Now Playing: Amigo

Over the course of their roughly seven-year career, Charlotte four-piece Amigo outfit have largely been recognized as an Americana band, and the label isn’t entirely off base. Their two full-length album releases — this year’s “And Friends” and 2013’s “Might Could” — are rife with stripped-down, visceral roots rock, harmony-laden electric folk, and the kind of country music that went out of vogue in Nashville at roughly the same time that Garth Brooks purchased his first cowboy hat.

But there are other, more diabolical forces at work in the mechanics of Amigo’s sound — the Ramones, the Minutemen, and even ’90s-era power popsters Teenage Fanclub are listed among the band’s influences on the Amigo Facebook page, right alongside the likes of Gram Parsons, The Band and CCR. And so it is that on record, those rogue rock and punk elements weave in and out of the otherwise pastoral mix, somehow blending with Amigo’s alt-country side in a way that comes off as not only coherent but inexorable, creating songs that are propelled by a strangely seamless hybrid of headlong punkish thrust and earthy, shit-kicking grooves.

For his part, singer, guitarist and principle songwriter Slade Baird says he was weaned on the Washington, D.C. hardcore of Minor Threat and Fugazi, and that it was only later that he came to fall in love with alt-country archetypes like Parsons and Townes Van Zandt.

“We get lumped into this thing called ‘Americana,’ but when I listen to bands that define that sound, we don’t sound anything like most of them,” says Amigo guitarist Slade Baird. “Sometimes that makes me nervous, and sometimes I think it’s cool. It means that at very least, we have our own thing going on.”

Amigo got its start around 2011, when longtime friends Baird, singer-bassist Thomas Alverson, and drummer Adam Phillips started playing out in Charlotte under the moniker Old Milwaukee, in honor of the members’ favorite discount swill. After a couple of years playing for beer at local watering hole Snug Harbor, the band decided to take the party outside Charlotte, and changed their name to Amigo to avoid the likely legal hassle.

By way of explanation, Baird tells that “Amigo” met three criterion set forth by he and his ‘mates prior to choosing their new name — “It puts us first in the record bin, it has a positive connotation, and it’s something sort of exotic and not-so-obvious, divorced from our actual situation,” Baird says, chuckling a little.

Maybe the trio didn’t realize it at the time, but the name held a larger significance as well. “The three of us had been friends going back way before the band,” he says. “Whenever we’ve tried to add a member through a Craigslist ad, it has backfired epically. Having people we know — people we hold as friends — has helped make the band what it is. So many bands fall apart because they can’t stand each other. But for us, the music is only second place; the relationships come first.”

Maybe that chemistry is the magic element that explains the band’s penchant for surprisingly sweet harmonies, which are deployed often, especially on folkier numbers. “Those harmonies, they just come naturally to Adam and Thomas when they sing together; they’re like little angels when they sing,” Baird says, laughing again. “They get up on the mic together side by side and something special happens. If we bring in a new song, they’ll have harmonies worked out for it in a matter of minutes. And those will probably be the final harmonies when we get around to recording the song.”

Having just released their second platter — the aforementioned “And Friends” — Amigo have also added a fourth member — keyboardist Molly Poe — and gathered a new head of steam. Though the new record is arguably less indebted to the rock influences that infused “Might Could” and the 2016 single release “Kristmas in the Kremlin” — a Son-Volt-cum-Socia-D holiday rave-up — Baird says the band retains its punk-rock spirit, if not so much of the genre’s propulsive sound.

“As a band, we I think we have more confidence now that we did at the start,” Baird says. “We’re not afraid to make bold moves, or to bring something new to the table. We probably have more of a punk-rock attitude than we did when started, more devil-may-care, even though it doesn’t expressly sound that way on record.”

Amigo will play Preservation Pub Saturday, June 30 at 10 p.m.




Now Playing: Sirius.B

Sporting a curious menagerie of instruments including kazoos, accordions, and charangos to supplement the standard-issue guitar-bass-and-drums rock band format, Asheville, N.C. eight-piece Sirius.B have spent the last 12 years reinterpreting the jazz and folk of Eastern Europe from an American perspective, performing gypsy music with the speed an energy of rock ‘n’ roll.

Guitarist Xavier Ferdon relates that the band began in 2006 with himself, singer Pancho Bond, and a drummer who has since moved on. With his close friend Bond living in New York, Ferdon felt an urge to start something new. He convinced Bond to move back to North Carolina, and the two men began assembling members for their fledgling project.

Ferdon, in the meantime, had been enamored of the 2005 film “Everything Is Illuminated,” about a young Jewish man who travels to the Ukraine in search of his ancestors; the soundtrack, in particular, grabbed Ferdon’s attention, with music from Russian folk artist Arkady Severny and American gypsy-punk band Gogal Bordello. “I heard the music in that film, and it got me interested in playing those styles of music,” he says. “It just appealed to me in some way; I loved it.

“When (Bond) and I agreed to start the band, we didn’t really discuss what it would be, but we quickly realized that this was what we wanted to do — something along the lines of the Eastern European and gypsy stuff. He already had a handful of lyrics written, and it was just a matter of setting those lyrics to that style of music.”

Sirius.B rapidly gained new members, and began playing shows in Asheville, but Ferdon maintains that the outfit didn’t truly take flight until the addition of cellist Franklin Keel a year or so in. “Franklin is a genius musically, and with him, the music really got interesting,” he says. “Before Franklin, I really don’t feel the band was quite there yet.”

For his part, Keel was impressed with Sirius.B even before he signed on. “I remember going to one of their shows before I had joined the band, hearing them play,” he says. “I’d never heard anything quite like it before. “Lots of things stood out to me, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what those things were. It was such a unique and unusual sound.”

Apparently, Keel was a quick study, because Ferdon says his writing contributions to the Sirius.B repertoire immediately made the band’s music richer and more complex.

“We have grown more adventurous in the way we structure songs and harmonies,” Keel admits. “The older songs have much simpler chord structures. The newer ones have more sections; they’re more harmonically daring.”

Keel adds that the music’s complexity makes live performance all the more difficult, as he and his ‘mates seek to balance technical derring-do with the kind of ebullient showmanship Sirius.B crowds have come to expect from the notoriously raucous octet.

“With each album we’ve done, we’ve had a conversation about how to recreate the music live,” Keel says. “Which is next to impossible to do. But we keep getting closer. But at our shows, we’re loud and high-energy, and our audiences have a hard time sitting still. We’ve done shows at theaters before, and people still weren’t able to stay in their seats.’

“People also tend to drink a lot at our shows, and there’s always a storm of drunk people dancing up front,” Ferdon adds. “We definitely appeal to a beer-drinking crowd.”

Sirius.B will play Preservation Pub Saturday, June 9 at 10 p.m.


Now Playing: Misnomer

Athens, Ga.-based fusion outfit Misnomer began life under the moniker Mister Tie Dye some two years ago, but bass trombonist Paul Nelson tells that members voted in a name change in recent months to better reflect the unit’s genre-blending, mix-and-match approach to composition.

“We wanted to have a name that represents the music better,” says Nelson. “‘Misnomer’ means ‘improperly named.’ We have nine and sometimes 10 people on stage, and eight who write music. That’s eight people eight different backgrounds and influences. So we have a really difficult time giving people one phrase that accurately describes our sound. We like to say that what we play is our music.”

While Nelson’s assessment is generally on point — Misnomer routinely delve into funk, rock, world beat, classical and even hip hop on record and in live performance — it’s also true that the band is firmly grounded in jazz and jazz fusion, most of its members having come together in the University of Georgia jazz ensemble around 2016.

Nelson says he and a handful of other ensemble students decided to make a go of it with a proper band, and seek out nightclub gigs around Athens. From nine members, they mustered three original compositions, and added a cover song from Richmond, Va. horn outfit the No B.S. Brass Band. Nelson says their first rehearsal was almost revelatory; within a month, members of the fledgling band had written another 12 songs and added them to the budding Tie Dye/Misnomer repertoire.

“A lot of what we play is inspired by something our jazz band teacher said to us,” Nelson says. “He told us that to be a ‘hirable’ working musician, you need to be able to play anything. So we set out to create a sort of quasi-jazz and fusion that would also incorporate all of these other influences.”

That being said, two key members of Misnomer hail from outside the academic world. Impressive chops notwithstanding, alto saxophonist Jose Moran and tenor sax player Chandler Greer are self-taught, and contributed most of the original music the band essayed at that tentative first rehearsal. Nelson says there’s something organic in the way Greer and Moran approach their instruments, a fluid, instinctive quality that can’t be taught in a classroom or written down on a piece of paper. He adds that the dynamic created by infusing the other members’ more formal approach to playing and writing music with the streetwise instincts of Greer and Moran is one of the elements that sets Misnomer apart from other like-minded fusion-oriented outfits.

“We’ve got eight guys who have music degrees, and grew up playing in orchestra, wind ensemble, jazz band, all of that. Then we have two guys who learned a different way, and that’s what makes the group what it is,” he says. “For instance, Chandler can play by ear so well. And while the rest of us can, too, there was a steep learning curve. He and Jose play from the heart a little better than the rest of us. As academic musicians, there’s so much we can learn from those guys.”

The men of Misnomer like to take occasional forays into the realms of hip hop and R&B — Nelson says several members of the band count Outkast as a prime influence, and the group often hosts local Atlanta singers and rappers both in the studio and on stage; check out the band’s video for “New World” featuring the smooth, sweet vocal of songstress Adriana “Dri” Thomas for a sample of such. But their fondness for vocal music notwithstanding, Nelson says the band will likely remain a primarily instrumental project for the foreseeable future.

“We have an interest in vocal collaborations,” Nelson says. “If the opportunity arises to one day take one on the road, we might do that. But right now, having nine or 10 guys on stage on any given night is all we can handle. The stars would have to align for that to change.”

Misnomer will play Preservation Pub Monday, June 11 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: Paris Monster

New York City outfit Paris Monster is what happens when you take two well-traveled session musicians — both of then afflicted with a rogue appreciation for electronica, their chosen axes notwithstanding — and allow them free rein to satisfy their collective creative jones. The result is a little bit pop, a little bit experimental, and a whole lot different from anything either member does on their regular live and studio gigs around town.

“We’re into anything that’s a little bit different,” singer/keyboardist/drummer Josh Dion says of the project. “We’re always looking to add something to make the song unique. The music tends to be less commercial that way, although there are times where it can have a commercial appeal.”

Paris Monster is a collaboration between Dion and fellow New York pro bassist/keboardist Geoff Kraly. “We knew each other pretty well from the New York scene,” Dion says. “We’ve both done jazz and rock gigs, some studio work, some production work. So with this band, we decided we wanted to keep it to a duo, so each of us would have room to explore. We wanted it to be very open. And we had certain aspects we knew we wanted in the music. We knew we wanted some improvisation, and we knew we wanted elements of pop. Other than that, we didn’t have a specific sound in mind.”

But that account omits one important element that figured heavily into the birthing of Paris Monster’s sound, that being the fact that both Kraly and Dion, independent of one another, had developed a fondness for tinkering with keyboards, pedals, and other electronics.

“I got into playing keyboards because I wanted to do something a little bit different, and it evolved from there,” Dion says. “At the same time, Geoff was exploring different pedals, and using modular synths with his bass — he’s bass player who likes to approach the instrument like a guitar. So yeah, our interests were aligning there.”

The resulting collaboration makes for a sound that resembles conventional synth pop in many respects; yet it’s a brand of synth pop that’s been shrewdly corrupted by the renegade experimentalism of both principals. The tracks Dion and Kraly lay down in the studio are often cold, mechanistic; they serve  as launching points for the two men to explore new realms of tonal and textural possibility with their various pedals and keyboards. Dion’s voice — a warm, emotive tenor, tinged with a hint of white soul — grounds it all, providing a powerful human element to tether PM’s electronic explorations.

Kraly says Paris Monster differs from other synth-pop outfits in one other key respect; rather than allowing their busy stage set-ups and myriad onstage responsibilities to subsume considerations like showmanship and audience rapport, he and Dion approach live performance with a rock ‘n’ roll mindset, with a view toward giving audiences something above and beyond what they hear in PM’s recorded music.

“It’s way more energetic and emotional live,” Kraly says. “People usually walk away saying, ‘That was something else.’ We don’t fuck around. At the end of a set, we’re both usually surrounded by pools of sweat, and our clothes are ruined.”

Paris Monster will play Preservation Pub Saturday, June 16 at 10 p.m.

Now Playing: The BoomBachs

There is perhaps no better testament to the burgeoning regional success of six-piece hip hop/jazz/soul outfit the BoomBachs than the fact that the band has had a beer named after it (the Boom Bach, natch) in its hometown Denton, Tex. Though that’s hardly the only marker of the band’s ascent; the ‘bachs have also garnered a slew of regional awards and recognitions since their inception in 2011, and have graduated from playing ill-attended coffee house shows to drawing SRO crowds at big venues.

Keyboardist Matt Westmoreland tells that the band’s origin goes back to Denton’s University of North Texas in 2011, when horn and keyboard player Marcus Wheat, a music major, was assigned a class project to form an ensemble and play an original composition. “He was the only one in class who said, ‘I want to do a hip hop band,'” Westmoreland says with a laugh.

Wheat assembled seven other North Texas musicians, including singer/rapper Adonias “A.D.” Wondwessen, and the resulting unit ended up taking wing, lasting well beyond Wheat’s project presentation at the end of the semester.

Musical hybrids can be dicey, but the ‘bachs’ mixing of rap, rock, soul, jazz and R&B is both deft and seamless. Frontman Wondwessen is the key to their fluid blend; taking his cues from the Native Tongues collective of 1990s-era hip hop — De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, et al — Wondwessen can shift from the spoken word to a smooth soul croon in a way that makes the transition seem as natural as breathing. Wherever the ‘bachs’ music chooses to go, from jazzy interludes to sparse funk to biting rock, Wondwessen’s versatile vocals always make the journey make sense.

But Westmoreland says the band’s genre-blending success owes something to Wheat, as well, both in the canny choices he made in assembling the ‘bachs, and in the even-handed mix of laissez-faire and structure with which he governs their interaction.

“There were a lot of different influences coming to the table with the members of this band, yet it all came together in a very organic way,” Westmoreland says. “Marcus had a good idea of the kind of players he wanted, the instrumentation he wanted. When it comes to songwriting, Marcus will come up with a basic structure, but it’s never, ‘You have to do this and this at this time.’ He gives us lots of freedom to come up with our own ideas and melodies.

“When people ask us what kind of music we play, we don’t want to say, ‘Well, it’s this and this and this.’ So we tend to put it all under the label of Space Gospel. It’s one huge collection of styles that’s always evolving. Hip hop just happens to be where we draw our base from.”

The BoomBachs will play Preservation Pub Thursday, April 19 at 10 p.m.