New Brookland Tavern: Saturday, April 6
The story behind the title of The Unawares’ latest recording, Absinthe Acres, is a telling one.
“I was singing ‘Green Acres’ at Goatfeathers,” explains drummer Rhett Berger. “Then I saw a bottle of absinthe and started singing the words ‘absinthe acres,’ just free-associating.”
On the other side of the country, the band’s friend Tommy Bishop, an illustrator who has done the artwork for all of the group’s previous releases, was reading old recipe books in search of traditional absinthe recipes.
“There was a lot of synchronicity there, so we went with it,” Berger laughs.
And when you get right down to it, that combination of synchronicity and free association defines The Unawares, a band that barrels through songs at a two-minute punk-rock pace, while at the same time punctuating its tunes with idiosyncratic breaks, counterpoint melodies and the at-times surreal lyrics of singer and guitarist John Watkins.
Over the course of four albums, the band has managed to craft a sound that, while indebted to early 1980s punk rockers like Hüsker Dü and Minutemen, is uniquely its own. The band professes a love of classic rock as much as punk, and counts progressive rock, jazz and classical influences filtering through its three-minute rumbles.
But there is “no jamming,” Watkins says, adamantly. “No jamming at all.” Instead, the songs start with distinct ideas written by the guitarist, who records a guitar part and a vocal idea on a voice recorder and then brings it in to the band.
These ideas are usually a little unusual, as Watkins favors heavily augmented chords. (“I’m trying for the most ridiculous chord you’ve ever heard,” he says.) The process is further complicated by bassist James Wallace, who studiously assembles a bass line based on Watkin’s chord structure.
“I ask him specifically what he is playing and notate that, then I try to figure out the best interval that works for the song” he explains. “Or an interesting counterpoint or countermelody.”
Berger, who works his part out in conjunction with Wallace, likes to keep things simple.
“I try not to do anything too fancy, just kind of keep it locked in,” he says.
The end result is an enigmatic rock band — Berger refers to the groups as “weird” — that Columbia has grown to love.
Things get weirder when you turn to the recording process. For each release, local analog recording guru Chris Wenner has recorded the band live, on tape, and in mono, using anachronistic techniques to capture the feel and energy of the group in ways that are antithetical to the modern, Pro Tools-centered recording process.
The band also doesn’t spend much time analyzing the process. The A-side of Absinthe Acres, consisting of six new songs, was recorded in a single day; the B-side was recorded the next, as the group tore through a re-energized version of its first EP (and second release), Tooth Dip.
“We stay pretty focused on being able to duplicate the songs on stage,” Watkins says by way of explanation. Berger chimes in with a food metaphor: “We like to make the cheeseburger as tasty as possible without the condiments.”
Still, the group is particularly proud of Absinthe Acres, its first vinyl release.
“We’ve wanted to put every record we’ve ever done with Chris out on vinyl,” Wallace explains. “We just finally had the means to do it this time.”
The vinyl release completes the band’s commitment to an all-analog, no-computers process.
“There is no digital transfer, no changes from analog to digital,” says Watkins. “All we have is a little tube compression.”
The 12-inch format also gets to show off the Bishop’s excellent artwork, replete with a 1912 recipe for absinthe in the original recipe book font. The illustrator’s work is so striking, Berger says, that somebody who hadn’t even heard the band yet bought a copy before a recent show in Charleston.
What shines through most as they talk about the record, though, is just how passionate these guys are about making music.
“We’re just a bunch of old guys in their 40s who have been music fans for a long time,” Berger notes, reflectively. And a little triumphantly.
The New Brookland Tavern is at 122 State St. in West Columbia. Doors open at 7 p.m.; admission is $7. With Modern Man, Company, Wage Slaves. Call 791-4413 or visit newbrooklandtavern.com for more information.
Hickory Tavern Is Now Open!
Find us on Facebook, Twitter (@TheHickoryTav), Instagram (@HickoryTavern), and visit our website for more info. 907 Senate Street in the Vista!
Relaxation, Pain Management, and Stress Relief
Licensed massage therapist Allison Morris of AMR Massage offers 50% off your first session and every 5th session free of charge. Click here for location, hours, and more information.
A Family-Friendly New Year’s Eve Carnival
From 6-11 PM on December 31st on Main Street, enjoy rides, games, karaoke, food, drinks and more! More information here.
New Year’s Eve at Social
Don’t miss this Black and White Affair featuring Kap Slap. Tickets available online!
Going someplace cool this weekend?
Let The Backpacker help you go lightweight, comfortable and in style! Patagonia, Prana, Merrell, The North Face and more! Click for location, hours and more info.
Ice Skate on Main Street
Columbia’s famously hot skating rink is now open! Additional information and discounts can be found here.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Holiday Wish ListWhere to shop for gift ideas in Columbia this season:
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
F/T and P/T avail. Must have a clean driving record, organized and have a prof appearance. Please call for an interview or email resume to Kerry@crystalpool.com. Must bring a copy of your Driving record and a list of all past employers with duration of employment listed as well as telephone numbers for references. Call 803-865-1200
Real Estate Spotlight
CoMar Products Inc. Manufacturing quality surfaces for kitchens & baths since 1965. www.comarproducts.com