The Bowery Presents and Zero Mile present
The Lone Bellow
The Wild Reeds
Thu, November 2, 2017
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pmVariety Playhouse
$24 Advance, $26 Day of Show, $80 VIP
This event is all ageshttp://www.variety-playhouse.com/event/1505218/
“The feeling I get singing with Zach and Brian is completely natural and wholly electrifying,” says Kanene. “Our voices feel like they were made to sing together.”
Long before they combined their voices, the three members of the Lone Bellow were singing on their own. Brian had been writing and recording as a solo artist for more than a decade, with three albums under his own name. Kanene and her husband Jason were living in Beijing, China, hosting open mic nights, playing at local clubs and teaching music lessons. Zach began writing songs in the wake of a family tragedy: After his wife was thrown from a horse, he spent days in the hospital at her bedside, bracing for the worst news. The journal he kept during this period would eventually become his first batch of songs as a solo artist. Happily, his wife made a full recovery.
When Kanene’s brother asked her and Zach to sing “O Happy Day” together at his wedding, they discovered their voices fit together beautifully, but starting a band together seemed impossible when they lived on opposite sides of the world. Brian soon relocated to New York and Kanene moved there to attend culinary school a couple years later. The three got together in their new hometown to work on a few songs of Zach’s, he’d been chipping away at the scene as a solo artist for awhile by then. After hitting those first harmonies did they decide to abandon all other pursuits. Soon the trio was playing all over the city, although they considered Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side to be their home. They opened for the Civil Wars, Dwight Yokam, Brandi Carlile and the Avett Brothers, and their self-titled debut, produced by Nashville’s Charlie Peacock (the Civil Wars, Holly Williams) and released in January 2013, established them as one of the boldest new acts in the Americana movement.
After two hard years of constant touring, the band was exhausted but excited. By 2014, they had written nearly 40 songs on the road and were eager to get them down on tape. After putting together a list of dream producers, they reached out to their first choice, the National guitarist Aaron Dessner, who has helmed albums by the L.A. indie-rock group Local Natives and New York singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten.
“It occurred to me that it would be fun to get together and make music with them,” says Aaron. “My main interest in producing records is community and friendship more than making money. I already do a lot of traveling and working with the National, so when I have to time to work with other artists, it should be fun and meaningful.”
“Aaron is just so kind,” Zach says. “And he has surrounded himself with all these incredibly talented people, like Jonathan Low, the engineer. His brother Bryce [Dessner, also a guitarist for the National] wrote these amazing brass and string arrangements, and he got some of his friends to play with us.”
Dessner and the Lone Bellow spent two weeks recording at Dreamland in upstate New York, a nineteenth-century church that had been converted into a homey studio. The singers found the space to inspire the emotional gravity necessary for the material and the acoustics they were looking for. (For Kanene, Dreamland had one other bonus: “I’m a big Muppets fan, and it looks exactly like the church where Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem lived.”)
Aaron set them up in a circle in what had once been the sanctuary, with microphones hanging in the rafters to capture the sound of their voices bleeding together. Most of the vocals were recorded in single takes, a tactic that adds urgency to songs like “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” and “If You Don’t Love Me.” “There were a couple of times when somebody sang the wrong word or hit a bad note, and we just had to keep going,” says Zach, who says that recording “Marietta” in particular was daunting—especially the moment near the end when he hits an anguished high note, bends it even higher, and holds it for an impossibly long time. It’s a startling display of vocal range, but it’s also almost unbearably raw in its emotional honesty.
“‘Marietta’ is probably the darkest song on the whole record,” Zach explains, “and it’s based on something that happened between my wife and me. The band was getting ready to record that song when all of a sudden my wife showed up with our youngest baby. It was a great surprise, a beautiful moment. So I was able to go out and sing that song, knowing she was there to help me carry the moment.”
“These are true stories,” says Brian. “These aren’t things we made up. We tried to write some songs that had nothing to do with our personal stories, but we just didn’t respond to them. But we’re best buds, so we know each others’ personal stuff and trust each other to figure out what needs to be said and how to say it.” Case in point: Brian wrote “Call to War” about his own struggles during his twenties, but gave the song to Kanene to sing. “The content is painful and brutal,” she says, “but the imagery, the vocals, they build something delicate and ethereal. That kind of contrast illuminates the true beauty and power of a song.”
Says Brian, “We do this one thing together, and we carry each other. Hopefully that makes the listener want to be a part of it. It becomes a communal thing, which means that there’s never a sad song to sing. It’s more a celebration of the light and the dark.”
The Wild Reeds' sound is highlighted by the interweaving vocal harmonies of three phenomenally talented front-women - Kinsey Lee, Sharon Silva and Mackenzie Howe - who swap lead vocal duties and shuffle between an array of acoustic and electric instruments throughout the set. They are backed by a rhythm section of Nick Jones (drums) and Nick Phakpiseth (bass).
Each with their own style, The Wild Reeds' three songwriters make music that is dynamic and unpredictable. They write lyrics and melodies with the thoughtfulness of seasoned folk artists, and perform with the reckless enthusiasm of a young punk band in a garage. Warm acoustic songs and harmonium pump organ seamlessly give way to fuzzed-out shredding and guitar distortion.
With the upcoming release of 'The World We Built' on April 7, the Los Angeles-based quintet continues a national breakthrough that has been rapidly growing since the release of their EP 'Best Wishes' this summer. NPR Music critic Bob Boilen championed the band, saying "great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special." The New York Times praised their live show, saying "the communal experience was amazing," while KCRW (Los Angeles) called them "top-notch vocalists."
The first single from the new album, "Only Songs," is catching the attention of radio programmers around the country, like John Richards of KEXP (Seattle), who after listening to the track declared, "we just decided this is the best song ever."
"Only Songs" was written by Howe, and highlights her rock-centric approach, inspired by the '60s and '70s rock songs her mother raised her on. "It's about the feeling that music gives you," she told NPR in an interview. "There's a freedom in music found nowhere else and it doesn't discriminate, it's in the garage and the cathedral."
Lee penned the second song on the album, "Fall To Sleep," a lament to her own mental health under the strains of both a nine-to-five job and the extremes of a touring musician's life. True to her roots in folk music, it begins on a soft note, as a dreamy acoustic ballad, before taking a slightly darker turn, breaking into distorted guitar parts and a Pixies-esque chorus.
Silva's contemplative, complex lyrical approach is best represented on the anthemic standout track "Capable." When asked to describe her songwriting style, she explains, "lately, my songs have been like stories with high highs and low lows - sort of like yelling at someone and then whispering an apology."
Despite their distinct viewpoints, each songwriter complements the next, with each song building on the anticipation created by the last. "What brings us together is the three part vocal harmony," says Howe. "When we're all singing together, it really becomes one unique voice."
The band takes a humble approach to their recent success. "I think that when you write earnestly and honestly, people will relate," says Silva. "But there are lots of bands who do that and don't receive any attention, so I think any success we've had must just be pure luck."
When watching them perform live, it quickly becomes obvious that luck has nothing to do with it. Each of The Wild Reeds is more than talented enough to front their own band, but when all three are singing at once in harmony, their music reaches its emotional apex.
"I don't think that we have figured out how to detach from our emotions yet. We take it all on stage. The voice is such a personal and vulnerable instrument," says Lee. "We aren't as concerned with sounding 'pretty' as we are with sounding real. Everything we do is very raw and I think that's why people tend to find camaraderie in our lyrics."
Recreating that feeling in a studio environment is an ambitious task. Recorded by producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, Local Natives) at Tarquin Studios in Connecticut, 'The World We Built' captures it perfectly, and elevates their sound to a whole new level.
"Our sound has evolved as we have evolved as people. We've grown to love a lot of records on the road, sharing music with each other during the hours we spend in the van, which has broadened and united our taste," says Howe. "We've also grown as musicians and it's allowed us to explore new instruments and sounds. This new record is a much more accurate depiction of what we sound like live. It's got more punch and depth."
Along with musical growth, the content of their songwriting has changed with the band's life experiences since they started out. "The songs on the album were written over the last three years, and it's apparent that we are more empowered now as women," says Howe. "The title 'The World We Built' refers to the social constructs we've had to face during the last three years touring as a female fronted band. A lot of these songs illustrate our disillusionment with the myths we've been taught in a patriarchal society, and how we've experienced them in different aspects of our lives - love, success, self esteem, etc."
"As we got older and started to witness the world from a different perspective, we started to write about human issues in a different light," explains Lee. "It's so easy to write about love when you're young because that's the only thing you have to worry about.Â Now we have a lot of other things in life to occupy our thoughts and songwriting, like experiencing the struggle and exhaustion from following your dream, coming of age, and doubt."
"Releasing music and touring the country have been amazing and eye-opening experiences," says Silva. "I'm still majorly pumped and grateful that I get to play music for people every day."
That optimism resonates with audiences. When they perform live, their passion is infectious. They look like artists living out their dream on stage - the kind of band you idolized as a kid, and as an adult, the kind of band that reminds you why you loved music in the first place.
"Our live show has been how we've gained most of our fans. We've learned that people are just looking for authenticity. If we're vulnerable, people feel it," says Howe. "We always want to put on a show that has energy and leaves peoples feeling more hopeful than when they arrived."
'The World We Built' will be released April 7 via Dualtone Records, an Entertainment One company.
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