Indiana Album review – Owen Thomas – “Languages”

Owen ThomasWith his first solo album, Owen Thomas will not escape comparisons to his former group, The Elms, the Indiana rock and roll band that disbanded nearly two years ago on the heels of their best album, The Great American Midrange

Owen Thomas’ new album Languages {Or: Get Dark & Find Yourself.}, the rocker has written a damn good set of songs about rejection and fortitude. Thomas clearly hasn’t run from the band’s sound.

Instead, he has created a more lyrically introspective record and allows two of his former bandmates – guitarist Thom Daugherty and Thomas’ brother Chris on drums – to give the set a familiar, though updated, sound.

And he wraps his words in music that is hook-filled, heartland power pop. He has crafted a record that takes a strong lyrical step into the potentially slicker space of pop music without losing the crunch and earthiness of the Elms.

The heartland combination of music and lyrics makes for one of the very best albums – national or local – of the 2012. “Houdini” opens the set an understated vocal amidst churning guitars and gospel-pop chord changes, finally giving way to Thomas’ “Philadelphia Freedom” shouts of “Yes I do” by song’s end.

“I Don’t Miss Carin'” may be the best cut on the record; a great groove that belies a bittersweet message to a former love. Daugherty’s guitar slides in and out with hard-strummed chords, and he adds a sweet and dirty little solo to Thomas’ vocal “whoo-whoo’s”.

Soul-based pop from an Indiana guy? “I Might Be a Ghost!” lets Thomas use his supple voice to turn the tune into a midtempo hip shaker.

It’s a tightly produced record, though thumping drums and a healthy slice of guitar seep their way into the mix, dare we say, perfectly. Daugherty and Thomas are a potent combination of vision, feel and execution. Gloss and raunch. Shine and grease. Neither player solely one or the other. The two former bandmates still work well together, sharing bits of beauty and midwest rock grit.

“I Am High Above You” glides along and slowly, and subtly turns into a pulsating little rocker. “What You Say and What You Do” brings memories of The Cars with some 1950’s doo-wop-ish chord changes.

One addition to recording canon here is the use of loops to give the album a contemporary feel. Much like Springsteen crafted his recent Wrecking Ball album around pieces of music and beats, looped together and overlayed with the trademark Boss sounds, Thomas travels a similar-sounding road. He shows chops as a rock singer in the Jagger tradition of sass and smart, and lets his guitarist and drummer push the energy level higher. Smartly done.

“Who Knows” closes the album with a nod to the old sound of The Elms. The song’s line “Who knows where the road is going” is as good of a theme as any to describe the new album. The record – and life – is a search for truth and resiliency when both facts and emotion intrude. As the closer provides a neat reminder of how good The Elms were as a band, the song also gives power to the new sounds on this record; the words and music of the entire album. It helps prove just how good the music is that Thomas is now making on his own.

Indiana Music: Thom Daugherty slings guitar with The Band Perry as they collect awards

When country music’s The Band Perry earned a trio of awards at the recent  Country Music Association awards, Hoosier guitarist Thom Daugherty was right there with them, on stage and off. The former guitar player for The Elms caught on with the Perry siblings last year and has toured nearly non-stop since.

As the band won trophies for Song of the Year and Single of the Year for the tune “If I Die Young” and for Best New Artist, Daughtery played at the nationally-televised event, and hung backstage with some of the biggest names in country music.

I caught up with the guitarist after the show, and he talked of another tour, working on a new solo album for his former Elms partner Owen Thomas, and sharing a dressing room with Kenny Loggins.

ROB: You were at CMA Awards for your band’s big night. What did that feel like?
Thomas Daugherty: I might be wrong about this, but I think we also played the CMAs last year. We’ve played several award shows in the past 12 months – the CMAs, the ACMs, the ACAs, possibly a few others made up out of a some combination of the letters A, C, and M – I can’t keep them all straight.

They’re always extremely organized; everything runs down to the minute.

And the vibe at the award shows is always fantastic, like a reunion. You get to see all of your friends from other bands that you played shows with all year. We shared a dressing room with Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Kenny Loggins last night, and since we toured all summer with Luke Bryan’s band on the Tim McGraw tour, the room felt like home.

ROB: Run into heroes? How were some of them treating you?
TD: There are so many fantastic guitar players in Country music – it’s mind-blowing. Guys who’ve done it for years and represent the best of our craft. Being a hired gun still feels like a new experience for me, so I’m always inquisitive, and they don’t seem to mind pointing the way and letting me benefit from their experiences. I’m always wondering what I can do to go next level in my playing, so who better to ask than them?

Also, being as interested in sonics and production as I am, I think the coolest thing has been getting access to guys like Justin Niebank and Niko Bolas, to name a few. Hearing them explain how they like to mic guitar cabs, or EQ a snare drum.

ROB: What do you like about performing with The Band Perry and where does it go from here?
TD: The Perry’s have been great to work for, and it’s wild that with as great of a year as they’ve had, they’re still growing. Getting to be a part of that has given me the chance to do some stuff I thought I’d never get to do. My girlfriend jokes that she gets to see me on TV more than she gets to see me in person.

I think the greatest perk about all of this for me though is the people – the Perrys, the other guys in the band (Boone, Fitz, and Andy), and all of the other players that we run into on the road. The people involved are usually my favorite thing about anything.

This year was pretty busy, but I think 2012 looks like it’ll be even busier. In January, we start several months of touring with Brad Paisley.

ROB: How did you get this gig?
TD: I’ve known Kimberly for a few years now. She and Reid used to come see The Elms play anytime we were in Nashville. After The Elms final show last year, they asked if I’d be interested in filling in with them for a few months. Then one night after a show in Florida, their dad called to say, “We’ve auditioned about 15 other guitar players, and we just wanted to know if you’d be interested in sticking around and being our guy?”

ROB: Any other stories from closer to home I need to relay to Indiana
TD: I’m excited, and relieved, that The Elms released “The Last Band On Earth” DVD. I think I was worried that, with everybody else working on it as hard as they were, I was going to be the one guy who screwed things up and held back its release. Not being home that often, I just sorta resolved that the only way I’d get my part of it done would be to work on it from the road. Every spare minute I had out here the past couple of months, I worked on it. And now it’s done, it came out November 25th, and I hope people will check it out. Owen and I poured a lot of heart into it.

I also spent the past year producing a record for my buddy Jason Aaron Coons, and we’re almost finished with that as well. Jason’s got an incredible voice, made a killer record, and it looks like a lot of people are lining up to help him out. Really proud of him and hoping I can do my part to get him heard.

And, I’m really excited that Owen and I will start making his solo record in December. He’s been killing it on the filmmaking front this year, but he’s a tunesmith, and really needs to be making music. If for no other reason, I need something new and good to listen to.

REVIEW: The Elms “The Last Band on Earth” album/DVD

The Elms, their final production – a live DVD and companion soundtrack – proves that the Indiana rockers went out while they still cared.

What comes through the speakers in The Last Band on Earth is triumphant American rock-and-roll energy tinged with a layer of final show melancholy.

Recorded live at their July 30, 2010 finale at Radio Radio in Indianapolis, the 110-minute, 20-song concert film and 30-track downloadable soundtrack showcases the band’s earnest delivery and amped-up guitar rock punch.

Thom Daugherty’s guitar plays a starring role on this set, a majestic sound that’s dirty and elegantly unruly. The guitarist’s energy pushes singer Owen Thomas to a good place, a jubilant, emotional delivery anchored by Daugherty’s raucousness.

During the four hour final performance, The Elms revisited cuts from their entire catalog, pumping out music echoing Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen, with Daugherty showing some AC/DC and Aerosmith influence, too. This release melds those influences into a pretty damn good package.

The best songs, “Unless God Appears First” and “This is How the World Will End,” cast an anthemic spell, unhurried and heartfelt, blending gospel and American rock and roll. “The World” borders on epic with a call-and-response duel between Thomas and Daugherty near the end.

Thomas’ voice is far from a growl, his soaring vocals punctuated by healthy and genuine shouts of excitement and emotional yelps.

His brother, Chris, on drums, delivers Aronoff-like slams and crashes, and gives the band a thunderous rock presence.

The group never reaches the lyrical depth of Springsteen, but they draw on The Boss’ gospel and his ability to let the music tense and release. The Elms never completely lost the spiritual feel of their early days as a Christian band in Seymour, In., and songs like “Bring a Little Love to My Door” and ”Come on Down to the Water” embody those ideals.

Tunes like “She’s Cold” and “Strut” show off the band’s other side, more bluesy and groovy. Daugherty, who handled the final audio mix, leaves beautiful space for Nathan Bennett’s solid bass playing.

“Thunderhead” and “The Way I Will” highlight the Bryan Adams influence. Like the 80’s rocker, The Elms wield twin guitars, loud drums and lyrics simple and memorable enough to sing along to; this is a mighty good recipe for success in a sweaty club.

The music is warmly captured by engineer Mike Petrow, and the final night’s work is injected with a ’70s heartland rock sound. The band’s true success lies with their better-than-a-bar band Middle American feel.

Shot with handheld cameras, the DVD puts the viewer on stage. Edited by Owen Thomas’ multimedia company Absorb, the jittering views give the show a strange energy and a voyeuristic feel, bursting with intricate close shots.

The DVD and soundtrack captures The Elms as they reach for something meaningful, doing their thing one last time.

The Elms set to release DVD restrospective

Fans of The Elms, the now-defunct band nuevo-heartland rock band that rose from a good little group out of Seymour to a crunchy, passionate guitar rock and roll gang, will be pleased to know that a new DVD about to be released.

After seeing some new posts about final mixing and video editing for The Last Band On Earth, the DVD retrospective project they’re working on, I talked to singer Owen Thomas about the piece that should serve as both a memento for fans and and an opportunity to wrap their run as a band into a self-produced, worthwhile package.

The details include a generous amount of music and even some documentary stuff. They are getting ready to start making announcements about the project through Twitter and other social media outlets. When I caught up with Thomas, he was able to give some of the scoop early.

“Details will go live at TheElms.net about all this stuff on about November 1,’ Thomas said. “We’re finalizing things now, in the final mix & edit stages of the film. The DVD will be out on Black Friday (November 25). People can follow The Elms on Twitter for the latest.”

ROB: How many songs will the DVD contain?
Owen Thomas: The DVD will contain 20 songs from The Elms’ final performance. It’ll be about 120 minutes long, with a couple never-before-released tracks, and about 12 songs that have never been offered live.

RN: DVD and CD/audio or a DVD only?
OT: There will be a deluxe package which contains the DVD and 30 high-quality downloadable tracks from the final show, plus a commemorative movie poster.

RN: How has the project been to work on? Highlights? Lowlights
?
OT: We’ve all been super busy traveling and doing work with other artists. So, some time opened up over the summer and we dove into working on the film. We’ve been working on this from the road as we travel, too. (Elms’ guitarist) Thom (Daugherty) is actually sending me mixes from Minneapolis right now. It’s been an extraordinary amount of work. I mean, it’s a feature-length film. It’s been as much, or more work, than any record I’ve ever made. But I’m extremely proud of it.

RN: When is it going to be available and where?
OT: The film will be exclusively available at TheElms.net, possibly iTunes soon. We’ve got people talking to Netflix about possibilities.

RN: Artwork? Being worked on?
OT: We’re doing it all ourselves. Artwork, editing, mixing, everything. My creative house, Absorb, is doing the heavy visual lifting. Thom is mixing the audio. It sounds really fantastic. The film is going to be really wild, really cool. We’re calling it a “documentary concert film”. It’s raw, really visceral.

Hear The Elms – Sneak Preview
http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F26257302&height=84&show_artwork=false&color=3b5998&width=398She’s Cold (Sneak Pique) by Thom Daugherty

Indiana Music: catching up with Brandon P. Perry of The Dead Hearts

I got a tip recently from my music friend Henry French, who told me about a new Americana band called The Dead Hearts. I mentioned them on NUVO.net, and I recently tracked down the band’s lead singer, Brandon Perry, to find out more.

Rob Nichols: How did you guys get together?
Brandon Perry: All of us had been playing a lot of music for a long time, but in very informal situations. It’s tough to believe, but Brian [the band’s keyboardist] has never been in a band. I think Joe [bass] is the only one of us that’s played in a serious band in the past few years; he played in a rock band called Blue Sky Goodbye. Marc [drums] has played around town in a few informal projects, and was actually a tech for the Flying Toasters for a few years.

RN: What about yourself?
Perry: I hadn’t played much in a few years, but I finally started playing guitar and keyboards with a band called Things Behind the Sun in December 2009. That is where I met Joe. The songs were really great, and we were having a good time, but there were just complications that stopped it from ever going anywhere. We couldn’t agree on a drummer, [and the] first attempt at recording did not go well.

Joe and I were standing in line at Record Store Day in April this year, and he mentioned to me that he had played some of my home demos for his cousin Marc, and that Marc really liked them and might like to get together to play some time. I thought it was cool that he liked my songs, but thought, “Yeah…that’ll never happen.” Joe pushed a little, and I brought my friend Brian to the first rehearsal — and it just sounded good, and we all had a blast.

RN: It’s a definite alt-country rock sound. Who are the influences?
Perry: Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, The Jayhawks, Wilco, The Elms, Justin Townes Earle, Gram Parsons,Tom Petty, Old 97’s.

RN: And you guys are all Hoosiers?
Perry: We’re all from Indiana. I just moved to Chicago a month ago, but Indianapolis is home to the band.

RN: I love the warm sound you got on the EP. Talk about that.
Perry: We recorded at this really vibe-y, little place in Noblesville called scientia studios. It’s small, but has everything we could have needed and more. It’s owned and operated by a guy named Alex Kercheval. He’s very smart, has a good ear, and helped us to get what we wanted out of the session. The whole thing happened in about a day and a half. We went in on a Saturday morning and stayed for around 15 hours. We came back one night the following week to finish vocals and percussion. The process was a whirlwind. We’re happy with the result.

RN: Any shows yet besides Birdy’s?
Perry: There should be a few more shows announced soon, but at Birdy’s on September 10, we’re playing with Henry French and the Shameless, Ernie Halter (from LA), and The Bright White (from Chicago).

RN: Things have started to fall in place; good EP, guys that get along. What’s next?
Perry: We want to have a lot of fun. We’ve got some new songs that we’d like to record and maybe put together a full-length release, but we really just want to get out, meet people and play. I also really want to nail down the sound of the band. The EP fits together well, but some of the newer stuff sounds very different.

RN: What are you learning?
Perry: As fun and liberating as it is playing with this band, it’s very tough. I’m definitely not comparing us to them, but bands like Henry French and the Shameless, Stereo Deluxe and The Elms have this talent for making it look easy, and I’m positive that it’s not. I’m not complaining at all, it’s just crazy how much we’re learning, and so quickly.

RN: Any bumps in the road and roll road?
Perry: We had to cancel a show in Chicago, because the promoter finally disclosed that they were going to be very particular in what drums setup Marc was allowed to play. We rehearse at my old house in Indy most of the time and we’ve had the police show up once and two neighbors stop by telling us to “please turn that thing down.”