With a fist to the face courtesy of a longtime bandmate, Nathan Asher knew Phantom FM was through. But, following the band-breaking fisticuffs, Asher still had plenty of songs and ideas, and he knew better than to waste them. What he needed was the same as most any other unestablished songwriter: a band to follow him somewhere into a basement, rehearse for a few days and then record a five or six track demo.
Asher had been impressed with the pounding of Nova Cancy's Daniel Abbate when they had shared a bill earlier in the summer, so he recruited Abbate and his bandmate Chris Serino to man the session's rhythm section. FM's Lawson Bennett would return to the fold on keys, along with Jay Cartwright III from Chapel Hill's Eyes to Space on organ.
"I had all of these songs I needed to record, so I found these guys and told them I'd pay them to play," remembers Asher. "We got together and went through a few songs, and it was a really, really great feeling playing with these guys in a room. Pretty soon, I didn't have to pay them anymore."
Serino soon moved to his customary position behind the electric guitar, opening a spot for Abbate's older brother, Nick, on the bass. The sextet--a hybrid of two upstart, trans-Interstate 40 rock bands and a second ivory man--exploded, somehow reworking and conquering some 15 Asher sitting-in-the-basement-with-an-acoustic musings in just over a month.
And the product--Nathan Asher & The Infantry--is better than the work any of the players have done in their previous bands. Asher is a first-rate social satirist, commenting on life, politics and entertainment in a vintage Michael Stipe plea that somehow manages to strike a balance between being necessarily nervous and irritatingly paranoid.
"MC Big Money looks funny as he's accepting his Grammy / Stammering thanks to God and family for a song called 'Drugs and Pussy,'" he sings in the band's first finished cut, "The Last Election," a smart, organ-washed affair that calls Americans to thought and international malcontents to self-respect with the help of Turner Brandon's riotous harmonica work.
Abbate's drumming roars in the mix, turning Asher's analytical refrains into intensely perfect hooks and giving his work teeth just at the points where the words of similar writers backed by lesser bands begins to fizzle. The keyboard/organ work plays out much like Jay Bennett's ideas for Wilco's Summer Teeth, dancing with countermelodies and a few perfectly placed notes as organ sustains bolster the soaring, cracked vocals of Asher--more a Darkness on the Edge of Town Springsteen than a Jeff Tweedy.
These guys know they have something special. Asher plans to have an EP finished and packaged before the band's big debut at The Lincoln Theatre on January 2, and he hopes to record a few more numbers with The Infantry in the next four weeks as part of developing a proper LP by February. These guys need Steve Lillywhite's phone number. Judging from "The Last Election" and a set of six more impressive demos, this band and the right producer (Lillywhite or Mitch Easter) could make one of the best first-take, power-pop albums you will ever hear.
Caitlin Cary will be lending violin work to Raleigh singer/songwriter Rob Watson's debut effort, due out sometime in February. Watson (of Kenny Roby and The New Electric Combo and Troy Smith's Kennebec) will head back into the studio during the middle of this week to finish tracking the record with Cary's drummer, Dave Bartholomew. The remainder of The Nickel Slots back Watson for the album, and Watson's girlfriend--Joanna Capps--lends backup vocals. Watson capitalizes on his memorably light guitar touch with an endearing, sincere voice, laying out acoustic pop ditties not too far removed from Howie Day's most provocative moments or Rufus Wainwright's loneliest tunes. But don't expect entirely sad songs about cold-hearted women here: Watson doubles as the occasional melodic trickster, full of ideas culled from the funkier fields of hip-hop and the "modern" side of radio rock.
Watson spent Thanksgiving Day eating lunch with his girlfriend's family and his preacher before playing a solo set at The Brewery, opening for an all-acoustic Weekend Excursion. "Yeah, it's funny. We even found out that we're neighbors. They live right down the street, and I never knew it," Watson says of the holiday gig.
For more on Watson, check out his website at robwatsonmusic.com.
Rosebud Licorice, Etc.
Management at The Lincoln Theatre has delayed a scheduled month-long close once again. It was previously reported that the venue would shut down in December to add a long-awaited upstairs balcony, but--still lacking the proper permits from the city--Lincoln co-owners Mark Thompson and Pat Dickenson now think that their best chance to complete the project will be May of 2004.
Pidgeon English will release The Rosebuds' Make Out on vinyl in the late winter or early spring of 2004, according to label co-owner Josh Bryant. The re-release should surface with at least one song or album remix not included on the original compact disc version issued by Merge earlier this year. Meanwhile, The Rosebuds play the Main Stage of First Night Raleigh at 6 p.m., followed by a show with Bellafea at Go! in Carrboro on January 17.
Strange's David Mueller will play his second post-holiday show as a solo act on December 26 at Kings. Mueller has dubbed the one-man band "Heads on Sticks," a second-degree reference to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Goner, The Greatest Hits and The Weather will all play as well.
On Christmas break from their respective institutions of higher learning, the members of Pico vs. Island Trees will hit the stage of The Lincoln Theatre for a CD Release Party on January 4. The disc, though, will not be available from Raleigh's Deep South Records until February 10. International Orange--featuring Robert Sledge, who also makes a guest appearance on the Pico record--will open, along with Chapel Hill's excellent Go*Machine.
In October, I reported that Troy Smith and his band of wistful, rootsy pop (which includes Rob Watson) were looking for a name. They found it: Kennebec.
"Well, that's the road I grew up on, so I decided that's about as good of a place to start as any," Smith told The Independent, referring to a country road in Wake County. "But it definitely sounds like a good German beer."