Musical heirs: New Boss is reborn through old connections

New Boss stacks up as a local supergroup with (L to R from top) Parker Smith, Chelsea Blakely, Scott Ritchie, Nick Rubin, Jordan Perry and Thomas Dean. Publicity photo. New Boss stacks up as a local supergroup with (L to R from top) Parker Smith, Chelsea Blakely, Scott Ritchie, Nick Rubin, Jordan Perry and Thomas Dean. Publicity photo.

More than once, my father has mentioned a desire to trace our family tree. I only understand this practice in abstract terms though. The closest concrete example I know of such a family tree comes not from any genetic kinship but rather attempts by friends to detail the shared ancestry of musicians in local bands. If the trunk of this family tree is the Central Virginia music scene, the thickest branches are Charlottesville, Harrisonburg and Richmond. Bands of varying degrees of success form nodes off these branches. Countless musicians fill the space between these nodes, each interweaving, connecting and disconnecting over the years.

As a band, New Boss exemplifies this interconnectedness and boasts quite a pedigree through the collective experience of its musicians. Guitarist Thomas Dean puts it simply: “It was always the same scene, it just hadn’t worked out that we were in a band together specifically, but a lot of our bandmates were in bands together,” he said.

Including Dean, the band is Jordan Perry on guitar and vocals, Scott Ritchie on bass, Parker Smith on drums, Nick Rubin on keyboard and Chelsea Blakely on vocals and electric organ.

The current line-up has evolved from the band’s inception. In fact, even New Boss’ origin story showcases a complicated ancestry, tracing to a far-reaching node on the family tree: Order of the Dying Orchid (later known simply as Order).

Boasting countless members (including both Dean and Smith), Order was so influential in Charlottesville’s music culture that I won’t attempt to detail it here. Suffice it to say that New Boss began as a glint in Dean’s eye, a hope that he might be able to restart Order after a few years of dormancy. He enlisted Rob Dobson, formerly of The Fire Tapes, as well as Smith, Rubin and Ritchie. “It seemed like generally everyone would be more comfortable if we changed the name since it was a different thing,” said Dean. Thus, New Boss was born.

The band describes its sound as “tweeboogie,” a term coined by Rubin on an early tour in North Carolina. The lead singer at the time, Carolyn Zelikow, brought a certain precious sound to the songs while the rest of the band juxtaposed that with jammy rock ‘n’ roll. Zelikow has left the band, as has Dobson, with Perry now taking the lead on songwriting and vocals and the band is “still a lot of boogie, but a little less twee,” Smith said.

Perry joined the band after returning to Virginia from a two-year stint teaching guitar at a music school for refugees in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. “I was really excited because it had been a long time since I’d played in a band,” he said. Prior to his time abroad, Perry had played in countless bands and knew Dean, Smith and Ritchie.

In the new version of New Boss, Dean leads the creative process by building instrumental bones for a song, then Perry composes vocals to complete the track.

“I like the way people interpret music and I realize that sometimes songs aren’t just one way,” said Dean. “There’s one way that I’d probably choose to play them but I like seeing a group of people take and interpret the parts.” As a result, New Boss has a sound that continues to evolve but never fails to satisfy.

With an eye towards producing two cassette releases, New Boss is working to finish several recordings. One of the cassettes is slated to contain material from Zelikow’s time with the band as well as some of Perry’s material. The other cassette will feature the band’s new songs on one side, saving room on the flip side for new songs by Borrowed Beams of Light, another band whose lineage is intertwined with many local musicians. New Boss also has hopes for an upcoming tour and will be performing on Friday at the Southern along with another notable local act Dead Professional.

Originally comprised as a solo act by John Harouff, Dead Professional has recently grown. “I started out last year playing shows solo with looped drum beats and vocal effects,” said Harouff. “This past summer I started playing with a more traditional band.” This evolution allows Harouff the space to experiment with his sound and then expand on it. For the upcoming show, Taven Wilson will join Harouff on bass and vocals along with New Boss’ Parker Smith on drums.

Last summer Harouff released the Dead Professional single “Downtown at Sundown,” which features a catchy drumbeat backed by hand claps and guitar tracks that are at times structurally rhythmic, at times rambling. Drum machines and looped samples play a role in the recorded effort that clearly highlights Harouff’s talent as a songsmith who crafts evocative pop music that’s a bit bittersweet, a bit rock ‘n’ roll.

Dead Professional recently released its first official EP titled Hard, Hard, Hard and is planning a 2015 tour. For now, don’t miss the chance to see the band with New Boss at The Southern Café & Music Hall on November 28 with opening band White Laces.

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