Q & A – Maps & Atlases

Chicago-based four-piece Maps & Atlases aren’t a math-rock band. O.K., good, we’ve got that out of the way now.

Sure, there are some rather math-y elements to the band’s indie-folk informed sound, but not to the extent where those intricacies define their overall sonic contributions in the way that many would have one believe. While Radiohead comparisons aren’t terribly appropriate from a strict, musical perspective, they certainly are from a philosophical one. As evidenced on the band’s last album Perch Patchwork (released last year from Barsuk), lead singer Dave Davison and crew wield an enviable and rare talent for making the experimental feel anything but.

When the unexpected surprises rather than shocks, the result is something akin to the opening of a door that introduces the unfamiliar in scenarios that feel just comfortable enough to not only keep one listening, but to have one fully immerse themselves in a sonic that hadn’t been a primary part of their musical diet in the past. So, it’s really not a shock to learn that such craftsmanship is a point of pride for the band.

We recently spoke to Davison about the band’s approachable, yet experimental vision, dream journals and why art school is so musical.

Art school seems to be a place where so many band members meet for the first time. Was it easy to pick out the “music people,” when you’re there, or did you have to dig a little?
There were a lot of interesting and talented people at Columbia College, but since none of us were music majors it wasn’t as obvious who the other musicians were. Luckily I didn’t have to dig too much as Erin was working at a record store with one of my friends and I was introduced to the rest of the band with little effort on my behalf (laughing).

Your band successfully avoids easy labeling with your varied sound and dynamic style and eye for detail. It’s got to sting a little when fans or critics slap a simple label like “math-rock” on there and don’t dig any deeper, right?
I think that most bands feel uncomfortable with labels, but we kind of just try to do our own thing and not get too caught up in genres or get bent out of shape by being labeled. A lot of times I think people are just trying to provide a cultural context for the music, which is understandable.

Perch Patchwork is obviously an album with a fuller-sounding sonic than that of your EPs. I get the impression that prepping and recording a full album made you all want to spread your wings and get a little crazy, musically. Am I close, or is that just me making that up?
I think that you’re right! We wanted to make an album that had a larger sonic scope and we wanted to try using different instruments as they were appropriate to any given part or song.

O.K., so I’m not crazy then, good. As you were writing and arranging the record, how much thought was given to replicating the songs in a live setting, once you began to tour?
We really wanted to go into it without the live show in mind and to just focus on the songs and mood of each part. Working with Jason Cupp as a producer was really fantastic and he opened up so many exciting possibilities for the record itself.

Your lyrics possess a tremendous amount of whimsy. Any chance you’re keeping a dream journal and drawing from that when you write?
I should! We have a few dream inspired lyrics, but I always forget my dreams quickly, so it would be pretty interesting to document them and look for patterns.

From what I’ve read, you seem to place a lot of importance on making your music accessible, while still feeling distinct from other forms of music. These days, it seems as though that distinction flies in the face of what most consider pop. What elements of your music do you consider to be “pop-accessible”?
I think that while we all appreciate experimental music, we all grew up and are typically most inspired by songs that are in the pop format. I also think that part of it is that we want to make music that people can connect to and identify with, which I think is ultimately the goal of pop music.

Dan Hubbard and the Humadors – The Love Show

It wasn’t that long ago when someone asked me “Why doesn’t anyone make Rock n’ Roll” anymore?” Like many folks, he quit looking for new music after he graduated college, and was now trying to search the radio for new Rock n’ Roll. If he asked that today, I would give him a copy of Dan Hubbard and the Humadors new release, The Love Show, and end his search. This Central Illinois based band, serves up Rock with hooks that latch on from the opener “Don’t Take Me Now” and never let go.

Dan Hubbard gets it, Rock and Roll is best when it is uncomplicated. There are no gimmicks or pretenses found on The Love Show, just really great melodies. These are the songs that make you want to crank the volume and go for a drive. Just don’t set the iPod on repeat or you may never come back.

As a songwriter, Hubbard follows a similar uncomplicated formula. Guess what indie rockers! You don’t have to be an art school student on anti-depressants to write lyrics. Hubbard has a troubadour’s gift, creating songs that balance life’s tough times with hope and healing. On “This is Your Life” Hubbard sings, “Life isn’t fair and that’s Ok. It’s crazy how much things can change before you even realize. This is your life. Yeah, there’s some things you can’t control. Yeah, sometimes you have to let go. Yeah, everything is gonna be fine. We’re doin’ alright baby.” What is wrong with plain spoken wisdom?

The Train Wrecks/Saddle Up

Savannah Georgia’s The Train Wrecks’ recently released sophomore disc entitled Saddle Up is an alt-country effort that hits all the right spots. Opening with the Cash-inspired “Tennessee Mare” and featuring one of the tightest rhythm sections this side of the Mason-Dixon line in Markus Kuhlmann and Eric Dunn, along with singer Jason Bible’s rusty vocals and Stuart Harmening’s blistering dobro, fans of Uncle Tupelo, Old 97′s, and Steve Earle will not be disappointed.

The album has a bit for everyone in the slow country balladry of “Show Me Your Silence” and some nice Southern Rock cowbell and guitar riffage on “Struggle.” Thematically the album focuses on the wild west mixed with a band of troubadours trying to make a living playing music.

RIYL: whiskey (not whiskey sours), leather, beat up old guitars

I caught up with lead singer Jason Bible to discuss the new record:

Where, when, and with whom was the new album recorded?

We cut all the tracks at Elevated Basement Studios in Savannah, GA in 2010. Miles Hendrix and Kevin Rose produced, recorded and mixed the album with us co-producing. Terry Manning masterfully mastered the album.

How do you go about writing songs for a new album? Also, there seems to be a couple of themes running through the album. Can you explain?

When we finished “Whiskey and War” I began looking for songs and really wanted the second album to be a concept thing with themes that evoke images of the wild west and the south. A cowboy type thing with a modern twist on the things that make me want to write. Tennessee Mare was intentionally a spin off of the Tennessee Stud. I wanted a Johnny Cash type murder song and we got the story to go over Stu’s dobro line.

I write some with Dave Williams and some with Stu Harmening. The Train Wrecks work out arrangements and we usually try them all live. Eric Dunn worte the bass line for Southern Skies years ago and we all added our parts and I wrote some words about Hawaii and put the vocal over it. I look for concepts and subjects to write about and usually they come quickly and I bounce demos on piano or acoustic and finalize them with Dave and or the band. My buddy Whiley Workman IV had these words for Hang Me High and I wanted it to sound like it come out of Sun Studios. We added and changed a few words and there it was.

Fortune and Fame developed over a year of having the verse chords and words for the chorus. I finally got the verses together and it took shape. Markus really kicked ass on the drums and his input on all the songs was vital. The percussion end and the vocals he added were great. It is wild to hear the first demos of alot of the songs and then to hear them on the record is pretty amazing to see how they turned out. We worked really hard on this record and are really proud to be The Train Wrecks!
The themes are there. I know the main two are freedom and stopping at nothing to do what you love. It’s really about the struggle of life and the pursuit of being a songsmith……I don’t know shit! I am just really happy to play with the best musicians and writers and studio folks that I have found!

What are The Train Wrecks’ plans for the rest of 2011?

God has been good to me and the boys! We are all gonna keep playing shows and get more tours happening in 2011! Making our way to New Orleans in the summer! Really want to stop and play some shows for people hit by the oil spill along the way.

Up & Comers – Honey Child

Honey Child may be currently unsigned, but that will not be the case for long. Their sound is definitely Indie Rock, but their music is mostly up tempo and very accessible. They mix the electric instruments of a Rock band with mandolin, banjo and acoustic guitars. The instrumentation produces an Alternative sound with Americana undertones. The songs have melodies and hooks that grab you.

Their debut record, Nearer the Earth,  is enjoyable from the first listen. In an era where many independent bands feel that they need to be conceptual to be unique, Honey Child builds there identity with both innovation and a refreshing familiarity. They are inviting a wide audience, without sacrificing artistic integrity. The indie rock snobs are just going to have to accept the fact that a bigger crowd is showing up for this party.

To that end, they are giving an open invitation, in the form of a free digital copy of the album on their Website. Climb on board the bandwagon, because it may fill up soon.

     

Robert Francis – Before Nightfall

E pluribus unum. It’s on our dollar bill. From the many, one. Robert Francis, at the age of 22, has seemingly melded many disparate facets of American rock/folk/country into a tasty music stew. Pedal steel, piano, guitar, and vocals (to name a few) come together in classic fashion. Francis’ hooks are like that delicious secret ingredient, where you find yourself singing along before the tune is even over.

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The first genre that jumps out, country, comes ripe with pedal steel lines and hooks to spare. “When you’re tired, when you’re scared, when you’re lyin’ cold and bare,” Francis sings on the refrain to “Climb a Mountain” before the beautiful harmony comes in.  Francis’ world-weary song plays like something from the early 70s. The bygone era of country-rock.

Keeping with that theme, Francis’ track “Playground” exploits the beauty of the pedal steel again. The beautiful descending “I got a long way to go” chorus that harmonizes with the steel lines bears an uncanny resemblance to Jackson Browne’s classic track “These Days.” Both songs have an unmistakable hook and country piano. Francis’ sticks to his theme of lost female love with an interesting extended metaphor.

Francis also does his best broken-hearted guy with a guitar impression on “Do What I Can.” His voice has a fragility in this song. At other times, he belts with pure vocal power. The first three tracks “Darkness,” “Junebug,” and “Nightfall” get the record off to a great start. They have an epic quality. Each one manages to build from an ambient intro to a crescendo at the chorus. They round out a diverse record with hints of singer/songwriter, indie rock, and epic rock and roll.

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When I hear Francis’ song, “One by One” from his first record (there is an updated version here), I caught a glimpse at his potential. This artist has grown both laterally (exploring by genre) and vertically (through his confidence). At 22, the future is bright for this indie wunderkind.