The Lovely Few Tackle Hefty Themes and Daunting Concepts Through Minimal Electro-Folk

Thursday at Art Bar
By Kyle Petersen
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The Lovely Few photo by William Lide Powell.

It’s one of humanity’s oldest inspirations — looking up at the stars. It’s easy to imagine, and be awed by, the larger-than-life figures of myth and folklore, religion and fantasy acting out their stories across the canvas of the night sky.

For Columbia’s Mike Mewborne, songwriter and leader for the electro-folk collective known as The Lovely Few, the heavens and their attendant metaphors are enough to tell every story he has. Since 2010, he’s released four high-concept records based largely on different meteor showers and dotted with allusions to planets, astronomy, astrology, mythology and religion. His spare, elliptical lyrics pair with tender soundscapes that evoke celestial distances and spacey warmth.

What: The Lovely Few
Where: Art Bar, 1211 Park St.
When: Thursday, July 24, 8 p.m.
Price: $5
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“It’s a challenge for me, really,” Mewborne says. “I’ve always been most creative writing when I have a framework with certain criteria I’m trying to meet. I don’t always feel like I have a lot to say in terms of a typical love song. There are so many other people, locally, who already do that so well. But with this structure, we can talk about mythology, which leads to ideas about religion, and religion is a very personal thing, so you can make those connections pretty quickly.”

The subject matter that appeals to him straddles the line between the personal and the universal — such as stargazing.

“I’ve watched meteor showers with my dad, watched meteor showers with my friends in college, and I ended up marrying one of them, you know?” he says, referring to his wife and bandmate Kate Mewborne. “The stories are there. Once you make those connections in this bigger picture it becomes easy.”

Originally a glorified solo project with Mike playing most of the parts and asking a few friends to contribute odds and ends, The Lovely Few has tentatively emerged as a real band that performs and records in different iterations. Aside from Mike, the constants are Kate Mewborne, who adds keyboards and angelic backing vocals, and their college friend Alan Davis, who started out playing trumpet with the band and now contributes guitars and synths, as well.

Mike is quick to point out that Dan McCurry — producer and leader for Hearts & Plugs, The Lovely Few’s Charleston-based label — is also involved with the band’s creative process, in addition to his primary role as a helpful cheerleader and advocate for the promotion-adverse songwriter. Many others have also made guest appearances.

“Mike has big ideas of The Lovely Few being a project that incorporated lots of different musicians and musical ideas,” Davis explains. “He has so many talented and creative friends with so many great ideas and approaches — why not try and capture that?”

This interwoven collection of contributions from different musicians fits well with the songs, which often feel like carefully constructed messages reverberating across the interstellar ether, bringing to mind one of the band’s primary influences, The Postal Service. The other, Mike admits, is Sufjan Stevens, who is an obvious inspiration in a variety of ways.

“[Stevens] is not afraid to do beautiful, but he’s also not afraid to bring in a dichotomy,” Mike explains. “He does some gnarly stuff with guitars and synths, but his voice is very tender and he’ll also bring in a lot of beautiful winds and strings.”

Even setting aside the obvious vocal comparison, it’s not difficult to see Stevens’ impact on The Lovely Few. These are songs built with grand-scale ambitions and the poignant sincerity of Steven’s best work, demonstrating a keen sense of melody and meditation while remaining unafraid of letting distortion and cacophony creep into Mike’s heartfelt tunes. 

“There’s a difference in having an influence and ripping someone off,” Mike points out, though he doesn’t mind the comparison. “I do think that’s the direction that music should go.”

And, Kate chimes in, “There’s something to be said for joining the larger musical conversation.”

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