From the first notes of "La La," the opening track on Old Avenue's new EP, Shade Trees, the Raleigh quartet's aim is clear: bright, breezy pop-rock best suited for a top-down ride on a sunny afternoon or a summer evening's block party. Inspiration from triple-A artists like John Mayer and Hootie and the Blowfish is apparent, though the band also cites influence from Bruno Mars, Sam Cooke and beach music. We spoke with vocalist/guitarist Mark Cloos, guitarist David Healy and bassist Cameron Conklin about the impact that those artists, an evolving lineup and its hometown environment had on this new record.
Mark Cloos: In the time frame we've been playing [five years], it's been an up-and-down experience because we've had members coming in and out. Being able to meet the people that we can, bringing them in and having the band as it is on Shade Trees really allows us to work as a team on stage and off. It started as a group of high school guys, but as you grow up, you realize there's a lot more going on in the business than just playing music.
David Healy: Playing live is such an organic thing where you only get one shot; it's make or break, which is cool because there's no going back and doing it over again. But then when you're recording and you have a chance to get it dialed in the way you want, it allows you to really hone in and bring out exactly the sound you're looking for, which I had never really done before.
Cameron Conklin: It was fun hanging out and laying down tracks, but after a while, I'd leave the studio absolutely hating the song [we recorded] that day. I'd hate it for like a week. But when we finally got to hear the end result, it was really all worth it.
MC: Back in the day, I used to listen to a lot of hip-hop. Then I went to a Dave Matthews concert and the day after, I picked up a guitar and started playing music. So Dave Matthews definitely got me into what I'm doing now.
DH: It's interesting to see how all of our influences combine to create the sound we have. Sean Steigerwald [drums], Cameron and I all kind of listen to the same stuff, but Mark listens to the broadest range of music.
MC: I can sit in my room and listen to Britney Spears then go back to Frank Sinatra and still have the same feelings about the music. I like how I can do that, which really seems strange, but I'll give love to Britney.
DH: I've always kind of associated playing with the guys in warmer times of the year, like summer until early autumn. I know it's kind of cliché, too, but Raleigh's the City of Oaks. I've always associated relaxing and chilling out underneath a tree with a summer memory. The easygoing nature of the EP seemed like it fit with the way you might feel if you were just sitting and hanging out beneath a tree. So I tried to link some sort of aesthetic to the feeling the music might evoke.
MC: It's definitely where things got going from the beginning of it. Most of us met at Cardinal Gibbons High School.
DH: It's where we're all from, and we play out in different areas a little bit but we end up coming back here and playing a good amount of shows. There's definitely been an outbreak of better venues and more events downtown and a better music scene.
MC: It's just sad because Raleigh has this great music scene and then they knock down The Brewery. What the fuck?