"We abandoned our van in Utah," The Kingsbury Manx bassist Clarque Blomquist says in his Carrboro condo. North Carolina's premier pastoral psychedelia band is marooned, and Blomquist couldn't be happier about it: "It's kind of symbolic of where we are. We want to tour again in the future, but for now it feels good to stick around and play with our friends' bands."
And they're not only without a van: The Manx's first three records were released by Chicago's Overcoat Recordings before the band moved to Yep Roc Records for 2005's The Fast Rise and Fall of the South. But after one record with Yep Roc, the Manx took their leave. Blomquist characterizes the split as amicable: After years of touring, he says, it's just time to re-focus.
Meanwhile, the members have all been busy with extracurricular projects. Paul Finn's been playing with Spider Bags, who've just been signed to Birdman Records; Ryan Richardson is running CD Alley; Bill Taylor just did his first art show; Blomquist and his wife, Caroline, are working on an unnamed project that's supplanting his Shallow Be Thy Name.
"It's more sample and loop oriented," Blomquist explains. "It got started because living in this condo, I can't play that loudly. I have this old sampler I've never used much, and I have years of old four-track stuff with live drums on it." Blomquist culls loops from these tapes, then Caroline adds vocals and other instruments. The end result, says Blomquist, is similar to Shallow, just "dance-ier and a little weirder."
But never fear: Taylor's been writing Manx songs like a maniac. "He watches sports with his guitar and four-track in his lap, writing constantly," says Blomquist. "We didn't even get to all the songs he had for the last record, and he's written a ton in the interim. Ryan didn't have any songs on the last one, but he's got some stocked away too. Between that and whatever else we come up with, we could do a double album."
At least two of the prospective tracks are finished. "Galloping Ghosts" is all gentle piano, humming organ and sleepy harmonies, while the waltz "Walk on Water" is lush with MIDI strings courtesy of the band Home's Eric Morrison, who produced both tracks. Working with Morrison, Blomquist explains, feels like completing a circle.
"When I met the guys in Kingsbury Manx," says Blomquist, who joined the band after their second album, "[Home] was the first thing we bonded over." The Blomquists were friends with Home when they lived in Tampa, Fla., and the Manx were fans here in Chapel Hill. The two bands have always talked about collaborating, a plan that came to fruition when the Manx traveled to New York to record these two songs in Morrison's studio. "In the way they've flown under the radar, they're kind of like us," Blomquist says of Home. "Recording with Eric makes a whole lot of stuff come together."
In lieu of scrambling to finish an album and find a new label, the Manx plan to dig in their heels here at home, leisurely recording with various producers and connecting with fans in North Carolina.
"We want to hit Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Wilmington, Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Boone on a regular basis," Blomquist explains, "building something there and bringing home money to record instead of breaking the bank on these long tours."
Blomquist is also excited about getting some Manx shows up on YouTube. Look for a recent Manx performance in Greensboro featuring trippy video projections by the Hi Mom! Film Festival's Matt Hedt. Then again, you might not need to: Until some label woos them back onto the road, it sounds like we're going to be seeing a lot more of the Manx at home. —Brian Howe
V2 in flames
The record industry isn't cutting anybody many favorites these days: Just when it seemed as though Chapel Hill's Roman Candle was finally ready to move past the record label debacles that hindered the band for the first half of the decade, V2 Records—who released the band's The Wee Hours Revue in June—has dropped all plans for any new releases. The label, founded by entrepreneur Richard Branson but sold to Sheridan Square Entertainment in 2006, will only produce and distribute its back catalogue and issue new gospel-related albums.
This is the latest in a series of label woes for Roman Candle. The quintet released its debut, Says Pop, in 2002 on NFL star Trevor Pryce's Outlook imprint. Disney's Hollywood Records subsequently signed Roman Candle and had them record much of the same album with Chris Stamey (the dB's, Yo La Tengo, Whiskeytown) in April 2003. But the record sat in Hollywood's hands for nearly three years. In 2006, Pryce purchased the rights to the recording and sold them to V2, who finally released the album, The Wee Hours Revue.
"We're thinking about putting the next one out ourselves," says frontman Skip Matheny. "We're going to have to find someone that was pumped as V2 was when we first left Hollywood. Really, we're trying to find someone as excited as we are."
Matheny says the band's plans for recording the follow-up to The Wee Hours Revue are still in the works, but they were that way long before V2 announced its restructuring efforts. Keyboardist Timshel Matheny, who married Skip in 1998, is five months pregnant with the couple's second child, and Skip says they hope to have the next record completed in their Wilkesboro studio by the time the baby arrives. They're currently considering about 30 tracks and two albums for the marathon sessions.
Roman Candle heads to England for four sets in February, including a session on BBC2 Radio with former Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris. Matheny says the band is pursuing European release of Revue. —Grayson Currin
Leaving there too soon
Little did I know when I received two CDs from Sugar Hill Records recently—Martha Scanlan's The West was Burning and the Infamous Stringbusters' Fork in the Road—that they'd probably be the last two with that old familiar address on the back cover: P.O. Box 55300, Durham, NC.
A day after those discs arrived, the news broke that the roots label was closing its Durham headquarters. Not to be overly melodramatic, but hearing that wasn't entirely unlike getting word that a couple you'd known for a long time and that you presumed was getting along just fine was divorcing. There was initial shock and immediate sadness, followed by concern for those involved. (Would the Durham staffers move to Nashville, too?) There was a moment of self-centeredness. (How will this affect my relationship with them?) Maybe even an attempt to force a laugh through the gloom. (Who gets custody of Scott Miller?)
Yeah, record labels shut down all the time. It's the nature of the business. But you often saw a group of Sugar Hill employees doing some scouting at a local club, or perhaps enjoying a performance by one of their artists en masse. Or maybe you, like me, once found yourself in the middle of a Sugar Hill contingent on a SXSW flight. Maybe you witnessed their camaraderie. It was easy to forget it was work, not play. And, obviously, one of the big downsides of working in music is the business's volatility.
But this was our neighborhood label: Sugar Hill managed to maintain a mom & pop vibe even when collecting Grammy nominations and releasing big sellers from Nickel Creek and Dolly Parton. Their decision to move to Nashville stings. I can't say for sure, but it probably feels a little like a Brooklynite saying goodbye to his L.A.-bound Dodgers.
Sure the imprint will survive, only with a Nashville address. No big deal, right? The name lives on. Only in this case, the people and the geography mean—for me, at least—so much more. —Rick Cornell