feel like I’ve been French-kissing a light socket. Everything synapse seems to fire faster and better and with laser-beam focus and intensity.
For the new album, the Bangs have taken everything that was good about “Let It Beep” and smothered it (in electronic gravy) — which is to say that as delectable as the last album was, this one’s even better. All of the white space, the little moments of linear progression that came closest to resembling the verse-chorus-verse structure of traditional songs, has been covered up — augmented, if you will — by skittering sounds both obvious and barely noticeable. The guys have refined their manic energy and amplified it with pops, buzzes, beeps, clicks and all manner of electronic sound effects. The end result is an album that kicks off frantic with “Grass Helmet” and doesn’t allow the trio to come up for air until the sixth track, “Bad News, Strange Luck” — and even that maintains a normal heartrate for about 2 minutes, until the guys plug back into the generator and swing full-tilt toward buzzsaw insanity once agan.
Personally, I lean toward the muscular feel of songs like “Triccs,” which roars from one side of the brain to the other on Rusk’s powerhouse pounding, snarling and growling like a muscle car barely hanging onto coastal road curves but never slowing down. And the guys get almost introspective on the final two tracks, which slow down considerably from the frenetic pace with which the album kicks off.
But wait — there’s more. There’s a shimmering, Toro y Moi-like swirling intro to the song “Fireball” that gives way to a bouncing, sunny groove … a throwback to the rhythmic sounds of the “Let It Beep” lead-off track “War Bells” on “Back Then It Was Different” … some chiming prettiness on “Silver Step” … and just, damn, a whole lot more. Each listen reveals something new, some hidden ingredient bubbling just beneath the surface that slowly bobs up, revealing itself as a seemingly inconsequential detail that, it turns out, elevates the overall serving of “Flux Outside” from something merely delicious to a dish that would move Chef Gordon Ramsay to tears.
What that is, what the Bangs have brought to the table for “Flux,” is the gravy. Because gravy makes everything better.
Senryu, “Half Wild”
Release date: April 1 (independent)
It’s a puzzling album title for anyone who’s seen Knoxville indie-pop band Senryu perform live.
“Half Wild”? Really? Because every time I’ve seen the group, “wild” doesn’t begin to do the live show justice. With evil genius Wil Wright at the helm, Senryu is a band of four Terminators programmed to rock and party, not necessarily in that order: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever” … until you collapse from exhaustion because your ear drums feel like someone poured a package of Pop Rocks down your ear canal and topped them with a 2-liter bottle of Dr Pepper.
In fact, that’s always been the challenge for Wright and company — recording an album that does the band justice and comes as close as the impossibility of doing so allows to capturing that live energy in the studio. The genius is that the two animals, while closely related, are two separate vehicles for Senryu’s creative spirit.
In concert, you can usually count on a few things — a skull-crusher like the intense “I Am a Battering Ram” … the crowd-favorite “The Hometown Bounce” … the gorgeous and lush “Inklings,” which became the backdrop for a marriage proposal during Senryu’s show at The Longbranch Saloon last August. Generally speaking — and specifically so, when it comes to “Half Wild” — the studio becomes a playground, a laboratory for soundscapes and musical collages that seem pulled from some garishly vibrant palette of colors so vivid they seem almost edible. (Take, for example, the lead-off single “Great. Expectations.,” which I reviewed when it was first released.)
“Half Wild” kicks off on an almost quaint note with “A Change of Heart,” languid and breezy, tinkling xylophone notes and drumbeats building toward the 1:47 mark, when Wright’s plaintive, soulful singing gives way in a growl to an explosion of force. Here’s the beauty of “Half Wild,” though, and maybe it’s what gives the album it’s title — just when you think it’s going to jump the tracks and turn into something so chaotic and crazy it leaves you pounding your chest to make sure your heart is still pumping blood to vital organs, Wright and co. reel it back in.
That control, that measured pace, is maintained throughout much of “Half Wild.” Take a song like “Thunder Shook the House,” which grows toward a turbulent finish, sounding like something The Doors might have recorded if Jim Morrison’s drug of choice had been cocaine instead of everything else — the band works the listener to the edge of the seat, anticipating something primal, only to put a finger over protesting lips and ask for patience. It’s a scenario that gets repeated on “Halfwild Boys,” a track destined for live performance greatness, and for most of “Take Yourself Apart,” a madcap of melody that gives way to to the 45-second “Hyperventilator.”
That’s the turning point — in less than a minute, Wright channels angst, rage, frustration, desperation and finally lights the “Half Wild” fuse, letting it burn toward the detonation point … only to lick his thumb and forefinger, reach down at the last minute and extinguish that flame. The next song is so dreamy, so hypnotic, that by song’s end you’re not sure what’s going to happen next … whether this is the Senryu you’ve known for so long or something completely different … or whether the plodding coda of “Before It Happens” signals some cosmic shift toward a new field of stars.
“We’re gonna have to leave the rest behind,” Wright wails as the song, and the album, come to a close. Hearing that, and soaking up the complexity that is “Half Wild,” I feel more confident that if nothing else, “Half Wild” is a sign of good things to come — for the band, hopefully, but definitely for fans. God knows, Senryu deserves it, because Wright and his bandmates make sure that the fans always get what they deserve, even if they don’t know what that is until after they hear it.
That madcap Wil Wright of the band Senryu gave fans their first taste of his band’s new album, “Half Wild,” at midnight this morning (Jan. 25) when the single “Great. Expectations.” was posted online as a free download.
It’s a linear progression from the band’s last full-length, “Inkling,” similar in mood, but whereas the title-ish track (”Inklings”) from that album maintained a steady, Zen-like atmosphere throughout, building on intricate layers of beauty, “Great. Expectations.” sounds like the deteriorating conversation between two feuding lovers. A troubled atmosphere of melancholy colors the opening verse, the tension simmering beneath the surface. Over the course of three-plus minutes, any semblance of order dissolves into a maelstrom of angst and rage and frustration and heart-wrenching heartache, with Wright’s screams underscored by the beautiful chaos created by his bandmates.
When Wright sings “I wasn’t expecting a big finish,” he’s certainly not talking about this song, and that makes us anxious to hear the rest of the album.
You can check out Senryu this weekend at Waynestock: For the Love of Drew, a three-day festival of music and love being held at Relix Variety Theatre, 1208 N. Central St. in Knoxville’s Downtown North neighborhood. Senryu performs at 11 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29. Admission is $5 per night. And keep your eyes on Daytrotter on Thursday, Jan. 27, for an appearance.
Worlds collide: Lil’ Wayne and Tom Waits
Wil Wright, that crazy-mad-beautiful front man for local indie-pop outfit Senryu, has always been a creative genius with a work ethos that borders on the maniacal. (To wit: a full-length album and two EPs in 2010, and already the guy and his band are recording a new record.) He’s always been a multi-tasker from hell, juggling Senryu with his work in North Carolina-based band The Physics of Meaning and local side project Skeleton Coast. Now, it seems he’s found a match in local mix master DJ Tom Ato, and together they bill themselves as Family Psychic.
In September, Ato collaborated with Wright for “All These Clues,” an album billed as “Dance Variations on ‘Inklings,’” the album released in early 2010 by Senryu. Now, the two have come up with an ingenious mash-up of one of two titans of popular culture — quirky indie singer-songwriter Tom Waits and hip-hop bad-boy Lil’ Wayne. It’s called “Lil’ Waits,” and the five-song mash-up done in the fine tradition of Girl Talk and other remix masters is titled “Rust and Syrup Vol. 1.” Listen to it and download it here.
Ty Herndon in Maryville
Usually, Blount County residents have to wait for the Foothills Fall Festival in October for a country star to come to town. However, the grand opening of the new Red I Diner, located at 2024 E. Hunt Road in Maryville (where the old Huddle House used to be), is offering something in January.
On Saturday, Jan. 15, country artist Ty Herndon will perform “Up Close and Unplugged” for two performances — one from 4-6 p.m. and another from 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $50 and include the show, a four-course meal and a “special souvenir.” You can by tickets for the first show here and the second show here.
The Red I opened last month and is run by general manager Jeff Marlowe and his brothers, Phil and Dave. Herndon rose to country fame in 1995 with the No. 1 hit “What Mattered Most” and has since charted 17 singels and sold 4 million albums. His most recent album, “Journey On,” was recently nominated for a Grammy, and a portion of the proceeds from his Maryville show will benefit the Kevin Turner Foundation, the mission of which is to find a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease. (The video for “When We Fly,” the single off “Journey On,” features Turner, a Crimson Tide/Philadelphia Eagle football player diagnosed with the illness in April.)
Seating is limited to 50 people per show. Call 360-6704 for more information.
Wooden Wand gears up for new project
The online fundraising engine Kickstarter has proven to be a big hit with do-it-yourself musicians looking to get a new project off of the ground. Singer-songwriter is funding her new record through it, and now comes word that Knoxville expatriate James Jackson Toth — a k a Jill AndrewsWooden Wand — is funding his next record in that manner as well.
Toth, who lived for three years in East Tennessee, began playing around New York City while a student at Purchase College, where he met his bandmates in what would become Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice. Fusing the conventional with the experimental, he found acclaim on the indie circuit with a sound that was often described as everything from psychedelic to freak-folk to New Weird America. His particular style has never been easily accessible, but ceaseless touring and a dedication to his own peculiar craft cultivated a diehard following, most of which split between the dark and dour nature of many of Toth’s songs and the experimental soundscapes he used to create them.
From an e-mail Toth sent out about the new record:
“I was recently invited to record for a split 7″ with my friend Duquette Johnston (formerly of Verbena) and his band the Gum Creek Killers, for release on the Communicating Vessels label. Instead of just sending a track I had in the archives, Duquette suggested I visit him in Birmingham and we record our sides together, from scratch, with the same band. It was one of the most positive recording experiences I’ve ever had, and I immediately wanted to make a whole record this way.
“After much hemming and hawing, deliberation, and advice-seeking, I’ve decided to use Kickstarter to fund this project. Initially weary of this new model, I have since come around to it in a big way. I feel that this sort of interaction with fans (and the removal of middle men) is a revolutionary step in the right direction toward fixing a decrepit, crooked music biz. I thought that using the interim between my latest record Death Seat and the next wide release Wooden Wand full length would be the ideal time to test these waters.
“The idea is to release the album on limited edition vinyl, and then offer downloads for a limited time. The money raised would be used for studio time, travel accommodations, mixing, mastering, and 500 LPs with professionally printed sleeves. We also need to feed everybody. We’re hoping to exceed our goal, and we are undershooting quite a bit to meet it no matter what. I think this record will be a great one.
“The LP will be under the name WOODEN WAND & THE BRIARWOOD VIRGINS. The Briarwood Virgins is the name I’ve given the band that features all four members of the Gum Creek Killers, plus Jody Nelson (Through The Sparks) and Brian Lowery (Wooden Wand, The Only Sons). Ideally, we would record in March / April and have the LPs and gifts ready to go by summertime. These gifts range from super limited versions with letter-pressed covers, to zip drives full of demos, to a private gig in your living room where you choose the setlist. You can find the project here. Upon request, I will gladly email you a demo of a song I’m planning to cut for the record, so you know what you’re getting yourself into.”
Drunk Uncles in the studio
Just in case you missed the story we did on Blount County-based honky-tonk/traditional country band The Drunk Uncles back last month, the band is in the studio this week at Music Row of Maryville Studios tracking songs for a new album. The early morning Facebook posts have prompted more than a few good-natured ribbing comments from fans more than familiar with the guys’ late-night, hard-living lifestyles.
Solo offering from a Diacon-Panther
Last time we caught up with Knoxville-based indie rockers the Diacon-Panthers, they were releasing a new EP — “Ride Again” — and still juggling how to make a group work with the members (Natan Diacon-Furtado and guitarist Greg Given, both of whom attend Reed College in Portland, Ore.; bassist/pianist Jeremy Given, a student of Berklee College of Music in Boston; and drummer Charlie Henschen, an undergraduate at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt.) scattered across the country. They started the band as high schoolers, but alas, it seems geography has taken its toll.
That doesn’t mean the band is done … we don’t think. But we did get a recent e-mail from Jeremy Given with the subject line, “In a post Diacon-Panthers world,” so take from that what you will. Regardless, Given is still making music — he sent us a copy of his solo album, “Old Flames,” and it’s quite good, filled with reverb-drenched vocals, shimmering chords and that moody soundscape crafted from a place of longing and sweet melancholy that makes you want to linger there for a while. Recorded and mixed in Boston and Knoxville, it calls to mind a more controlled Vampire Weekend on the song “Rebel Ghost,” and there’s a distinctive soul vibe on the title track that gives way to something that straddles the line between Band of Horses prettiness, Arcade Fire intensity and Modest Mouse bounce.
Yes, we realize those are big shoes to fill, but Jeremy Lee Given, as he now bills himself (check him out on Bandcamp here) shows he’s up for a healthy challenge. It’s a great record that needs some fan love, so check it out.
Hola, blog readers. I’m back at it after a week off. While vacating, I had the opportunity to see The Boxer Rebellion perform at the Clayton Center for the Arts on the Maryville College campus; opening the show was one of my favorite local bands, Senryu.
It reminded me of one of my many conversations with front man/guru Wil Wright, one of the most creative, flamboyant and downright amazing musicians in the local scene. I can’t remember how the topic came up one day, but Wil revealed to me that, in the manner of rock stars making outlandish demands for backstage comforts on their tour riders, Senryu always includes one of its own — an old person.
Seriously. As in, Wright and his co-horts ask for an elderly individual (no specific age range, although when I asked if my dad, who turned 68 this year, would qualify, he said, “Most certainly!”) to keep them company in the dressing room while they prepare for the show.
“Having tour managed a lot, those (demands) always seemed a little bit stupid, so I’m always trying to figure out a way to ask for something that’s useful,” Wright said. “I put that on there only because it’s something I’ve encountered before at shows that I feel like have gone pretty successfully. If I run into old people before shows and talk with them, I feel mentally prepared. It’s like chips and salsa for the show.”
Unfortunately, no one takes the band’s demand very seriously, which means Senryu usually brings their own elderly good luck charm.
“It’s the perfect thing to put on our rider, because we’re serious about it, but nobody takes it seriously,” he said. “That’s been one of my favorite things about the band.”
I go into all of that to catch you up on a few lineup changes regarding Senryu — drummer and founding member Steven Rodgers wasn’t at the Clayton Center show; Wright revealed afterward that he’s taken a time-consuming job as band director for South-Doyle Middle School and assistant director at S-D High School.
“He’s definitely still on our roster, and obviously we’ll work with him as often as we can,” Wright said.
In the meantime, bass player Andres McCormack has moved over to the drumkit, and the band welcomes new member Zac Fallon — a solo performer locally who goes by the nom de plume Katie and the Bass Drums — on the four-string. (Andres’ brother Dan McCormack still rocks the guitar and keys.)
“Zac has been on the team with us for a very long time, so he’s super-famliar with the catalog,” Wright said of the changes. “The big transition is getting used to a new drummer. Where Steven was a very mathematical drummer, Andres is more of a power drummer and an instinctual drummer. I feel like I spent a lot of my time trying to frustrate Steven, writing things to push him out of his safety zone. The dynamic we had was interesting, because we come from opposite directions, whereas Andres and I both rely on our instincts.”
The band debuted a new song at the Clayton Center show, and the new lineup heads to the studio in December for a late winter/early spring release, Wright added.
“As with the last two releases, I’m trying to only write my parts, whereas before I wrote all the parts,” he said. “I come to practice and let everybody have a good time and write what they find interesting, and so far it’s been great. The songs we’re writing now definitely have their own thing.”
If you’re jonesing for new Senryu music in the meantime, check out “All These Clues,” dance remixes by DJ Tom Ato of some of the tracks off of the band’s full-length “Inkling,” released earlier this year. And if for some reason you find yourself in New York today, check out Senryu at 2:30 p.m. at Pianos on the Lower East Side, where the band plays as part of this week’s CMJ Music Marathon.
Doubtless they enjoyed the show. Doubtful, however, did any of them get to hang out with both bands afterward. Except for one man — one Mr. Wil Wright of the Knoxville indie power-pop ensemble known as Senryu.
We’ve written multiple times about Senryu and the apparent bottomless well of talent Wil possesses — most recently in March — but he’s also the recipient of some boundless good fortune. Even he admits that finding himself post-show hanging with three-quarters of Spoon, all of Arcade Fire, his own publicist and Bryan Poole of the indie band Of Montreal.
“The idea was really just to go down and hang out with Eric (Harvey, multi-instrumentalist for Spoon whom Wright met when the two played in the North Carolina indie ensemble Physics of Meaning),” Wright told me today. “He’d gotten in touch with me and said to come on down to Atlanta, and I got to meet (Arcade Fire singer) Win Butler before the show.
“Afterward, though, everybody was excited because ‘The Suburbs’ had just gone No. 1. Everybody was drinking champagne, and Arcade Fire travels with a ping-pong table, so it was very ping-pong-centric. To meet heroes like that, and to meet them on such a big day for them and just get to blend in … it was surreal. I’ll remember it forever.”
Such is the life of the frontman of Senryu, but know this — every accomplishment, every stroke of good fortune has been earned through hard work. Example — on the heels of releasing the full-length “Inkling” in March, the band already has two EPs ready to go. Both will be celebrated on Saturday at a show with Teenage Love13 at The Longbranch Saloon, 1848 Cumberland Ave. (”The Strip”) in Knoxville.
By most standards, Senryu’s output is mind-blowing, especially considering Wright is already working on an album of remixes and B-sides for a fall release. To him, it’s just what he does — his best.
“I experienced and wrote everything in May and early June, then knocked everything out as soon as I got home from California,” Wright said of the creation of the two EPs — “Attached at the Hip” and “Superduperficialworld.” “ I was experiencing a lot of serious, dark examinations of progress, and also having a whole, whole lot of fun — a really insane sort of nobody’s-holding-the-steering-wheel sort of fun.
“I had enough for an album, but because of how different the songs were, I decided to do two albums worth of material split up into two very different camps.”
“Hip,” he said, reflects a tight-knit friendship — the heady invincibility felt by those on the inside and the head-scratching, left-behind feelings by those who are on the outside looking in.
“Inside, it feels like the center of the universe, but outside it can feel very polarizing and annoying,” he said. “I love the juxtaposition, the view from inside and outside of this really crazy, tight-knit group of people. It revolves around a lot of the fun I was having here and in Los Angeles for work. It was just a really, really crazy time.”
Quick aside — Wright was in Los Angeles because a documentary filmmaker he met on tour has embarked on the creation of a documentary about the band. It’s roughly halfway through production, with filming set for Saturday night at the Longbranch, and Wright flew to LA to film some scenes there as well.
“It’s about how we’ve stayed on our grind through the paradigm shift in the music industry, and how nothing has really ever happened for us even though everything has happened,” Wright said. “We’ve done everything we wanted to do – lived out our dreams and aspirations for the band — without ever experiencing any actual market success. That, and it’s focusing on the fact that we have an extremely long catalog.
“Things happen, but they don’t. It never feels like an ascension or descension — it feels like nothing really changes; sometimes in a frustrating way, sometimes in a comforting way. I get to see a lot and do a lot, and I try to accept it as kind of the stuff that happens. I just stay busy, stay focused on what I’m doing and not get caught up in it.
“Anyway, in Los Angeles, he took me around and had me play whatever I wanted to play in these massive, surreal settings and backdrops,” Wright added.
The film has no title yet, but Wright hopes it’ll be completed in early 2011.
Back to the new EPs … “Superduperficial World” is the more thought-provoking of the two, less frenetic energy and more contemplation. If “Attached at the Hip” (and the title track, by the way, is a shot of cocaine — brief, intense and stout enough to drop you to your knees and leave you with your ears ringing, panting and scrambling for more) is the wild night where all manner of craziness unfolds, “World” is the morning after, sitting in the living room with the shades drawn while the first rays of the sun creep through, having yet to find sleep and still digesting everything that just happened.
“It’s kind of like riding on the back of a monster — you can’t do anything about it; you just find yourself looking left, looking right, looking into the past,” Wright said. “It’s about home, about living here. A lot of people living here feel like they can’t escape, and that makes me feel really frustrated because I love it here. They talk about feeling trapped, about feeling stifled by the geography of Knoxville.
“I’ve been so many places, and I would rather be here than anywhere. I feel like this is the place for me, and that’s one of my major frustrations from other people. I don’t think being from Knoxville, Tenn., has stopped me from living my dream out. It’s as interesting as anywhere else and undersaturated.
“The whole thing i just about life direction paranoia and feeling out of control,” he added.
Saturday night, however, the control valves will be twisted all the way open, and the insanity that is Senryu … not to mention Teenage Love13 … will be unleashed, he added. It’s a masquerade party designed to mimic the beginning-of-the-semester mixers that will take place up and down “The Strip” over the next week, when University of Tennessee students come back to town.
“This is an icebreaker where no one meets,” he said with a laugh. ”Everyone will be there and no one will meet, because we’ll all be wearing masks.
“Some things are going to happen at the show that I have to keep secret, though. No one that attends the show will ever forget what goes down on Saturday night.”
FREE MUSIC! Download “Papillon” by Senryu, from the new EP “Attached at the Hip”: right-click here (choose “Save Link As” or “Save Target As”)