A C-VILLE soundtrack
Records in heavy rotation during my time at C-VILLE
Music for me has always been about the ecstatic moments, when the wavelengths seem to align and something profound jolts through your mind and body. In those brief seconds, nothing else matters. Some epiphany, connection or passion reigns supreme, and, embracing that, you can tune out the rest of the world’s roar. Criticism goes out the window, phrases like “the next big thing” seem absurd and the essence takes over.
As I say goodbye to C-VILLE, hand the wheel of the Feedback music column (which has morphed into C-VILLE’s music blog) to Brendan Fitzgerald and head out of Charlottesville, I’ve tried to pinpoint a few such moments that I’ve experienced during my time working here. I hope that, through these notable peaks on my musical rollercoaster, you’ll get a sense of the wonderful ride I’ve had.
Coming alive: How the man who sang "Baby, I Love Your Way" changed my life
“Hello, this is Peter Frampton.”
At this moment it dawned on me that I was actually a music journalist. Sitting at my desk last August with the morning buzz of the office around me, the phone rang and Peter Frampton was on the other end. I’m not a huge fan of the aging guitarist and songwriter. He released his best-known album, Frampton Comes Alive!, nearly nine years before I was born, and I found his recent cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” pretty pointless.
“Jamming with George was pretty cool,” Peter Frampton said of former Beatle George Harrison.
Still, here I was on the phone with a bona fide rock star. The face from my dad’s record collection (everyone’s parents own a copy of Comes Alive!, right?) had introduced himself and was ready to answer any questions that I threw his way. An Almost Famous-ish combination of nervousness and excitement filled me, and I jumped into a lively interview, talking with Mr. Frampton about everything from his affection for Death Cab for Cutie to hanging out in grade school with David Bowie and jamming with George Harrison during the sessions for All Things Must Pass.
“You would have been the hero of my neighborhood,” C-VILLE Copy Editor Doug Nordfors told me when I hung up the phone.
Collective appeal: Animal dancing and saturated sounds
The Brooklyn-via-Baltimore band, Animal Collective, has always seemed like a group that meshed well with Charlottesville. I didn’t catch their visits to town at the Tokyo Rose and the Tea Bazaar, but I felt the excitement that emanated from their many Charlottesville fans, and when they returned to play Satellite Ballroom in spring 2007, that spirit condensed, figuratively and literally, into a sweaty, sold-out show.
Animal Collective stirred up a rapid frenzy at Satellite Ballroom in May 2007 with familiar songs like “Leaf House” and “Who Could Win A Rabbit” and new tunes from Strawberry Jam.
|Click here for a live recording of Animal Collective’s Satellite Ballroom show.|
As the night started, a long line still trailed off into the Corner Parking Lot and the air ducts of the Ballroom began dripping cold condensation onto my neck. If I were to pick a peak for Satellite, it would probably be when Animal Collective neared the end of its set. I have witnessed many good nights at the Ballroom, but, from where I stood next to the stage, the whole room seemed to melt into exactly what Danny Shea and Satellite’s other organizers had envisioned it to be. Bodies gyrated to the band’s shifting rhythms and hands in the front row grasped out at Panda Bear, Avey Tare and The Geologist like they were stadium rock stars. Here was a band familiar to almost everyone on the local underground scene stepping onto a bigger stage, sacrificing none of its weird experimental enticements and owning the night.
“We feel the energy,” Panda Bear told the audience towards the end of the evening, a modest acknowledgement of the waves of music and excitement that had filled the room.
Serpentine sounds: MICE infest the Lawn
Jefferson would have been proud to hear a bunch of weird noises echoing across the white columns and green grass of the Lawn during UVA’s annual Digitalis computer music festival.
|Matthew Burtner’s MICE nestled next to their computers near UVA’s statue of Homer and set off on their own musical odyssey in May 2007.|
Professor Matthew Burtner introduced me to computer music and a wealth of other experimental sounds when I was a third-year at UVA, and, only a year and half later, in spring 2007 I was able to channel my enthusiasm for the sonic world that he had opened by writing about his Music for Interactive Computers Ensemble (MICE) for the C-VILLE music issue.
|Listen to Matthew Burtner‘s MICE performing at Digitalis in spring 2007:
I had been a member of the previous year’s incarnation of MICE during my final semester at UVA, so writing about the group was a flip for me. Once a soundsmith composing noises on keyboards and computers, I was now a wordsmith, trying to translate those wavelengths and musical concepts onto the printed page.
Sitting cross-legged in the grass and taking notes for my article and listening to the MICE, my schooling, love of music and ambition as a writer had intersected.
Radio radio: Broadcasting a local music history
I’ve always been intrigued by Charlottesville’s musical past, especially the subterranean sounds that spawned in places like the Tokyo Rose and the Pudhouse. I caught the last few years of the Rose, but never made it to the legendary DIY Belmont warehouse.
Luckily, during WTJU’s 2007 Rock Marathon I was able to sit in with longtime DJs (and Pudhouse commandeers in its final days) Davis Salisbury and Tyler Magill and get a three-hour crash course on local underground sounds of the past during their “Charlottesville Über Alles!” show.
WTJU DJs Tyler Magill and Davis Salisbury, here performing as the experimental duo Grand Banks, gave a history of underground Charlottesville sounds via radio show in spring 2007.
As I helped answer phones and take fund drive pledges, I got to see the two eccentric music men in their prime as they juggled their collection of local records and CDs and gave a spontaneous sonic history of local music. I soaked up tunes by The Curious Digit, the first band on Rose booker Darius Van Arman’s Jagjaguwar label, Gate Pratt’s Come On Children (a.k.a. The Janks), local noisemakers the Happy Flowers and many more.
“Tune in, get a job at the Corner Parking Lot and then start a band!” exclaimed the description for Davis and Tyler’s show. And that line still applies, it seems, with a couple members of 6 Day Bender being some of the latest musicians to find employment at the lot behind the College Inn.
A bite of the Apple: When Charlottesville music followed me to NYC
My first escape from Charlottesville after I started working at C-VILLE failed. I picked a weekend to skip town, took off Friday and fled to New York City to get away for a few days. It turned out, though, that local songstress Sarah White and country rockers Sons of Bill decided to head for the Big Apple the same weekend.
|Listen to "Sweetheart" from Sarah White‘s Sweetheart EP:
Taking this as a sign, I caught both local acts on the same Saturday evening in September. Sarah White sang “Sweetheart” on the waterfront at the South Street Seaport and won “Best Song” in Mountain Stage’s NewSong competition. A few hours later, Sons of Bill took the stage at the Knitting Factory and got the crowd dancing to their catchy Southern-fried tunes.
Sarah White sang “Sweetheart” at the South Street Seaport last September as part of the Mountain Stage NewSong competition. The MC, familiar with Charlottesville, even gave a shout out to the Gus Burger.
Sure, I failed to shake Charlottesville, but it was worth it to see some of our prized local talent cast against the big city backdrop. They not only held their own amidst New York’s flashy distractions, but even stood out as better and more unique. Since then, both have continued their trajectories, with White teaming up with King Wilkie’s Ted Pitney for their Sweetheart EP and Sons of Bill signing to Coran Capshaw’s Red Light Management and gearing up for some opening dates later this month with country singer Shooter Jennings.
New York redux: When I followed Charlottesville music to NYC
On my next trip to New York, a few months later, I was once again covering Charlottesville music, but this time from the back seat of the Sparky’s Flaw tour van. The band members had already unloaded their equipment at the Knitting Factory, where I had seen Sons of Bill, and made friends with two teenage fans, freshmen girls from an upstate college.
On a weekend trip that saw them play in Northern Virginia, New York City and Connecticut, the local boys of Sparky’s Flaw got a taste their future as a touring pop rock band.
|Take a listen to "Under Control" from Sparky’s Flaw‘s new EP:
On a joyride through Manhattan we passed the South Street Seaport, where Sarah White had played. Though I found myself close to the same places I had been a few months earlier, my perspective was completely different. I was seeing the city through the eyes of a young band poised to take a stab at major label pop success. A light drizzle augmented the shimmering New York City skyline, and excitement filled the van as we ascended the Brooklyn Bridge.
At the time the band was only venturing out for weekend shows, since three members were still working towards their college degrees. Now finished with school, Sparky’s Flaw has wrapped up its first extended East Coast tour, returned to NYC a couple more times and is headed to the studio to finish recording its major label debut.
Around the bend: Virginia is for music lovers
I met the boys in 6 Day Bender on the sidewalk outside of The Virginian on a Sunday night. They were busking and smoking cigarettes, and as we sat down at a table for an interview, they spoke about their band eagerly, lacing everything with a masculine swagger, hearty enthusiasm and a dose of crude humor. I could immediately sense how much these guys loved making music, and, as I watched them climb onto The Virginian’s narrow booths a few minutes later and croon away, they proved just that.
|Listen to "Wartime" by 6 Day Bender:
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Courtesy of 6 Day Bender – Thank you!
Though their spirit that night was lighthearted, I also learned that they weren’t joking around. Shacking up together in a house north of town on Route 20, 6 Day Bender have been seriously honing their craft for over a year now, and the result has been a tight and energetic live show as well as a superb debut record, which I had the pleasure of reviewing.
6 Day Bender filling the skinny space of The Virginian with “mountain rock ‘n’ roll” and pulled out The Band’s “Evangeline” and the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”
At the band’s CD release show in April, someone came up behind me and gave me a giant hug. Expecting to turn around and find one of my friends, I instead encountered a blonde stranger, probably a girlfriend of one of the band members. “Thanks for the review,” she said, before disappearing back into the crowd.
Charlottesville charm: Connecting through the static
The telephone signal kept cutting out during my interview with Brooklyn-based music writer and former Charlottesville resident, Rob Sheffield. I was talking with him for a column on his visit to Charlottesville in January to sign and read from his book Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time at the New Dominion Bookshop. The technical difficulties were frustrating, especially since, of all of the people that I’ve interviewed for my job, I was the most excited to speak with Sheffield.
The second I heard about Love Is A Mix Tape, I jumped in my car, bought a copy and read the whole thing in one evening. It was a memoir that brought together music, life and Charlottesville, and each of those aspects hit home. Picking it back up to prepare for my interview with Sheffield, I ended up almost reading it all over again.
Former Charlottesville resident and New York music writer Rob Sheffield reminisced about WTJU, seeing Sleater-Kinney (“It was this really celebratory punk rock moment that only could have happened in Charlottesville.”) and more before coming to town in January to talk about his book, Love Is A Mix Tape.
|Listen to "International Airport" by Dump:
Despite the faulty connection, Sheffield happily spoke about his times in Charlottesville. He reminisced about WTJU, countryside drives in Albemarle County, his all-time favorite tune (“International Airport,” by James McNew’s Dump) and the unpredictable stream of bands that played at the Tokyo Rose. Even though the signal relaying our conversation was inconsistent, our similar experiences in Charlottesville forged an enthusiastic connection.
When I e-mailed Sheffield the published article, he responded, “This is the greatest thing ever.” I could have giddily taken those words as high praise from someone that I greatly admire, but I knew that the “greatest thing” was not my article, but the underlying energy that had brought together our musical worlds.
Coming towards the end of writing this piece, I glanced at the weekly story list that outlines what articles are coming up in each week’s paper. The slot for this article, filled in by my editor Cathy Harding, reads “My Life as Lester Bangs.” That reference took me back to my first days at C-VILLE. When I interviewed for my job, publisher Frank Dubec told me I had to get Bangs’ Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, and a few weeks later I had plowed through the compilation of manic music writing. Bangs lit a spark in me and helped shape my perspective on music journalism. I won’t claim to be anywhere near the level of the late great rock ‘n’ roll writer, but I do hope that, over the past year, I’ve been able to channel some degree of Bangs’ enthusiasm and musical essence in these pages.
And of course, I’d never have been able to do any of this without Charlottesville, from the bands, musicians and DJs to the venues, radio stations, record stores and this paper. This town has shaped my entire life, from growing up in Crozet to attending UVA to working here at C-VILLE. I’m excited to move away and explore other places, but Charlottesville will always be with me. As Sheffield said through the crackling during our interview, “That’s the kind of place it is. Wherever people go, it just kind of stays in your heart.”