A note from Arts Editor, Tami Keaveny: As we go to press with his second Feedback column, I’d like to officially welcome James Ford to our staff. James is well-known in the Charlottesville arts community, mainly because he has worked for or written about so many organizations within it. As an expert on film and photography, he gives time to the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, makes the indie movie house Vinegar Hill run smoothly, and gets his music fix as a WTJU volunteer. But he is probably best known as the operating force behind the locally based, nationally followed tastemaker blog, Nailgun Media. James’ column will keep us up-to-date each week on the trends and tribes that edge our city’s robust arts scene. So keep an eye on Feedback—and send us yours!
Josh Krahn (left) and Tyler Magill star in Mss., a rough-edged rock band with a gentle attitude. (Publicity photo)
Charlottesville has always had a deep well of musicians to draw from, and for every act that attracts a large crowd at the Pavilion, there are a half dozen others that toil away for years in basements and garages, occasionally surfacing to play gigs in bars, art galleries, and warehouses.
Tyler Magill belongs to a long lineage of Charlottesville musicians who may never become a household name, but produce some of the most vital, interesting music heard in town. He came to UVA in the early ’90s intending to study poetry, but dropped out after three semesters. Since then, he’s played in numerous bands—“five or six real ones, and about 300 other projects that were just miscellaneous bullshit,” he estimated—including Grand Banks, Bucks & Gallants, Draw the Kitten and, rumor has it, a group with the imaginative name Dad Fucked Mom.
“That was actually the first rock lottery band,” Magill laughed, referring to a short-lived Charlottesville tradition in which impromptu bands were formed by drawing potential members names out of a hat and given one month to come up with a short set. “That was the first band that really woke up me up about how there might be something to it, to doing this weird, weird music.”
His musical endeavors over the years have ranged from raw post-punk to gentle minimalism, but his new band, Mss., may be his most approachable and accomplished effort to date. It feels like the distillation of years of effort, without the burden of artistic compromise.
Mss. began as a duo—Josh Krahn strummed guitar while Magill played organ and sang over pre-recorded drum machine tracks. (The band’s name is publishing industry shorthand for manuscripts—one of Magill’s day jobs was handling layout for Philosophy textbooks.) It debuted in 2009 playing at a wedding, and the set included original numbers as well as covers of both Lungfish and Skip James. “Well, you can’t really cover Skip James” Magill admitted, “those songs have been around forever, since before he played them. But the lyrics are his and the music is ours.”
The songs have an elegant simplicity and relaxed charm, not unlike the acclaimed Baltimore act Beach House. But where Beach House’s music is unerringly lovely, Mss. has a rough edge with a raw and sometimes sarcastic demeanor that seeks transcendence despite the grit and world weariness. A gentle attitude makes room for clever, thought-provoking lyrics, such as a song in which the mnemonic device used to recall the notes of the EGBDF treble clef is adjusted to read “Every Good Boy Deserves What He Gets.” Magill’s voice is worn, but there’s an attempt at sincere communication and insight that is powerful and affecting.
The band took things to the next level with a performance at the Southern last fall. They opened for Six Organs of Admittance, with the full Mss. Orchestra, that included Dave Gibson, Brian Hoffa, and Cathy Monnes, and continued to buck expectations by ending the night with a rousing Gordon Lightfoot cover.
Mss. will release their debut album, Hesy-Chast Songs, which the duo has been recording gradually over the past two years at Krahn’s house. “It’s been really piecemeal,” Magill said. “Both of us have children, we’ve only been able to get together to record for and hour or two at a time. We’ve had all the drawbacks and advantages of recording it a bit at a time.” Befitting the band’s name, the CD comes packaged in an 85-page book, containing “lyrics, other writings, pictures, and chili recipes.”
The album release takes place Thursday at the Black Market Moto Saloon where Mss. will perform with the full band. Dais Queue, the solo guitar project of Davis Salisbury, opens. The choice of Salisbury is hardly surprising, as he and Magill have played in almost nine different groups over the years. “Pretty much every time one of us is onstage, the other one is going to get up there and do something too,” said Magill.
The quarter centurion
The Fridays After Five concert series will mark 25 years this week when Love Canon takes the stage. Since the 80s, the music series has showcased acts of local and regional interest in the heart of downtown Charlottesville. For many residents, newcomers, tourists, and children, it serves as their first introduction to Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. The series has also allowed the community to raise thousands of dollars for local charities, as a portion of the proceeds from the concession sales goes to benefit a variety of local non-profits. It’s a rich seasonal tradition, and it’s always free.