Wilmington’s Onward, Soldiers talk new LP, coastal isolation
Wilmington’s Onward, Soldiers are the kind of eclectic rock band that isn’t happy unless it’s being at least a half dozen things at once. On their 2010 debut, Ghosts in this Town, they were a frenetic Southern rock band, finding connections between bluegrass, country and blues and mining them for all they’re worth. The quartet returns with sophomore LP Monsters, due from Winoca Records on Feb. 21. It’s a more mature outing, opting for dense, modern-leaning folk rock over the ragged approach of their first outing. In addition, Onward, Soldiers are striving to be more than just a Wilmington band, booking a release show at Raleigh’s Pour House on Jan. 26 in addition to a hometown celebration at the Soapbox on Feb. 3.
Shuffle‘s Jordan Lawrence caught up with singer and songwriter Sean Thomas Gerard to discuss the new record and the band’s ambition to break out of their hometown.
Shuffle: Tell me about the recording process for Monsters. Where’d you go? How long did it take?
Sean Thomas Gerard: Like the first album, we recorded Monsters ourselves at Winoca Studios aka Kevin Rhodes’, our drummer’s, house. We started recording over a year ago. Because we recorded ourselves, we had the freedom to experiment with any and all ideas and sounds with each song. You can attribute the mix of styles on the record to the amount of time we had to record and mix. We had plenty of time to let the songs grow and change throughout the recordings. We definitely added a few instruments that made this record: pedal steel, 12-string Rickenbacker, trumpets, and piano. This record is the epitome of music to me. It’s got a little bit of something for everybody. Or at least i hope it does.
Shuffle: It’s a lot more high-fidelity than the last outing. Was that something you wanted?
STG: We were fortunate to use a couple of really nice microphones for the recordings. We also had our friend Matt Ross-Spang, the engineer at Sun Studio in Memphis, do the final mixes of the album. I think between those two elements, and Lincoln’s (Morris, guitar) endless editing work, they really made the difference in quality on this record. I know the mics took my vocals to another level, and the drums and bass are much more present. Overall, it’s just a cleaner sound. I think it works for these songs.
Shuffle: The arrangements here are a little more dense, less about rock intensity and more about melodic intrigue. Was that just a gradual shift or something you were going for?
STG: Half of this record I wrote on the piano. I think that was what changed my songwriting melodically. I started thinking more about melodies and less about big electric guitars. Lincoln’s guitar playing also meshed well with the vocal parts. He’s good about weaving in between vocal lines. I don’t think melodic intrigue was intentional, I think it’s something that happened with the songs during the recording process. We really wanted these songs to be memorable, timeless. I’m hopeful that this record is going to be just as appealing in 20 years.
Shuffle: You’ve got release parties set up for Raleigh and Wilmington. Trying to break into new markets?
STG: We’ve spent the last year working the Triangle area at least a couple times a month. We played Hopscotch last fall and were fortunate to have a great crowd. We feel like we have a growing crowd in the region and we want to embrace that with dual record release shows. We felt like playing at the Pour House would give people from all over the Triangle an opportunity to see us play before we leave for tour, and give them an early opportunity to get the new record. Of course, we are planning a big event in Wilmington too. We tend to play our best shows around here.
Shuffle: Is that a tough thing, trying to branch out from the coast inland? Do the scenes feel disconnected or closer together?
STG: The Triangle and Wilmington’s music scenes definitely feel a little disconnected. We’re just a little too far away to have mixing scenes. There aren’t that many Wilmington bands that branch out enough. And Wilmington doesn’t offer nearly the live venues the Triangle has: more venues, more bands, more opportunities. We love our hometown, but we are trying to play in other markets as often as possible. We are leaving for a lengthy tour in February and playing places throughout TN, AK, TX, CO, LA, NM, OK. Throughout the US, the Triangle has a great reputation for music, which is why it’s so important to us to be a part of it.
Shuffle: Monsters is a pretty menacing title. How’d you settle on it?
STG: “Monsters” is the song on the album that I think is the most abstract. When we were thinking about album titles, we were discussing the theme of the album, what title could tie it all together. The songs were written over a two-year span and are so different lyrically and stylistically. I thought on this for a while and couldn’t come up with a solution, other than naming the album after the song that was the most different. I think this symbolizes continued change in our music, for this record and beyond. When I met with Michelle Connolly, the artist who designed the cover, we were looking through characters she had cut out of paper, and it just seemed to fit right. We weren’t trying to convey that WE are monsters. These things aren’t to be taken too literally. It’s definitely a far happier album than the last.