A Dance in the Ether with Quiet Hounds

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“Some things supersede order. Sometimes you need a harmony outside ­- and in. I ring that note. We are a crowd here tonight seeking just such an elixir. Something to soothe, yes, and to heal. But also to excite… We are mixed crowd of many different needs, but we’ve come here tonight with a singular want. To be elevated, to be lifted up, just for a moment, out of our daily doldrums our aches and pains, this Snake Nation shanty town spirit that shackles us all too often. We want just for a night, just one night, to dance in the ether and get rid of order.” – Clark Stanley

Quiet Hounds rebuilt Snake Nation for an evening last weekend in Atlanta.

Quiet Hounds rebuilt Snake Nation for an evening last weekend in Atlanta.

On Saturday night on a stage inside a late 19th century industrial building on the edge of Midtown Atlanta, a battle for the ages occurred. Authority and morality clashed with rebelliousness and creativity, a tempest set afire by Atlanta’s paradigm-smashing band Quiet Hounds. “The Last Days of the Snake Nation” was part concert, part historical lesson, and part grand fiction ­– and if you listened closely, if you soaked in all of the evening’s intricate trappings, you may have walked away inspired or cautioned by what played out on stage.

As you approached the entrance for the show, a man in a top hat and tails awaited your ticket – the first clue that something may be different about the night. Behind him, men and women in late 19th century period costume milled amongst arriving concert-goers. At the doors of the performance hall, a program was handed to you with a flourish and a dramatic red velvet curtain was swept aside for you to enter the world of the Quiet Hounds.

Leading up to the event, the band’s social media pages had flashed cryptic calls-to-arms and images: tin-type photos and introductions to two characters, Jonathan Norcross and Clark Stanley. Unless you’re a history buff, the names may mean nothing to you. But the Hounds intended to resurrect these historical figures and bring them to life.

A brief history:

Norcross, the fourth mayor of Atlanta, is often seen as the man who helped to shape the thriving young city by establishing many of its laws and instituting order. In his successful contest for mayor of the newly named Atlanta (previously known as Marthasville), he became head of the Moral Party and ran against Leonard Simpson, the leader of the Free and Rowdy party, which supported a more creative, less restricted lifestyle. In his role, Norcross also served as head of the police, and worked deliberately to drive out the city’s “undesirables.”

Clark Stanley was a cowboy from Texas who was literally a snake oil salesman. After spending time studying with a Hopi medicine man, he bottled and marketed his snake oil liniment as medicine. He traveled from state to state, selling his liniment with an elaborate act that included live rattlesnakes. Eventually, the government examined Stanley’s solution and declared that it was not medicine, instead mostly mineral oil. The term “snake oil salesman” arose out of Stanley’s downfall.

The Goat Farm Arts Center’s Goodson Yard performance hall had been turned into early Atlanta’s Snake Nation, an area of the city that was (to quote Atlanta Magazine) “an enclave of log cabins and wood huts along old Whitehall Road (now Peters Street). It reportedly earned its nickname from snake oil peddlers, but was home to far more unsavory characters.” The inhabitants of Snake Nation sided with the Free and Rowdy party. These individuals, along with residents of similar areas Murrell’s Row and Slab Town, were the types that Norcross felt threatened the burgeoning young Atlanta.

There’s no record that Norcross and Stanley ever had direct interaction, but in 1850 and 1851, there was an ongoing struggle between the Morals and the Free and Rowdies, one attempting to help the city flourish through capitalism and order, while the other sought to hold on to the young city’s individuality and their own free spirit lifestyle. Later that year, citizens of Atlanta who sided with the Moral Party disguised themselves (in white caps) and invaded Snake Nation, whipping the male residents and chasing them off, as well as “rounding up” the women to shuttle them off to outside of the city where they were released with a warning to not return. Snake Nation was burned to the ground, and it was years before anything was built there again.

As concert goers filled into the performance hall, costumed actors milled about, arm wrestling and talking loudly about the state of politics in young Atlanta and Snake Nation. “Loose women” hung on men’s arms, and laughter filled the air. Areas of the hall were set with period furniture, and Clark Stanley’s snake oil wagon even held down its own corner selling its wares (and doubling as a merch boothIMG_3045). The stage was set ­– literally and figuratively ­– for a night in Snake Nation. The program had a simple list of four acts: Elixir of Truth, Of All That Is Possible, The Clash, and finally The End of Snake Nation, accompanied by a “report” on the “candidates,” Clark Stanley and Jonathan Norcross.

 

Exactly at 9 PM, a contingent of well-dressed men entered the room, talking loudly, trailed by the band, bedecked in their customary masks. This was the beginning of Act I, Elixir of Truth. Here was Norcross, making his way from the back of the room through the crowd, shaking hands and petitioning members of the audience to vote for him. As he made his way to the stage, he commanded a scribe to “write that down,” and began his stump speech, calling for refinement and structure. As he railed against the Free and Rowdy party, whores, pimps, and bums, a small number in the crowd called back in support, with others booing him. Suddenly, he was interrupted by another group, making its way to the front of the room, laughing and mocking the pulpit-like speech of Norcross. Clark Stanley jumped onto the stage, bantering with the audience in a bawdy fashion, telling them about his snake oil liniment, but more about what the forced implementation of order and structure could mean. For nearly 20 minutes, the Stanley and Norcross went back and forth, and the argument peaked, with Stanley offering a “balm” in the form of song, “proof of what Snake Nation is made of.”

The band appeared on stage, launching into a refrain to begin Act II. The lead Hound made his way to the stage through the crowd, carrying a lantern. Once he clambered onto the stage, the band members shed their masks, and moved into a blistering set, rattling off older songs interspersed with songs from the band’s latest album, The Wild Hunt, including “Calling All Gamma Rays,” “Good Bones,” “Night Parade,” “Worn Crush Corduroy,” and the well-loved “Southern Charm.”

A second drummer, Julian Dorio from Athens band The Whigs, was introduced (with a hilarious joke about the Whig political party that I’m sure not everyone in the crowd caught) for part of set, just in time for some of the night’s more up tempo songs, including “Young Clover,” my personal favorite, the percussion-crazy “Dangerlove,” and “Hemlock.”

After “Hemlock,” Norcross and Stanley retook the stage and begin a heated argument. Stanley made a fool of Norcross by joking with him about his relationship with a noted prostitute, and the two men engaged in a brawl that moved off stage. They were followed by the lead Hound. As the music escalated, above the stage, the audience could view see shadows of the Norcross and Stanley in an embittered fight, ending with Norcross standing over Stanley’s still body.

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Meghan charming the crowd.

Quiet Hounds have always surrounded themselves with an amazing cast of musicians, including an exceptional brass section made up of Dave Daly (who also assisted with some arrangements on the band’s latest album, The Wild Hunt), Russell Sauve, and Umcolisi Terrell. They’ve officially brought another one of those accompanying members, Meghan Arias, into the band, making their number six. The newest member’s presence in the band was noticeable, adding a dimension to both the performance and the music itself. She took lead vocal on the song following the brawl, “Art of War.” She proved her mettle when her mic went out at her keyboard in the first lines of the song. She didn’t hesitate to step forward, grab the lead mic, and completely floor the crowd with a new rendition of the song.

Norcross attempts to hang himself while a divided Stanley looks on.

Norcross attempts to hang himself while a divided Stanley looks on.

Following this dramatic scene, the stage darkened, the band stepped into the shadows, and a bloodied Norcross crossed the stage, fashioning a noose from a rope hanging from the ceiling. The lead Hound followed him with an acoustic guitar, singing “Weathervane,” the closing and most emotional track on The Wild Hunt. After slipping the noose around his neck, he stands, staring at his hands streaked with blood, rubbing them together. Before Norcross can hang himself for his actions, an equally bloodied Stanley comes up behind him, knife in hand, evidently of two minds about what he should do. In the end, he cuts the noose down, and the two quietly exit the stage together.

The near-end of Norcross also signaled the near-end of the set, and the band closed out the performance with “Wild Light” and a rousing new song, “If the World.”

The incomparable Quiet Hounds and troupe.

The incomparable Quiet Hounds and troupe.

As they closed the song, the band introduced the actors that played Norcross and Stanley, “distinguished guest drummer” Dorio, and the horn section, thanking the Goat Farm for hosting, and the crowd for attending. Then all the players and band stepped up, sharing hugs and handshakes, joining hands, and chorusing out into a well-deserved bow. It was a defining moment for Quiet Hounds, a group that have found their purpose, who are clearly in love with what they are doing. You could see it in their faces and smiles – and they want to take us along on this adventure with them. To quote one of their songs,”we’ve found our place, so come along, we pave our way, our own parade.”

It’s exhilarating to watch it and be part of this movement. The performance was, from this viewer’s perspective, the best they’ve ever been on stage. The music was richer, the band was in sync, there was more banter with the crowd.The story of Norcross and Stanley well-acted, enhancing the music, and defining a purpose for the evening. And it was impossible not to see that the band was having a blast. This is what the future of music should look like. The elaborate theatrics, the historical backdrop, the hours that went into prepping all of the small details – all of these things are the hallmark of a group of artists intent on shifting the conversation about art. About creating art that engages and lifts us up.

So what’s the meaning of the night? Do you side with the Morals or the Rowdies? You’re left to determine it all for yourself. But if you were listening, the message was there. One of the Hounds said it best during the set. “You know, some of us Hounds feel right at home here in Snake Nation. Some of us, not so much. I’d like to think we all get along pretty good. Some of us may disagree and burn like a beacon sun in the distance, angered, imprisoned, frustrated by the discourse that surrounds us. But we know we’ve been here before. We’ve seen this before. And we remember a place and a time where we didn’t always have the choices that we have today…and we know deep down inside, we always find a way to come out clean in the end.”

If there was one thing to mar the evening for those of us there to hear the music, it was the unbelievable level of crowd noise and disrespect for the performance. Ironic, actually. Here QH is putting on an incredible event about extolling art and creativity, about finding balance between conformity and individuality, and at times you could barely hear them above the din of people who were clearly not there for the art. (We won’t even discuss the guy who climbed on someone’s shoulders in the front row so that his friends could take a photo of him in front of the band right in the middle of the show.) Nowhere was the utter disrespect of all the damn talking more present that when the lead Hound indulged in a bit of uncharacteristic sentimentality to introduce their historically-influenced song “Beacon Sun.” By the way, this song is a tribute to the thousands of soldiers who died in a Civil War interment camp – if any song in the entire set deserved a few moments of silence, it was this one. One of the band members even issued a frustrated “Shhhh” into his microphone as they began playing it. Unbelievable. This isn’t the first concert I’ve been to recently where this has been a problem, and maybe I was just more sensitive to it at this show because I’d literally been looking forward to this show for months. I typically stay away from poking the sleeping bear on my blog, but SERIOUSLY?

Music, art…these things are personal. What moves each of us is different. I try to keep my feelings out of it when trying to write quasi-legitimate reviews. But sometimes, it only seems appropriate to add that personal element in.  I’ve been a rather vocal proponent of this band since its early days – I was lucky enough that a friend (love you, Allison!) clued me into them. I’m not sure that I can appropriately put words to what this band’s music has done for me. It came into my life when a lot of things were a mess, and when I felt pretty lost and uninspired, emotionally drained by the serious illness of one of my parents. I pride myself on my ability to write, to “create” things, and I was at a point where I was completely empty. For me, there’s nothing more devastating to feel like that well is dry, to feel like you’ve lost the very thing that defines you. Quiet Hounds played a big role in reinspiring me. The lyrics, the music, the performance, but more importantly, the thoughts behind it all, their camaraderie, their singular purpose to change the way people view music and art… For me, those things are incredibly meaningful and powerful. They move me to find ways to contribute to something greater. And that’s really what it’s about, right? So on this Thanksgiving, let me say a public “thank you” to this collection of artists who has brightened my life with their music.

Quiet Hounds have graciously made the entire Last Days of Snake Nation performance viewable on their website at http://www.quiethounds.com.

Taking Off With Audio Astronauts

In the Japanese workplace, there’s a philosophy called kaizen.  The word literally means “good change,” but it is essentially the belief that there should be continuous improvement that reduces waste and improves efficiency.  Originally, it was a philosophy that applied to manufacturing and engineering, but over time, other businesses, areas of study, and doctrines have adopted it.  The more you read about kaizen, the more you understand that it is more about tasking workers with the responsibility of examining their own practices in an objective way and finding ways to better their own environments.  As music lovers, why shouldn’t we apply kaizen to the way we select and listen to our music?

While I’ve always been a music analyst, I will freely admit to relating more to lyrics and vocals and not really understanding all the intricacies that go into making the tunes that pump out of my headphones.  That’s why when a musician that I’ve come to really respect announced that he was launching a podcast about audio engineering, producing, and recording, I found myself intrigued.

Two dudes exploring the depths of modern recording – and dedicated to musical kaizen.

Two dudes exploring the depths of modern recording – and dedicated to musical kaizen.

Meet the Audio Astronauts:  Deke Spears and Matt Rowles.  Both fellas are accomplished musicians and studio gurus.  Each Wednesday, these guys spend about an hour (depending on how chatty Deke is feeling) talking about recording equipment, processes, and techniques.  They discuss albums, producers and engineers, playing examples and digging into what makes certain recordings great.

It’s really fascinating to hear them talk about records that I’ve literally been listening to for more than half my life and hear them from a totally different perspective because they steer me into listening to them with a different ear.  Whether it’s hearing a new instrument that I’ve never noticed before, or understanding how individual producers influence styles and sound, I come away each week with a literal earful of new information.  And while I might only really key in or understand two or three things that they talk about, each time I listen to a new piece of music, I’m hearing it through new filters.  And, bonus, I’ve started listening to artists I might otherwise have skipped because it’s not “my type of music.”  Talk about expanding my musical horizons.

The thing I love most (well, other than their rather endearing sound geek senses of humor) is that Deke and Matt are completely dedicated to getting people to not only appreciate, but to demand more, from the music they listen to.  They expect it not only of themselves and others in their craft, but they are giving anyone who listens to music the power to improve their auditory environment.  Musical kaizen.

I’ve embedded my favorite episode below for easy listening (and no, it’s not my favorite just because they give me a shout-out), but you can get to the podcast in any number of ways – by subscribing on iTunes, listening on SoundCloud, or on their webpage.  They also love interacting with people in the community, so if you listen, be sure to touch base with them and let them know what you think.

More Audio Astronauts:  Web | Facebook | Twitter | SoundCloud | iTunes

8 Even Better Ways to Discover Your New Favorite Band Online

Recently, I was reading an article on Mashable when I noticed a teaser to another Mashable article titled “8 Ways to Discover Your New Favorite Band Online.” Given that Mashable is geared toward more technically savvy/Internet-heads like me, and music is pretty much the love of my life, I got super excited.

Talk about clicker’s remorse. What a freaking let down! Lamest article on music discovery I’ve ever read. Of the 8, there were TWO that were worthy of mention. The other six? iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Spotify, Rdio and YouTube. And even worse, it didn’t even really tell people how to use some of the lesser known features of these popular resources that could actually help them FIND new music.

Look, we live in the Internet age. There are literally hundreds of thousands of great music resources out there – blogs, apps, video channels, you name it. I have four or five dozen favorite ways to discover new music. Sorry, Mashable, I love ya, but here are 8 Even Better Ways to Discover Your New Favorite Band Online.

1. Noisetrade.com
Get bands to buy into to giving away their music in exchange for fan email addresses and zip codes? Might sound far-fetched, but Derek Webb and his crew in Nashville have done it. Artists control what they can give away – full albums, samplers, live tracks. Even better, fans can tip artists if they so choose, or easily click to promote their downloads on other social media channels. Hundreds of artists giving away music and thousands upon thousands of fans getting exposure to new artists. Win, win, win. Recent artists to give music away on Noisetrade: The Civil Wars, Radiohead, Jars of Clay, Courrier and The Dirty Guv’nahs.

2. Daytrotter
Daytrotter takes some of the hottest up and coming artists (as well as respected, long-established ones) and records them stripped down in small studios or at intimate live performances. They stream the sessions free for anyone to listen to, and for just $32 a year, you can become a member and download sessions. Combine it with some of the best music writing out there today and unique artwork of each artist, and you’ve got a recipe for million-dollar concert vault. In addition to a full-featured website, can also download the app for your device. Recent featured artists on Daytrotter: Ben Howard, The Maine, Grace Potter, Counting Crows, Half Moon Run and TONS more.

3. Soundcloud
Think of Soundcloud like an audio-only Facebook. Follow artists and friends, repost sounds you like, explore new sounds. In addition to oooooodles of new music that I’ve found there, you can also check out podcasts (for example, the excellent Audio Astronauts), audio books, and just about anything else that people can record. In addition to the Soundcloud website, you can also download an app for your devices (App Store or Google Play).

4. Shazam (App Store or Google Play)
This one might be the best-known on my list, but I use it CONSTANTLY, so I can’t neglect talking about it. How many times have you been somewhere or watching a TV show and heard a song and wish you could find out what it was? Shazam is your answer. Two clicks on your phone or tablet and it does the work for you with surprising accuracy. Hold your device up, let it hear the song and … boom goes the dynamite, within a few seconds, you have the name of that earworm. What’s more, in the iPad version of the app, there’s real-time tagging to let you see what other folks are Shazam-ing. Great way to discover what is catching everyone else’s ear…

5. Bandsintown (iTunes or Google Play)
If you like going to see live music, this app is a MUST have. Best way to find out about artists (or new artists you might like) that are coming to your area. The app scans your music library to track artists, but it also allows you to view concerts your friends have RSVPed to, as well as popular events in your area. I think most of my music friends probably know about this one, but just this week, I had a non-music friend email me and say, “Thanks to you I found the bandsintown app! Going to see Marc Broussard in October! Just letting you know that my soon to be concert addiction will be all YOUR fault (and I love you for it)!”

6. BalconyTV
This is one of my favorites that not many people seem to know. I stumbled across BalconyTV about three years ago when some band or another that I like had a session there. BalconyTV is a global concept where musicians play on “balconies” (sometimes decks, sometimes rooftops, but the general idea of somewhere higher up) in nearly 50 different cities (channels) all over the world. The sessions are short, one or two songs, and often enriched by the sounds of the city and weather – cars, wind, foot traffic, etc. Bands are usually local or regional, but every once in awhile a national or international band will show up on a channel around the world. BalconyTV started more than six years ago, so you can find a lot of old videos of once small, unknown bands that are huge acts now (like The Script in Dublin in 2007). I have discovered so much wonderful new music via BalconyTV, but my favorite find to date is still Mighty Oaks. Recently, BalconyTV became more interactive when it added a “judging” component where you can vote between the stronger of two sessions; rankings are used to score the sessions on a global basis. Check out recent sessions from Passenger, Matt Pond PA, Josh Doyle, Matt Corby, Youngblood Hawke, and The Dunwells.

7. Band of the Day (App Store)
I’ve written previously about Band of the Day, so I am not going to be long winded. This app is based on one really simple idea: push a band out a day to music lovers so that they can discover new music. The app has a pretty broad range of artists, from up and comers to long established bands, pop to rap to funk to electronic. From within the app, you to read bios, listen to songs, post about discoveries to other apps (Facebook, Twitter), listen to “mixtapes” (which select from featured Band of the Day artists), track artists you’ve listened to on the app, and check out the most popular Bands of the Day. Recently featured artists include one of my newest favorites James Bay, The Musgraves, Robert Randolph and more. Unfortunately, this one’s only available for Apple users as an app, but the website offers the same experience.

8. TastemakerX (App Store)
I’ve also written about TastemakerX before, but it’s such a unique concept that I couldn’t leave it out of this list. Self-billed as a “fan-powered game for music discovery,” TastemakerX is a way to strut your ability to know a good artist when you hear one. In short, you buy “records” of bands (with fake dollars, or “notes”). And then, a bit like the stock market, as more people buy records of the same band, the value of your collection goes up. You can “trade” out records if you want (selling off underperforming artists or to “make money” because a record has gone up in value). With great features that allow you to see what bands are hot and trending among other users, or to follow users with similar tastes to yours, you can easily find dozens of new bands to listen to. I love this app. I literally login every day to see how I’m doing and I always find something new. The ONLY complaint I have is that a lot of bands that I listen to just aren’t on the app yet – I’m not sure what store or base the app pulls from. However, you can email them with suggestions. I have in the past and they do listen and add them (Saints of Valory, for example…who, by the way, I own nearly 100,000 records of at this point…I’m driving my own cost up!). Again, only available in app on Apple devices, but you can also play online via the website.

This list certainly is just the tip of the iceberg, just a few of my most used and favorite features. So tell me what I’m missing! What other ways are you finding new music? Let me know, and maybe I’ll post “Even More Better Ways to Discover Your New Favorite Band Online.”

The Origin of Quiet Hounds: Will We Finally Get Behind the Masks?

How many times have you used the word “awesome” today?  How about fabulous, incredible or amazing?  Best [insert a word of your choice here] ever?

We’ve become a society where excess fails to have meaning anymore.  Where we lack words to describe the truly phenomenal.  Nowhere is this more true than in music.

So, in a music world like that, how do you redefine the term “artist?”

You become the Quiet Hounds. That’s how.

Appearing almost out of thin air in the summer of 2011, this indie rock band is an enigma on today’s scene. They’ve kept their identities shrouded, literally behind masks, letting only the few hundred people who have seen them perform live in on who they are. They’ve shunned the present day music model of constant in your face promotionalism. They have given away every shred of music they’ve recorded – not sold, given away.  They’ve performed only a handful of times in their 18-months, furthering the mystical air about the quintet.  They write songs with deep meaning, and put together cinematic videos to accompany them.

And speaking from experience, I will tell you this:  a Quiet Hounds live performance will change how you view concerts forever.  It is an experience beyond words.  Above the excess.

You might think that once a handful of fans discovered their identities that the cat would be out of the bag. Instead, it’s become an almost cult-like secret, one where those in the know protect the identities of the band members to help them further their prevailing goal:  to make art that moves the soul.

On February 24th, we may find out a bit more about the men behind the masks.  Quiet Hounds are celebrating what they are calling their first anniversary with a live, online concert they’ve dubbed “Origin.”  If you’ve been privy to any other QH shows, you know that what they choose to call the show is linchpin to the entire event.  Teasing the concert with the line, “This is the fabled tale of our humble beginning. Of the darkness and hope that innately drives us all to get up and go,” I was dying to know what the guys had in store.  So I reached out to ask.  

It seems that the symbiosis of the fan-artist relationship runs a whole lot deeper with this group of modern day renaissance musicians – and it’s so refreshing that it gets me even more excited about their music.  Here’s the response from one of the Hounds on what fans can expect from the online performance:

“An Ode to Lost Souls was only the beginning. The profound effect our audience has had on the group is our driving force. We’re striving to push ourselves to create meaningful experiences from here on out. With Origin, we’ll be recounting the tale of how the Quiet Hounds came to be and hopefully creating even more mystery with the reveal. And you can bet you’ll hear some new music if you tune in for the webcast.”

Need they say more?  Watch the beautiful teaser for the event below and get more information or tickets to the event at www.quiethounds.com.

More Quiet Hounds:  Web | Facebook | Twitter

Honor By August Signs With Rock Ridge

My favorite DC rockers, Honor By August, are now Rock Ridge boys!

My favorite DC rockers, Honor By August, are now Rock Ridge boys!

Man, what a big couple of weeks for bands that have slept on Krissie’s floor!

My fave DC-area rockers, Honor By August, have announced that they have signed with Rock Ridge Music as a label AND for management.  Completely thrilled for these guys and hope this helps them get their new yet-to-be-released album, Monuments to Progress, the attention it deserves (those of us who contributed to their recent successful Kickstarter campaign have had a sneak preview).

Rock Ridge is bringing down the house this year, especially after their artist Tony Lucca made big waves on The Voice last season.  The label is known for its personal attention to bands, so I know they are going to help cultivate HBA’s success!

Congrats Brian, Evan, Michael and Chris! Awesome to see the good guys – and good music – winning!

More Honor By August:  Web | Facebook | Twitter