|New Madrid. Photo copyright Normaltown Records|
Athens, Georgia based rock band New Madrid play Club Cafe Tuesday in support of their new LP, Sunswimmer. The record took home "Album of the Year" at the 2014 Flagpole Athens Music Award, beating out Elephant Six veterans Elf Power for the nod.
New Madrid released their first album, Yardboat, in 2012. It was a fine southern rock record with enough psychedelic flourishes to garner My Morning Jacket comparisons. Sunswimmer, the follow-up, taps the psychedelic vein further.
Here's a video of them performing slow-burner "Houseboat" at SXSW:
We were fortunate enough to ask lead singer Phil McGill some questions prior to his band's stop in town Tuesday.
PMR: Let's start at the beginning. How did the band come about? I read that three of four of you guys moved to Athens relatively recently. How did you first meet and start to play together?
Phil: Some of us grew up in the same city and played music around each other. We first hit it off creatively at silent film camp when the three of us realized we were secretly working on our own alternate sound tracks to the films we were studying. Also the ones we were shooting. We decided to do a collaborative score of sorts for one of the films and it just worked. The silent film was called Fin de Arc n Maitre Shallows and was sort of about the end of the world happening in an almost orderly and calm way- but still happening really quickly-within a couple of days. And the event was tipped off by an earthquake and that caused the main character, Djor, to start living differently immediately.
PMR: Is it true that you all live and record together in a farmhouse outside the city? I imagine it has to help musically to have such a close relationship with you bandmates, although I can certainly see there being a downside to that much time together as well.
Phil: We do live together in a duplex that some might say looks like a barn. It's not outside the city really. It just makes sense for us and works pretty naturally for us. It certainly wouldn't work for every band. There are downsides sure but that's true of most things.
PMR: Everything written about your band describes your music as southern psychedelic rock, or psychedelic rock with a southern influence. Is there an emphasis on one over the other? It seems like there's at least a shift toward the psychedelic end on the most recent album.
Phil: That's not really something we parse out in our heads, they just seem to be rather apt descriptors that really don't mean much wen you start to really think about them. We are from the South. That's where we grew up. What the means isn't the same thing that it meant 20 years ago. I also grew up on the internet, free of audible dialect and cramped information flow. The second record was written with us operating as a full band in mind. The songs were more about experimenting with sounds and experimenting with the feeling of playing music in a particular way with one another. it's nice when music can put you in a trance, I like that.
PMR: Talk a bit about some of your musical influences, both past and present.
Phil: Some of my favorite records that I listened to the most in 2014 were:
Under Colour of Official Right - Protomartyr, Syro - Aphex Twin, Vol. 1 - The Cleaners from Venus, The Moon and the Melodies- Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd, Vacation Vinny - Grass is Green, Singles - Future Islands
I fell in love with Mark Twang again by John Hartford. He's always been an influence. I've been listening to Run the Jewels 2 record and I really love it - it takes me to a similar place that Deltron 3030 took me when I was in highschool.
Talking Heads, Tortoise, the Meat Puppets.
PMR: You guys are obviously proud of being from Athens, and are signed to a local label. How is the music scene? Most everyone knows about REM and the Elephant Six bands, but what's it like today?
Phil: There is no short supply of music, and really it's about equal as to the supply of music fans. There are a lot of really great bands here. A lot of venues, a great eco-system. People play in multiple bands and there are constantly new bands coming and going. There is probably a good show every night of the week. A blessing and a curse. Good stuff can be overshadowed, or really you just have to accept the fact you will have to miss some really great stuff.
PMR: Any up-and-coming bands we should know about, from Athens or anywhere else?
Phil: I was blown away by this band from Asheville, NC we played with the other weekend called "Aunt Sis". Triathalon is a band from Savannah I like alot. In terms of Athens I've seen some really great shows recently by Muuy Biien, Deep State, Grand Vapids, Monsoon and Woodfangs. I'm leaving out some really good bands.
PMR: You guys played Club Cafe quite recently, with Reptar last September. Anything stick out in your mind from that show or your brief time in Pittsburgh? What do you have planned in the city this time around?
Phil: Walter from Reptar was playing his last night of the tour with us and he played the most amazing Sax solo all of us had ever experienced. On our way to Pittsburgh we met some really nice folks at a rest stop, one of those folks was also playing a mean saxophone. We are going to play some new songs as well as some other surprises.
We have a pair of tickets to giveaway for the concert. To enter, send your name to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "new madrid" in the subject line. We'll randomly select a winner Friday.
A pair of local bands open. Cape Cod, who hail from Butler, and The Heirs.