Not too long ago, if you'd gone into Schoolkids Records on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, you probably would have seen Richard Alwyn. You really couldn't have missed him. Amongst the Melvins posters and death metal CDs with titles that were impossible to decipher, Alwyn looked like a lost Rat Packer who'd gotten off the time machine in the wrong decade, but was determined to keep his composure anyway. With his slicked-back hair, perfectly pressed suits and wingtip shoes, he looked like he'd much rather be swilling a martini with a woman named Ava in a plush, dark lounge than selling you a Cannibal Corpse CD. 'Course, when the whole lounge music phenomenon broke, lots of guys were walking around similarly attired. But the thing about Alwyn is that he dressed like that before the trend started, and he's still dressing like that now that the trend is dying out. The day Alwyn goes out in public wearing a pair of ripped jeans and a flannel shirt, the world will come to an end.
"'It's always a formal occasion' is my usual joke," says Alwyn, who, when he does venture into a dark lounge, is likely to be on stage, either solo acoustic or with his bands, The Luxuries and Red Dagger White Horse. He even buys a buttonhole carnation from Fallon's on St. Mary's Street for every show.
"People want something to look at when they see a band, and I'm not a good enough guitar player to distract myself by jumping around and stuff."
Alwyn's attire is significant for two reasons. First, it proves he has good, if slightly eccentric, taste. Second, it shows that when he decides to do something, he attends to every detail. That's the case with his latest project, Love Hangover, a post-Valentine's Day ode to the lovelorn taking place Tuesday, Feb. 15, at Kings in Raleigh. For the past year, Alwyn has been setting up singer-songwriter nights at various local venues, including Kings, Trace and Humble Pie. In addition, his last few solo performances have had themes. Take for example his October show at Trace, "The Penultimate Performance of My Twenties," a showcase of songs about age, including one from Sinatra. For the Love Hangover show, he says he decided to combine the two concepts: He put together four male-female duos, each of which will perform several songs about love, or more appropriately, love gone wrong.
"I thought I'd have everybody in on the theme," he says, "and they seem to be having a good time with it."
When asked if the theme evolved because of love woes of his own, he is deliberately coy.
"Of course, I'm always nursing a broken heart. And a hopeful heart. And a naughty heart."
Alwyn's fabulous taste is evident in the event's lineup. Carbines leader Tift Merritt, who recently released a CD of traditional country love songs with Two Dollar Pistols, will perform with Pistols leader John Howie. Dana Kletter (who has performed with blackgirls, Dish and most recently with her sister Karen) will be paired with Connells singer Doug MacMillan. This pairing was inspired by a performance Kletter and MacMillan gave under the moniker April Fools at an all-Burt Bacharach show.
Boy Wonder Jinx singer-keyboard player Scott Philips, also a bandmate of Alwyn's in Red Dagger White Horse, chose to perform with Caroline Mamoulides of The Bettys. Finally, Alwyn himself will perform with Sara Bell (Dish, Shark Quest, Regina Hexaphone).
"She has a great style and sense of 'cool' in cover choices," Alwyn says of his collaborator. "I thought that we would work well together and approach things in a similar manner. It has been fantastic, we were coming up with all these similar arrangement ideas separately and bringing them in and the other would say, 'That's just what I was thinking of doing with it.'"
Luckily, Alwyn didn't have to go far to find his lineup. Having long-since left Schoolkids, he now works at Rogers Word Service, a Raleigh transcription service that employs a significant number of local musicians, including Bell, Kletter and Merritt. Bob Rogers himself is a jazz DJ at WSHA-FM.
"There are a lot of reasons a lot of musicians work for Bob," he says. "He is a musician and a poet himself, and I think he understands us more than your average boss. The schedule is flexible enough to accommodate late nights, touring, and general oddities of our lives and his. The work is also very interesting and always changing, which I think is also good for creative people. It is much easier to maintain your void avoidance there than in some job where you have to do the same thing over and over again."
As for what covers the couples have planned, Alwyn admits he's not sure, which is just fine with him because he loves surprises.
As for his own duet with Bell, he prefers to keep mum, saying only, "There shouldn't be a dry eye in the house, although some as much from laughing as crying."