From Nemo to Avett

The Avett Brothers are gearing up to release their 7th full length studio album this summer. After 11 years together as a band, Rick Rubin is returning, making sure the group reaches its full potential. They seem on top of the world right now, but they started with humble beginnings. Before there was the banjo, there were fuzz guitars and screaming. Before they were the folk-rock band, The Avett Brothers, they were the 90’s grunge group, Nemo.

Nemo eventually transformed and gave way to the band we all know and love today, but to the members and fans, it was a project they will never forget. I had the pleasure of talking to Kenny Graham and John Twomey who were ready to spill the secrets and memories they have from when they played with the Avett’s.

A wild Nemo show

John Twomey and Scott Avett were studying together at East Carolina University. The two came together to form an early Nemo. Seth was living back at home in Mt. Pleasant, a small town outside of Concord, North Carolina with his band, Margo, which was composed of Seth, Kenny Graham, and Noah Warner. The brothers sent their music back and forth between each other and each liked what the other had to bring to the table. Naturally, as the two bands collaborated, they combined. The lineup consisted of Scott singing, Seth and John on guitar, Kenny on bass, and Noah playing the drums.

Twomey cites the band’s influences from “Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Blind Melon, Soundgarden, The Black Crowes, etc.”

“We were just a hard rocking band,” Graham says, “We were a part of music form that died with the change of the decade. There are times in our music where it seemed like it was about to fall apart, but that’s was rock and roll is and that is what it should be!”

As the band continued playing, the live shows set them apart from their competitors. “When we played live, we were unstoppable” Twomey exclaimed. “The energy and emotion behind the music was very similar to what can be seen today at an Avett Brothers show, just on a more aggressive format.”

According to Twomey, after each show, the band would get together and play some soft, slower acoustic jams to settle down. Scott began learning the banjo and started to bring it into these night-time jams. Seth and Scott were brought up playing music on the porch with their father Jim, so this style of playing came natural to the two of them.

Eventually they started playing shows as a three piece and called themselves Nemo Downstairs or The Back Porch Project. “The instruments were easier to travel with and the shows were more up close and personal. It was just a different feeling than playing a rock show and it came natural for the three of us to go in that direction while we were still doing the rock stuff,” Twomey says.

An early Avett Brothers show

As time went on The Back Porch Project gave way to The Avett Brothers and in 2001, Twomey and the brothers released a self-titled EP. To fill the missing void of the bass, Bob Crawford joined. According to Twomey, “for about 3 shows we were a four piece.”

Nemo began to fall apart and the Avett Brothers took off, but without Twomey.  He found his time in bands was over for a while. “For a long time after I left, I didn’t listen to or play any music at all,” he says, “I’m gradually getting the itch back for it again though and picking the guitar up more.”

While Twomey’s musical career ended, Graham’s time was not over. He continued to play in a couple of bands, but he soon returned to the Avett’s once again. “Seth and I wrote and recorded songs in a little studio in his dad’s garage on a 4 track. I actually played lead guitar on the first and third Timothy Seth Avett as Darling1 records, which we recorded in the same studio” he shares.

The Darling series brought Graham back to the stage with Seth as well. “About four years ago we played two consecutive sold out shows in the Concord Courthouse with Nicole Atkins.” he recalls.  “There is some talk of more Darling records in the future, assuming Seth has time, and I will be a part of those as well.”

Graham also was brought back to the Avetts to play in another rock band in late 2003 called Oh What a Nightmare. It brought back some of the sound heard during the Nemo days. “We wrote all of the songs and played about four shows,” Graham says.

Today Graham is in a new band called Lions to Lambs. “I play guitar and Mike Crim plays the drums. Derek Young (Oh What a Nightmare) played bass for us for the album, but has left. Seth heard about the recordings and wanted to help out, so I sent him some tapes. He happened to be touring with Jessica Lea Mayfield at the time, so the two of them recorded some backup vocals and guitar for us. The album will be out very soon and we will actually have something to sell at our shows. I really can’t thank Seth enough for his help!” Graham shares.

The two former band mates don’t see the brothers as much as they used to since they are always away on tour. “I try to go to some of the shows in North Carolina, but in the end, I’d rather just hang out with my friends without all the people around. When they are home Seth and I often grab some food or hang out in Starbucks. The two of us have been best friends since I was 13, so I really miss those guys when they are gone,” Graham states.

Twomey shares similar sentiments. “I go to as many of the Avett North Carolina shows as I can, but mostly to catch up with them before they go on. I’ve always considered Seth and Scott my brothers. We went through so much together as a band and even after I left, they were there for me (by phone) at every major event in my life. I miss them a great deal.”

Readers be ready:  the final Nemo album Vol. 1, is being remastered and will be re-released with a live DVD in late 2012 or 2013, depending on when the next Avett album is finally released.

Timothy Seth Avett as Darling is the name Seth goes under when releasing his solo work

Summer Shows in Cincinnati

With Riverbend as the hot spot for summer concerts, Cincinnati often is overlooked. Musicians know that the lawn in this venue is full of drunk high school and college kids who couldn’t care less about the music in front of them. Only musicians who appeal to that atmosphere come (mostly country stars). Other musicians such as Dave Matthews has been quoted bashing Cincinnati, but plays here year after year knowing it will make a lot of money. This year, the summer is looking up.

Dave Matthews Band is playing with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This was the first show to catch my eye. The Chocolate Drops are an all black string band from North Carolina. They cite all forms of black music as their influence, so you can hear anything from hip hop to delta blues. I caught them last year in Dayton, and they blew me away.

Radiohead is also heading to Riverbend this summer. One of the biggest Rock bands in the world will provide a new audience this year. I never listened to them as much as I should have, so I don’t have too much to say.

The biggest addition to summer shows is in the middle of downtown Cincinnati. The Taft Theater has opened its doors to live music. They must know I live in Cincinnati, because the shows are right up my alley. With names like Dawes, Sara Watkins, Trampled by Turtles, O’Death, and my personal favorite Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three, this new music venue will be turning some heads in the folk world.

Canal Street Tavern

Like the rest of Cincinnati, I was distraught with the closing of the Southgate House. The house held so much history and was known as one of the best venues in the country. I thought I knew the pinnacle of live music, but I was wrong.

Once the Southgate House closed, I had to find a new intimate venue to spend my time. When browsing shows online I noticed the David Mayfield Parade was playing in Dayton, so naturally it was placed on my calendar. It was at a venue I had rarely heard of and never been to, the Canal Street Tavern.

When mapquesting directions, I learned there is no Canal St. This lead me to believe that I was enterring a hipster haven. The Canal Street Tavern was among unmarked bars, fueled by irony and elitism. What I found, to my happiness, was far different.

Before enterring, one will notice a sign above the door that reads “A listening room for those who appreciate good music in a comfortable, relaxed, and unpretentious atmosphere”. When you enter, this is exactly what you find. There is not a bad seat in the house, so nobody fights for their viewing space. There are tables throughout and seats in the back so you can view in any fashion you please.

There is a community built around this place. Everyone inside seems to know each other. While waiting for music to start, everyone sits behind the tables and talks. This helps it hold the bar atmosphere that you see in the venues title. Whether the house is packed or sparsley populated, it never ceases to deliver a top notch atmosphere.

Canal St. is the only music venue that I know of in Dayton, but the crowds here make me believe that they could have a thriving music scene. I have never been apart of a more respectful crowd that is there solely for the music. It is refreshing.

This month there is another David Mayfield show, hopefully I will re-experience my first time!

Help a Brotha Out!

You may remember a post and interview with the band Wheels. They are making a new album and by using the Pledge Music business model, they are getting it done. They need our help.

In order to make the next album, which they have about 20 songs written for, they need $3000!! For each donation a prize is given. Prizes could be a high five, but they could be as substantial as a signed vinyl album or even free access to all shows for the year.

If you wish to donate, go here http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/wheelsmusic/forthcoming-album-by-wheels.

Attention Mariemont readers: I am trying to get a private show for the Village Green, if you are interested talk to me. I already have some families willing to donate. It will take 10 families to donate $100. It sounds like a lot, but if there is a small entrance fee for all who would like to watch, we will make most of the money back. I was thinking this show would take place in late May. I’ll keep everyone posted.

Another Look At Me

A painting a friend made of me

As college starts to come around the corner I start to ask myself, what lies next for me musically. I will be attending Depauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.

I can no longer sit and my room and play to myself for my roommate will get angry. I can’t see as many shows anymore because Greencastle is in the middle of nowhere. I can’t keep up on all the new albums of my favorite artists because my workload will increase. I won’t be majoring in music, so I will be isolated from many of the musicians as well.

I started looking around at my musical opportunities at Depauw and the future may not be so bleak. They have the second best college radio station in the nation (WGRE). Also there is a committee to bring artists to Depauw. To be honest, the result is a little lame. I have heard for Halloween they brought Chiddy Bang, but is that the best they can do?

The radio station proves Depauw has the musical fan base to get more artists. I am not going to make it my goal to get chart-toppers down there, but rising stars. At a location 45 minutes from both Bloomington and Indianapolis, I am sure musicians could use Depauw as another stop on their tour. I feel as if I have learned how to make musical connections and with the help of others can help pull it off. I think it will be an exciting project!

Boohoo for Bonnaroo

This summer I am working as a counselor at my childhood summer camp, Camp Crosley YMCA. I will be missing my last summer at home before I leave for college, but it still has been very exciting. I have often found that summers, although very fun are not as exciting as you initially plan them to be. I have to go to lifeguard and many friends also have summer jobs. No matter what is planned, less ends up getting done.

Last night the Bonnaroo lineup was posted and I am now questioning my decision to be away this summer. I have never seen a festival as stellar as Bonnaroo 2012. First off, and most importantly, The Avett Brothers are there. Every headliner is a true mainstream star that does their own thing and has yet to sell out: Radiohead, Phish, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I thought I would go down the list and talk about all the bands I’m excited about.

The Devil Makes Three is getting A LOT of talk from Avett Nation. This fan base lifted three blue-collar boys to national stardom, and I believe this contemporary ragtime band has what it takes as well.

If Jack Johnson was in a jam band, it would be ALO. Signed to his label (Brushfire) they will definitely keep the mellow concertgoers entertained.

I was surprised to see Trampled by Turtles so low on the lineup. Paste Magazine has called them one of the best live acts of the year. They bring a punk atmosphere to a head banging bluegrass show with a flatpicked banjo. They are coming to the Taft Theater in April, a show I am not planning on missing.

I discovered Das Racist from Donald Glover’s (aka Childish Gambino) blog, iamdonald. They are a three part cuban hip hop outfit known for their witty lines and academic minded rhymes. Similar style to Childish Gambino himself.

The Alabama Shakes in my opinion the best band of 2011 is going to tear up the small stage they are placed on. For a band that only has an EP out, they are tearing up the music scene. Brittany Howard, bands singer has the voice of Wilson Pickett and has more soul in one finger than most people have in their entire body. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will be this time next year.

If you don’t believe girls can rock, then watch the Joy Formidable. At Lolla last year they played the first show we saw of the day. They played a set so powerful that they ended early and nobody seemed to even care. During their closer, “Whirring,” frontman Ritzy Bryan banged her guitar against a gong while inflatable cat heads shot up from the ground, it was very reminiscent of something you would see at a Who show.

Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires will take you back to when African-American Blues started becoming what we know today as Rock and Roll. His raspy voice tears apart the microphone as he belts out every word. He is one of those musicians where you know he means every word he says from looking at his almost tearful face.

If you were to take the greatest hits of The Supremes, you would have an album very similar to Fitz and the Tantrum’s Pickin Up the Pieces. This Motown/Modern sound will keep the crowd on their feet and dancing.

The Punch Brothers are the face of New-Grass right now. Chris Thile of Nickel Creek fame and the rest of the boys are as talented as can be. Each note shows their talent. Whether they are covering Bach, Radiohead, or playing an original, they will tear up the stage. When it comes down to pure musical talent, the Punch Brothers are the best band there.

The two-man band, The Civil Wars, create the sound of a full band with just a man, a woman, and a guitar. Their two voices blend together seamlessly. The audience will mostly hear beautiful ballads, but they also know how to get rowdy. My only worry is that half the band, Joy Williams, recently got pregnant and it will keep her from performing at the hot summer festival.

The tUnE-yArDs is possibly the strangest band you will ever hear (the crazy capitalized letters probably hinted at that). Frontwoman Merrill Garbus plays the ukulele and loops with her voice to create her sounds and beats. The result is something so obscure, but beautiful. She manages to put something together that could easily be dismissed as hipster bullshit into a work of art.

Donald Glover is the most diverse man in the industry. He acted in the sketch group Derrick Comedy, wrote for 30 Rock and SNL, acts for Community, models, and now raps. He got his name Childish Gambino through a Wu-Tang name simulator and has shown the fun side of the genre. For years he released his music for free, but now wants to be taken a little more seriously.Camp,his first real album dropped in 2011 and is taking over. Hip-hop isn’t just for thugs anymore.

Ben Folds Five is having a reunion. In the 90’s Ben Folds was playing what he called “punk rock for wimpy people” with this trio. The concept was simple, rock music with no guitars. When they broke up he went solo and created more orchestrated music. For reasons not known to me, they are back. Folds’ music was never as good since he left, I am excited for their return.

The Roots are the greatest hip-hop group of all time in my opinion. Drummers ?uestlove and Knuckles create the beats on drums and bongos while guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas, tuba player Tuba Gooding Jr., and keyboard player Kamal create the instrumentation. MC Black Thought sings about poverty and the problems with the world today. They are the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and like Childish Gambino, know how to have a lot of fun!

Lastly, you all know my love for the Avett Brothers and why I do so I don’t think I really need to talk too much about this, but I will add that my Nemo article will be posted next!

Children are the Future (Wheels)

The idea of a high school band is nothing new. It is the dream of many teenagers to grab guitars, hit the stage, and woo the girls with their talent. Reality often falls short of these dreams. In Yellow Springs, Ohio, the dream never ends.

Wheels, a high energy roots outfit, puts their high school competitors to shame. Rourke Papania, Sam Salazar, Jamie Scott, Sam Crawford, and Conor Stratton may not be the star athletes, but they are local celebrities. With an album Fields On Fire under their built and another in the works, they have taken the Greater Dayton music scene by storm.

I first stumbled upon them while browsing Avett Brothers videos on Youtube. I found a cover of them playing “I Killed Sally’s Lover,” and was very impressed, it felt like the band I always wanted to start. One video led to several more and I passed them onto friends. Over the summer while at an Avett Brothers show I spotted them in the crowd. I approached them and they were so excited to be recognized. After connecting on Facebook I have been following their progress very closely, and it is impressive!

Since they began, Wheels has played with the following bands: Tim O’Brien and Brian Sutton, The Heartless Bastards, Ekoostik Hookah, Freekbass, Pearl and the Beard, Caravan of Thieves, and the Rumpke Mountain Boys.

This March they will be playing shows with Holy Ghost Tent Revival (March 10) and the David Wax Museum (March 28) at the Canal St. Tavern

I had the pleasure of talking to Rourke Papania last night and he answered a series of questions for me

How did you guys get started?

Well, little Sam and I went to Friends Music Camp in Barnesville, OH in the summer of 2009, and even though we’d seen each other around before, that was the first time we’d ever played music and even really talked. By the end of the summer, we played  “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” when we serenaded the girls’ dorm (a tradition there). When we got back to YS, we started out playing ukuleles in front of Tom’s Market in town, and all we had was Sam’s little black Bob Dylan songbook. Eventually, I switched to guitar, then Jamie joined us one day on a harp he’d never played before, and it just kind took off from there!

Sam switched to mando a couple of weeks before we played our first open mic, in January 2010, and Manchild (Crawford) joined us in December of that year. Then Conor, our newest member, just recently joined in this November.

What are the ages of all the members?

I’m 17, Conor’s 19, and Jamie, Sam, and Manchild, just turned 17, 15, and 15, respectively, all within a week of each other.

Is Wheels your first attempt at a band, or were you guys in projects before this?

Well, I know it was Sam, Manchild, and Jamie’s first go round, but Conor was actually in a band, which rotated names every once in a while, from Yazoo Street Scandal, to Mercury Mouth, to The Drugstore Records, now they’re called Speaking Sun’s actually, just to give them a plug. But anyways, one of those incarnations actually gave me and some other friends the inspiration to start our first band, an alternative rockish group – we played some Cold War Kids, MGMT, Dispatch… But this is the first time any of us had really played roots music.

What is different about playing roots music as compared to Alt-Rock?

Well, I was the singer and I played bass in the rock band I was in, but I just generally knew nothing about music, so there wasn’t a whole lot I could contribute – but I did my best, and it was my first foray into collaborating with other musicians so it gave me a bit of experience. But as far as the approach goes, it’s a lot of the same, just a will to play good music.

Why did you make the switch?

Well, I continued to play with the rock band, even when I came back from music camp, but eventually it just fell apart and that’s exactly when Wheels started taking off. Personally though, I like to rock it up sometimes, just separate from Wheels.

Your lyrics are much more mature and honest than most boys your age, how do you go about writing them?

Well, I, at least only like to write from experience and things I’m really feeling. All of the songs I write are very literal, drawn from my experiences. I like to just crank out what I’m feeling all at once too, just really spill it onto the page in one session. But i know Sam and Jamie take more time. Sam has these magnum opuses that he’s worked on for nearly a year, but he and Jamie generally work on their songs for a week or two. There are a couple of songs we just don’t play anymore because the emotional connection is gone. We need to be able to really feel the music.

You have played with a lot of pretty big acts, to what do you owe this success?

I would have to say our biggest friend has been word of mouth. I would attribute nearly all of our success to that. We’ve made amazing friends that have set us up with some good people. The festival circuit actually got us our New Year’s Eve show with Ekoostik Hookah last year, which was one of our first really big shows. But knowing venue owners and performing well at those venues really helps. When you prove you can draw a crowd, you get more calls. It’s really as simple as that. That’s more or less how we got our shows with the Heartless Bastards, Tim O’Brien, even David Wax and HGTR, but we also met those guys at shows, connected, and gave them a CD. We’d been working with Holy Ghost to get a show together last year, but this is the first time it’s worked out and we’re really excited!

What becomes of the band when you and Jamie go off to college next year? 

Well we’ve been having some conversation about this. Jamie’s going to Sinclair next year, so that’s not an issue, but I’m still applying to colleges. We’re not making any decisions at this point, and we’re just going to talk more about when the time comes. For now, we’re focusing on preparing material for our next album, which we’re all excited about!

We’re trying to self-record our forthcoming album, and we’re trying to fund the equipment with a kickstarter, which we’ll have up soon. If you check our website or Facebook for information and donate to the cause, we would be eternally grateful. There are even rewards for donating! You could get anything from a copy of the new album, to the band delivering a turkey sandwich to your door, to us coming and playing a show for you, in your house! (See my last post about Pledge Music)

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