Charlottesville music fans know Adam Smith as the front man for his namesake band The Invisible Hand, whose ability to knock out punchy, dense art-rock songs filled with hidden pop hooks has made it the best rock band in town. But for as long as he’s led that band, Smith has also indulged in a wide variety of side projects, collaborations, and solo material, revealing the depth of his taste and talent.
Smith can cover any territory from minimalist synthesizer drones to sludgy art metal. He also has a habit of re-using band names, meaning that even the most dedicated listeners can be surprised when one of Smith’s groups appears on a bill. For several years Great Dads was an all-synthesizer duo, but in 2011 Smith re-imagined the act as a punk group. Playing guitar and singing, Smith was joined by mega-talented drummer Steve Snider. Though they play sporadically, the duo rips through abrasive sets of raw, chaotic punk songs, crackling with furious energy and enlivened by Smith and Snider’s wild, improvisational riffing.
“There’s no direct relation between those bands,” Smith said. “Great Dads has always just been a name I use for the stuff that doesn’t fit under the Invisible Hand moniker. I definitely think of it as a side-project. Which is nice, because you don’t need to invest so much emotional energy into it. It alleviates the burden of worrying about any sort of stress about ‘success.’ I think it would be nice if somebody wanted to put out my album, but I’m not gonna cry if that doesn’t happen.”
The current line-up finds Smith and Snider joined by Scott Ritchie and Matt Northrup. Smith claims to take inspiration from free jazz, in addition to a number of rock sub-genres, but I pointed out that his simple, raw bursts of punk noise energy are miles apart from the modal and melodic complexities of jazz music.
“We’re improvising based on timbre, texture, and dynamics,” Smith explained. “It doesn’t have to be terribly melodically complex for it to be a catchy tune. Part of what I take from jazz is the idea that you can capture a certain feeling in a saxophone part —the texture and sound can express a concept like ‘I love you’ without having to spell it out in words. Or it can be ‘I hate you,’ or whatever idea you want to express.”
The Great Dads full line-up will debut this week at the Tea Bazaar along with another mercurial act, Mingsley & Mulshine.
In just under two years, Dylan Mulshine left a huge mark on Charlottesville music. A tiny, bespectacled teenager with boundless energy who emerged seemingly out of nowhere, Mulshine was suddenly an unavoidable presence. Calling himself the Rhythm Bandit, Mulshine played solo percussion and drums through an array of loops and samplers, improvising every show and performing on a semi-weekly basis because he lacked a practice space. Mulshine somehow talked his way into opening act slots for many respectable and well-established musicians, in addition to booking dozens of poorly organized house shows himself, often performing in collaborations or under a relentless array of pseudonyms, including Raw Moans, Krull, Teen Dreams, and Babygirl Pussycat. While his talent was undeniable, his sets often veered into immature provocation, and when he departed Charlottesville last winter, he left behind a legacy that included many brilliant performances, a few broken promises, and a lot of broken furniture.
Mulshine spent the past year in New York, playing warehouse shows of dubious pedigree and living with indie-
underground superstar Dustin Wong, while recording a full-length album for a French tape label under the name Nü Depth. He recently returned to Charlottesville, and has (somewhat inevitably) begun collaborating with John Mingsley.
Mingsley is a more recent transplant, a Roanoke native who came to Charlottesville after attending the Berklee College of Music, where he majored in cello performance. Mingsley shares Mulshine’s endless enthusiasm and scatterbrained energy, balanced by an impressively encyclopedic knowledge of film and music. Friday’s concert will be their live debut as a duo.
“It’s me sampling John, basically,” Mulshine explained. “His scholastic background helps out on that angle—he’s formally trained, so he can play these really complicated parts that I can’t play. I have a different sense of rhythm, since I’m self-taught. It’s a weird dichotomy, we’re still trying to find a groove.”
Mulshine said the duo’s original point of inspiration (for their name as well as their aesthetic) was Fripp & Eno, the pair of early ’70s albums by Brian Eno and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. “That’s what we’ve agreed on, when we’re talking about music we like,” Mulshine says. “It’s our middle ground. So we’re trying to be the new age of Frippertronics. Frippertronics for the 21st century.”
According to Mingsley, the band’s sound is “Almost orchestra—very cinematic kind of stuff, like Vangelis. It’s also pretty Steve Reich-y, like his early tape experiments, but sort of mixed in with his more melodic stuff. I’m approaching it from a pure melodic standpoint, while [Mulshine] is almost entirely approaching it from an avant-
Mingsley & Mulshine and the full quartet line-up of Great Dads play at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on Thursday, Feburary 7, along with Brooklyn-based PC Worship. Doors at 8pm and the tickets are $5.