The world of classical music evolved dramatically by the end of the 20th century, to a point where now, well into the 21st, traditional notions of proper music and genre boundaries have all but dissolved. No one in Memphis exemplifies the shift better than musician and composer Jonathan Kirkscey.
For years, music fans have known him as the city's go-to cellist for bands and performers that want to expand their sonic palates. Aside from his regular work with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Kirkscey has recorded with everyone from soul giants like Al Green and Solomon Burke to indie-rock artists like Cat Power and the late Jay Reatard. And he's honed his composition skills on soundtracks as diverse as Mike McCarthy's Cigarette Girl, Robert Gordon's and Morgan Neville's Best of Enemies, and Neville's recent Won't You Be My Neighbor?, a new documentary on PBS icon Fred Rogers.
While his work for the Emmy-winning Best of Enemies in 2015 garnered him the International Documentary Association's award for best music in a documentary, Kirkscey's latest score for Neville marks a new expressiveness in his work that may win him even more acclaim. Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the soundtrack, is already available on streaming services and soon will be released as a vinyl LP. Add the critically acclaimed series of Mellotron performances he's helped stage locally, as well as his frequent work with the new music-oriented Blueshift Ensemble, and you have all the trappings of a true Renaissance man of Memphis music.
Kirkscey's well suited to genre-hopping. After taking up cello at age 6, he also dabbled in piano. "We had a piano at home when I was growing up," he recalls. "Although I didn't take piano lessons, I'd play it for fun."
In his teens, Kirkscey played guitar. "I was into Metallica and Slayer and Helmet. Angry teenager music! Actually, I played in my first-ever band in high school with Hemant Gupta, who I still play with in Mouserocket. It's not what people usually want me to do when they have me compose a score, but if they want me to write a song that sounds like Ministry or Metallica, I can do that!"
While that particular skill set wasn't required for his Mr. Rogers project (though one can dream), the film did take him into new territory as a composer.
"Best of Enemies definitely had more of that Philip Glass or Steve Reich influence. But with Won't You Be My Neighbor?, there's a lot of emotional turns. So it wouldn't work as well having a minimalist, repetitive thing going on underneath it. It needed to reflect those emotional shifts," he says. "So there ended up being more twists and turns in the music. Morgan Neville pushed me to get more complex, harmonically. There's definitely more chromaticism in this one. More modulating to different keys and exploring different harmonic areas."
In layman's terms, it translates into some truly poignant passages that reveal the inner, darker moods of television's favorite toddler-positive persona.
Such success seemed unlikely when Kirkscey got his first soundtrack job. "Cigarette Girl was the first film I scored. I wasn't really a composer at that point, but I played in a band with Mike McCarthy, the director, called Fingers Like Saturn. He mistakenly thought that I was a composer, because I had done some arranging for string quartets. I really didn't know what I was doing, but I just said yes and hoped I would figure out how to do it. It was very stressful, but as hard as it was, it made me want to do it more. It really inspired me."
Kirkscey is staying busy. There are more soundtracks to tend to, mixes of his live Mellotron recordings with Robby Grant, Pat Sansone, and John Medeski to supervise, and performances of music by John Cage and others to rehearse for this weekend's Continuum Music Festival.
The latter, enthuses Kirkscey, is indicative of a nationwide sea change in musical tastes. "There's a different attitude among the younger generation of classical musicians. They're a lot more open to playing music from other genres, and there's been an explosion of new music ensembles in the U.S. in the last 20 years. If you want to breathe life into a genre, you gotta perform new music."
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Day 1 #MusicLovers #RoadTrip - first a little music history at the @rocknsoulmuseum, followed by the @gibsonguitar, Elvis Statue and Beale Street! #memphismusic #travel buff.ly/2p19EFl https://t.co/pR2DBtcK4x
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THE QUEEN OF SOUL!! #RIP #arethafranklin #MemphisMusic #QueenOfSoul #SadDay #DrFeelGood #RockSteady #MyMy #Detroit instagram.com/p/Bmiu50xnULZ/…
We play @LafayettesMem in one week on 8/22! Come get some #jamz 📸: rexteague #terryprinceandtheprinciples #memphismusic #spacerock instagram.com/p/BmhE_RsnvBy/…
She took on a faraway look in her eye as Rawlings tuned up. "Way off in the distance," she quipped, "you see professionalism, out on the horizon." And while the pair's humility, dedication, and sensitivity were always felt, once such banter was over, they locked down with breathtaking unity.
Their axes of choice, with Welch on a warm, big-sounding vintage Gibson (or banjo) and Rawlings on what appeared to be a pre-WWII parlor guitar, complemented each other perfectly, as the tinnier sound of Rawlings' guitar meshed with Welch's rhythmic strums.
And of course, there were the harmonies. Local songwriter Cory Branan noted after the show that "they sounded like blood relations," and indeed, the blend they achieve is reminiscent of many country sibling groups of the past.
At times, Rawlings would sing lead, trotting out songs from his Dave Rawlings Machine solo project. After they sang one such number, "Midnight Train," Welch commented that "That's as rambunctious as we get. Now we're gonna bring you all way down." And with that, they launched into the curiously tormented "The Way It Will Be."
A few more songs in, and they had the crowd on their feet with "Elvis Presley Blues." Until then, I hadn't realized how appropriate it was to hear them play during "death week." But as soon as they played the song, I felt it, and so did the audience, who gave the pair a standing ovation. "That's the most an audience ever got that song," Welch enthused.
After ten songs, there was a short intermission, followed by another set. One treat of their live show, as distinct from the records, is that Rawlings becomes gradually more unhinged in his playing as the evening wears on. While he takes some fine solos on their released recordings, his live playing becomes more exploratory, at times reminiscent of a veteran jazz musician in its venturesome quality.
At one point, Rawlings took over all instrumental duties with his banjo in hand, giving Welch little to do except sing, hambone, and dance a little jig that came off as homespun clogging.
Though Welch hasn't released any original material under her own name for some seven years, it mattered little to this audience, a veritable who's who of Memphis musical talent. Welch's songs are built to last: the spare, suggestive lyrics all share a classicism, even when singing of contemporary concerns like the girl who "put a needle in her arm," and the music suggests classic country and bluegrass, but always with a twist.
The classics are never far away from her songs, of course, and it was wholly appropriate when Welch and Rawlings finished up with a rousing "I'll Fly Away," the chestnut inspiring the typically reticent Memphis crowd to sing along with abandon (and harmonies). It was a heartfelt night for performers and audience alike.
Check out the slideshow from last night's show, with photos by Jamie Harmon.
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Marco Pavé raised the profile of political rap in Memphis considerably with last year's Welcome to Grc Lnd album, in which he wove the narratives of Black Lives Matter activists into his lyrical flow. It proved powerful enough to spawn an opera based on the album, a segment of which was staged in April in partnership with Opera Memphis. That might seem like enough to keep an artist busy, but Pavé has already moved on. He's now turning his voice to a more personal story, albeit with its political edge intact.
Appropriately enough, we met to speak about his latest work at his first place of employment: a McDonald's on Union Avenue. "I got fired from here for eating food on the job," he notes with a bemused air. "You do that, you out. So, chicken nuggets!"
But such high school-era drama is ancient history. "I haven't worked a job since 2013. And I don't plan on going back to any job in that kinda way," he says. "That's really what this new music is about, being self motivated and pushing yourself to that next level."
His new single and its accompanying video, "Sell," can be seen as the ultimate retort to dead-end jobs, through the enterprising eyes of a dealer who's avoided doing time. "Never seen a cell/But I used to sell/Real n*gga DNA, all up in my cells," he chants, celebrating the rewards of the entrepreneurial spirit.
"'Sell' is one of my favorite records of late. It's about the illegal or unfair drug policies that we have in places like the South, specifically Memphis. Last fall I went on a West Coast tour, all the way out to Seattle, to see what the differences are. St. Louis and Kansas City have both decriminalized, so you won't go to jail for smoking weed. And in places like Denver or Seattle, you can get rich."
Buying, selling, and surviving is the overarching theme to all of Pavé's newest work, which he's calling Payroll Music. Don't call it an album; these tracks will be unveiled piecemeal twice a month, for the foreseeable future. "It's a music series," Pavé notes. "It's me really just having fun and getting back to telling more of my stories. Wecome to Grc Lnd was something that needed to be responded to immediately. And that's what we did. But other than 'One Hunnid,' I was not able to tell who I am as a person. So that's what Payroll Music is really about. On the first and 15th of every month, we're dropping a brand-new song and a brand-new video."
This alternative approach to music marketing grew out of necessity, as Pavé, even after much critical and artistic success, had trouble drumming up local investment. As he sees it, the lack of support, even in a climate of local rappers regularly going platinum, is a Memphis thing. "In Memphis, there's a total disconnect between what's happening in the world and what people want to be happening in the world. Memphis made the deliberate choice in the 1970s to really not be about money over racism. Atlanta is in Georgia; it's still a racist place, it still has a police state, it still has all these issues, but they choose money over racism. Memphis will cut its nose to spite its face, and lose all the money possible just to not support black people. You would think that hip-hop would be elevated and supported, not only because they need the support but because hip-hop is a multi-million dollar industry."
Look for the Payroll series' next video, "Neva Lost," next week, featuring Pavé riding herd on a couple of boxers. "The video is super fun," he enthuses. "We shot it with real fighters. Brandon Gaitor is the main guy's name. I think he's undefeated in his career, so it's really hilarious for me to be treating him like that."
And what of the opera, which so recently generated buzz? "We had some interest from some investors. We're still gonna try to have something on a larger scale by 2020." In any case, the experience has left its mark on his craft. "Writing the opera put me in the mindset of character creation," he muses. "So I think I'm gonna be there for a while, for a long while."
You are correct, it won't be "the same", but because of those four it will be BETTER. They would've wanted it that way. #MemphisMusic #StillLeading twitter.com/tylerperry/sta…
With the release of Lucero's first album since 2015's All a Man Should Do this week, a new page has been turned in the band's life. With Ben Nichols, the group's singer and songwriter, settling into married life and fatherhood, and the band celebrating its 20th year this spring, the new songs strike out for new territory with a wistful nod to the past. As with the cover image of Among the Ghosts — a homespun church blurring into reflections of the floodwater surrounding it — the sounds of the new album are deceptively spare, but full of shadows.
Ghosts has the cinematic sweep of classic Springsteen, but it's a cinema filled with dread and ominous foreboding. It's no great stretch when, near the album's end, Nichols' voice drops out and one hears a noir-inspired monologue by actor Michael Shannon. Not unlike Harlan T. Bobo's recent foray into fatherhood, which resulted in the darkest music of his career, Nichols turns from his new grounding in parental life to cast an eye at the broken world our children will inherit.
When Nichols called me from his home in Ohio, he contrasted the bliss of his current life with the brooding songs he's created.
Flyer: It seems your lyrics have become more writerly. Does this grow out of being more of a dad and homebody these days?
Ben Nichols: It's kinda like living in the witness protection program. Nobody knows me. We're out here in the middle of nowhere. We've got a couple acres out in the country. It's all dairy farms and fields, and it's real nice. I don't do anything, I just hang out at the house with the family. I'm happier than I've ever been, but I've written some of the darker songs that we've written recently. Now the stakes are higher. I've got something to lose. I've got something I actually care about. In the past, it didn't matter which direction the world went, but now, I've got a little girl. And things matter more now than they used to. And things are scarier now than they used to be.
I love all the old Lucero songs, all the drinking songs and heartbreak songs, which pretty much came straight out of my life, but I don't have to write those again. It was nice going in a slightly different direction this time. I was trying to think of the songs more as short stories. I think it fit the music as well.
What authors have you been inspired by?
For "Long Way Back Home," which we just filmed a video for, I was definitely thinking about Larry Brown and Ron Rash. And also my little brother, Jeff Nichols, and his films, like Shotgun Stories and Mud. I wanted to capture that kind of Southern storytelling. Songs like "Everything Has Changed," the whole idea of that song, the guilt in that song, is straight outta that Tim O'Brien story, The Things They Carried.
There's a yearning for home that plays through the record. It's very specific in the title track, "Among the Ghosts." That one is most directly from my point of view: being on the road and missing my family. But then you've got "To My Dearest Wife," which is more from a soldier's perspective. It's based on some Civil War letters that I found, but I didn't wanna make it too specific.
The tracks also evoke wide open spaces, but with big guitar tones instead of horns.
We were taking a step back from what we'd done on the last three records, recorded at Ardent, which was a very Memphis-centric sound. We had the big horn section and the boogie-woogie piano that Rick Steff was playing. With this one, I was deliberately taking a step away from that. We changed studios; we went to Sam Phillips. And we changed producers; we worked with Matt Ross-Spang. And we deliberately went in more classic rock direction. Something that was more cinematic and more melancholy.
Does touring have a more melancholy edge now?
It's a whole new kind of heartbreak, leaving a two-year-old daughter at home. Before, you'd leave a girlfriend or your friends behind for a month or two. Leaving your little girl behind is tougher. But overall, it's a pretty sweet setup. Come up with guitar parts at home with my daughter running around, and then go down to Memphis and record 'em in a place like Sam Phillips Studio? Yeah, you can't beat it.
Lucero releases Among the Ghosts (Liberty & Lament / Thirty Tigers) on August 3rd.
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Katie Hargrave is a professor at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. She received her MFA in Intermedia from the University of Iowa, MA from Brandeis University, and BFA from the University of Illinois. Her work has been shown at DIY spaces, university galleries, non-profits, and festivals. She is a member of the collaborative groups “The Think Tank that has yet to be named” and “Like Riding a Bicycle.”
"I am interested in systems as broad as politics, history, our built environment, and our learning systems," Hargrave says. "The act of exploring, deconstructing, and decoding these systems is political, if subtly. We all have power; we all own this world.
"I make projects using a variety of forms — installations, publications, videos, and events — that encourage audiences to become participants in research and production as a way to explore their own experiences, their histories, their challenges. My work is responsive to environments, develops over time, and is co-created with participants as well as collaborators. Together, we can begin to realize that the construction of systems is made up of collective energy, and we might begin to ask: whose energy?"
Gustavo Plascencia was raised in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. He attended the Escuela de Artes Plasticas Ruben Herrera in Saltillo, Coahuila, before immigrating to the USA. He received his MFA at the University of Colorado in Boulder in Photography and Media Arts and his BFA from the University of Texas at Arlington. Plascencia’s work has been shown at both national and international venues, including Museo de Las Americas (Denver, CO), Instituto de Artes de Medellin (Medellin, Colombia), the International Center of Bethlehem (Bethlehem, Palestine), Universidad Politecnica de Valencia (Valencia, Spain), the Academia de Bellas Artes San Carlos (Mexico City, Mexico) and the Universidad Eafit (Medellin, Colombia). He has participated in artist-in-residency programs at the Instituto de Artes de Medellin (Colombia/2009), Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy/2011), Contemporary Artists Center in (Troy, NY/2011), Brush Creek Foundations for the Arts (Saratoga, WY/2012), and the Old School Residence (Bulgaria/2012).
"My artwork deals with borders, both real and imagined; for the Earth Ruminations series, I gathered images and objects directly from the environment I inhabit," Plascencia says. "I used this data to explore my fascination with nature, social memory of the landscape, and the similaraties between scientific and artistic processes. Earth Ruminations, presents images made using traditional, alternative, and hybrid photographic processes such as lumen prints and cyanotypes; I sometimes scanned them half way through the process to capture the in-between stages of the process to highlight the ephemeral nature of my data collection and its contents.
I used organic materials to create these images; yet these images are reminiscent of turn-of-the-century sky and space imagery. Are we looking at the skies, or are they bodies of water? Are the images depicting something microscopic or immense? This data collection process yields images that are very abstract, but yet they reference the past or a possible future. The disappeared, the lost, and the wished collide in these naturally imagined landscapes and its inhabitants. The people that walked these places in the past have left a mark in the environment — for better or worse — and now we can be part of those narratives and share our histories by inhabiting the same spaces. My creative research heavily borrows from social practices in art and contemporary philosophy; these influences have led me to explore intersections of place, personal narratives, and the absence of the body; anchoring these experiences with the notion that place/landscape is a silent witness to the histories that affect an individual on a personal and a communal level."
Naturally, this would be Peter Holsapple. The dB's were much loved in their prime, though not considered a popular success. They were a perfect distillation of both 70s power pop like Big Star and more thorny New Wave sensibilities. Typically, however, the dB's/Big Star connection that's talked about most is by way of Chris Stamey. Stamey, who moved to New York before Holsapple, played with Chilton's group the Cossacks, around the time that Chilton was living in New York and promoting his EP on Ork Records and regularly playing CBGBs and the Ocean Club. Stamey's own label, Car Records, was the first to release Chris Bell's “I Am the Cosmos” as a single. When Holsapple and friend Mitch Easter wanted to record their own single, Stamey arranged for Chilton to produce it.
It was after all this that Holsapple moved to Memphis. Chilton had also moved back to his hometown, and the two connected sporadically here. Holsapple witnessed one of the Like Flies on Sherbert recording sessions, and connected with Rosebrough. It was a wild, unhinged time in the Memphis underground scene, soon to spawn the Panther Burns, but Holsapple was still reveling in the sounds of power pop. It wasn't a perfect fit.
Such backstory is necessary to understand the context of an upcoming release on Omnivore Recordings, The Death of Rock: Peter Holsapple vs. Alex Chilton. The sessions Holsapple did with Rosebrough at Phillips did ultimately yield some tracks with Chilton, and now Holsapple's demos and a few off the cuff numbers with Chilton form the basis of this release. And, as Robert Gordon writes in the liner notes, “It works out OK for both artists, the collaboration taking each somewhere they’d likely not have gone by themselves.”
Yet the “versus” tag is appropriate, for the clash of sensibilities is palpable. As Holsapple writes in the liner notes, after buying Chilton a beer one night, the ex-Box Top quipped, “I heard some of that stuff you’re working on with Richard . . . and it really sucks.” It was in perfect opposition to the direction Chilton was headed. Holsapple goes on, “I caught Alex exiting a world of sweet pop that I was only just trying to enter, and the door hit me on the way in, I guess.”
If you're unaware of the 70s and 80s work of either artist, stop reading and get yourself to a record monger. Most of these cuts are fascinating as embryonic versions of other recordings, especially the Holsapple material. Two songs went on to become fully realized dB's tracks, and should be heard in those incarnations. Other Holsapple songs are not necessarily his finest work, though they are interesting excursions down Power Pop Boulevard. Still, one must brace oneself for the reaching vocals, tentative guitars, and lowered expectations of a rock demo — not everyone's cup of tea. My first reaction, upon hearing Holsapple's classic tunes here, was, “Wow, the dB's were really good.”
But my second reaction was, “Wow, Richard Rosebrough was really, really good.” Indeed, he's the unsung hero of these sessions, combining the sheer power of his drumming with a sensitivity to song structure. Ken Woodley is his perfect partner on bass. Hearing Holsapple's material with Rosebrough's heavier, slower beats is a telling contrast with the sound of dB's drummer Will Rigby. It's perfectly suited to one Holsapple original that never made it to dB's, “The Death of Rock.” It's ironic, given Chilton's devotion to deconstructing rock norms at the time, that Holsapple wrote the number. Yet the song itself is more in keeping with Holsapple's bigger, grander vision of power pop than the rootsy mess Chilton was embracing. Though it should be noted that Holsapple's “Someone's Gotta Shine Your Shoes” is a perfect fit with the Sherbert sound and allows Rosebrough's heaviness to shine in an uptempo context.
And of course, it's great to hear Rosebrough and Chilton together. There are a couple of Big Star tracks that the two lay into with punk abandon. That partnership was flourishing at the time, during the sessions for Like Flies on Sherbert. When it came to the chaotic stomp of that era of Chilton recordings, Rosebrough got it, and it shows on the half dozen Chilton tracks here. And, though chaos was certainly Chilton's calling card at the time, it's revealing that his tracks here sound clean and tight in a way that Sherbert did not. Unlike Holsapple, who was reaching for new heights, Chilton had been to the heights and was now abandoning them to do exactly what he wanted, using simpler forms in unpredictable ways. The clarity of his focus brings a cohesion to his tracks that Holsapple's lack.
“Tennis Bum” is already known to those true lovers of Chiltonia who snagged the Dusted in Memphis bootleg in the 80s, but there's a greater clarity to the sound on this official release, as Chilton paints a portrait of Midtown slackerdom. “Marshall Law” [sic] is a perfect gem of paranoia, an ominous chugging drone contrasting with Chilton's feckless delivery of images like “automatic weapons slung over their shoulder...tanks taking positions...chaos prevailing all over!” As Holsapple writes, the song “referenced the Memphis Police and Fire strike that was going on, curfews and sharpshooters on top of downtown buildings at night.”
Equally clean and chaotic, again, is Chilton's take on the chestnut “Heart and Soul,” in which he mischievously changes key in the middle of the melody. His cover of the Johnny Burnette's “Train Kept A-Rollin'” is fairly straightforward, compared to the Panther Burns' versions yet to come. But his take on Bo Diddley's “Mona” is a revelation, breaking down into some feedback-drenched guitar work that echoes the Cubist Blues he would later record with Alan Vega and Ben Vaughn.
In the end, then, this disc is well worth the price of admission. Revisit your dB's records, and Chilton's Like Flies on Sherbert, then dive into this time capsule to get another peek into the zeitgeist of late 70s Memphis, where anything seemed possible, “anything goes” was the imperative, and oil and water mixed for a time.
The Death of Rock: Peter Holsapple vs. Alex Chilton will be released October 12.
With so many singer/songwriters unconsciously internalizing the vocal mannerisms of the time, morphing their voices into a common denominator of the current trends (can you say "vocal fry"?), Erin Rae presents a disarming, unaffected frankness, and that is her greatest strength. The final product, as on her recent album Putting On Airs (Single Lock Records), is light and breezy, yet cut with the gravitas of her plainspoken lyrics and delivery.
"Love Like Before" reads like a prosaic list of the features of a new apartment, but suggests an inner turmoil and longing beneath the low key observations. The kicker comes at the end, "Been sitting right here and I could not find/Love that I knew before," made all the more powerful by the unadorned lyrics preceding it.
The new album, recorded at Refuge Studios, a former monastery in Wisconsin, offers plenty of air. The spare adornments, such as tasteful pedal steel, piano, organ, or even Mellotron, never detract from the front-and-center acoustic guitar that grounds her voice, yet add a dreamy quality to the affair. You can hear the consummate blend on the official video for "June Bug":
Her band will be with her tonight, giving listeners a chance to hear those ethereal, spot-on arrangements from the record come to life. For those chasing that perfect blend of sincerity and craftsmanship, this show is not to be missed.
Stax Music Academy Alum pay tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin @StaxMemphis. #ArethaFranklin #AintNoWay #NaturalWoman #RockSteady #SoulMusic #Stax #MemphisMusic instagram.com/p/Bmjv63knxZW/…
This is where ARETHA "got it" from, her Dad, Pastor C.L. Franklin, who Pastored New Salem Baptist Church, Fourth Street in MEMPHIS. Don't hate! #MemphisMusic #StillLeading youtu.be/QZdnwaMrKH4
A little preview of @amylavere’s performance with the @memphissymphony for the #continuummusicfestival. Can’t wait for this Saturday @YourConcourse. #memphismusic #amylavere #choose901 #ilovememphis #music #live #orchestra #strings #winds #recording
Thank Carl Jung for the band name “Cruelty of the Heavens.”
It was part of a long passage in the book about Abraxas, a gnostic deity, says Jared Filsinger, bass player/back-up vocalist in the band that includes singer/guitarist Neal Bledsoe and drummer Sam Davidson.
The name was perfect because they now mix “melody with melancholy, Filsinger says. “Neal writes all the lyrics and we write the music together. And a lot of times it will be melodic. Pretty guitar parts and stuff like that. But there’s always going to be some minors thrown in. And then his lyrics a lot of times are dark. So, it’s that merging of two emotions.”
Filsinger, Bledsoe and Davidson were together in two other bands: The West Bound and Chaos Order, which were a “heavier, fast kind of band,” Bledsoe says. “We had six records. We were doing two EPs a year. I mean, it was insane. Naturally, you just get jaded and burnt out and just tired of the certain thing you’ve been doing for a long time.”
The new music wasn’t really a departure as far as their musical tastes. “We grew up listening to stuff like this. All three of us listen to stuff like this on a daily basis. More than we do the heavier stuff. Jared’s a huge fan of The Replacements. Then there’s a band called Superdrag, that we love a lot. The bigger bands like Nirvana.”
“Soundgarden,” Filsinger says.
“To me, it’s like post punk mixed with '90s alternative, so, it’s almost like some elements of The Cure and Joy Division with The Replacements and Nirvana somewhere in between that,” Bledsoe says.
It’s “just a breath of fresh air being able to write this kind of stuff and not be screaming into a microphone.”
“For me, personally, it’s like the band I wanted to be in but I didn’t know it all along,” Filsinger says.
They changed their musical direction when they took a break from Chaos Order in early 2016. “We’d been so militant for all those years,” Bledsoe says. “Doing two EPs a year. Then we would do at least two videos for each of those two EPs. So, we’re just like, ‘Let’s take a breather for a second now. Let’s be humans now.’”
They said they were going to take a break, but, Bledsoe says, “taking a break” meant taking a break from writing their heavier material to writing their more melodic songs.
In 2015, Bledsoe and Filsinger wrote “1995,” which was about the death of Bledsoe’s dad. That song was more melodic that their Chaos Order material. “That was the first song that Neal and I had written together,” Filsinger says. “And it showed us we could write a different style of music with him on guitar and me on bass.”
The band members didn’t intend to form a new band when they took the break. “We planned on just doing Chaos Order, but in that break Neal and I got together and we each had songs that weren’t heavy and we jammed with Sam,” Filsinger says.
“We decided we’re going to do the record and not tell anybody who’s in the band and release it and that be it,” Davidson says. “That was the plan, but five songs turned into 10 and we said, ‘Man, this feels right.’ We kept both going for a while, but now it’s just this band.”
Bledsoe tested their new music by giving a recording of it to his friend, who’s in a hardcore band in St. Louis. But he didn’t tell him the members of Chaos Order were the musicians. “If you said, ‘Hey, this is my band. Tell me what you think,’ automatically they’re doing to be partial with you,” Bledsoe says.
His friend liked it.
How did their Chaos Order fans like this change? “Some of them were kind of like, ‘Uh, I didn’t think you guys were capable of doing this kind of stuff,’” Davidson says. “But it was surprising that a lot of people came over like they really liked it. It was kind of like, ‘If these guys can play this type of stuff (and) be passionate about it, then it’s OK for me to like it.”
They released their album, “Grow Up and See” in November, 2016 and their EP, “Somewhere Between Paranoia and Depression” last year.
Songs include “The Magician,” which Filsinger describes as a “dysfunctional love story,” and “Entoptic Phenomenon,” which Bledsoe describes as a “coming-of-age record.”
“I think we can be a lot more honest in this band,” Davidson says. “Not that we weren’t honest in the other bands, but when you’re playing heavy music, people kind of expect a certain content. And when you’re doing something new that is like this, when you want to write about something emotional, you can do that without thinking, ‘I wonder how this is going to be?’ WIth metal, they’re expecting certain topics, Just like dark stuff.”
Satanic rituals,” Bledsoe says. “Satanic. Deal with the fucking devil.”
“With this one, if you want to write a song about a girl, you can,” Davidson says. “It’s like we can be completely sincere and who gives a shit if some hardcore tough guy doesn’t like it?”
Cruelty of the Heavens will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 17 at Meddlesome Brewing Company, 7750 Trinity Road, No. 114 in Cordova. No admission charge.