Ameriglow release party heralds an important shift in Greensboro indie rock

by Ryan Snyder

Saturday night, little after 11 p.m. at On Pop of the World Studios, I was observing the members of Ameriglow rehearse for the band’s forthcoming debut performance and EP release at the Flatiron before excusing myself to catch the Urban Sophisticates’ final performance at Greene Street Club. “I played drums in Urban Sophisticates for a little bit,” Doug Pike, skinsman for Ameriglow, the Leeves and Tommy Flake, among others, imparted with an air of indifference.

Fast-forward half an hour, and Urban emcee Benton James is addressing the band’s last audience. “So the story goes like this: We’ve have had two drummers. First, there was Demetrius. Then there was Romondo, who’s with us now. In between them were about 20 people that no one can even remember their names.”

James’ anecdote, given the soundly embedded context, wasn’t so much an indictment of Pike’s impression on him as it was a commentary on the disjointed scene where he and his bandmates toil, often only to the satisfaction of their immediate circle. Low gig pay, lack of distribution, general consumer malaise — there came a time when those symptoms disillusioned Jacob Darden, Ameriglow’s front man and primary songwriter, to the point that he simply just quit music altogether in 2011.

“They don’t seem to notice how sincere you’re being. I’m not good at selling a damn thing,” Darden said. “I just want to make art. I’m not at all good at selling it.”

Despite having dozens of songs tucked away that he recorded under the name Godfrey, he sold all of his instruments and gear to follow a girl up north, all the while the label for his former band Israel Darling was earning what he described as a not insignificant sum made off of selling ringtones of his music. When circumstances made a move back to North Carolina his most obvious next step — after being off the radar so long that Darden says he was presumed dead by some — it was almost immediately that local songwriter Jack Carter and On Pop owner Randy Seals urged him back into music.

“Randy and Jack were like, ‘Pick up a guitar, just do it.’” Darden said. “‘You need to be playing music.’ So I did.”

Darden joined Carter’s rock and roll band the Armory — supplementing Pike, bassist Seals and pianist Harrison Barrow — as guitarist. Meanwhile, there were unreleased songs burning a hole in his brain and the decision, he says, to form Ameriglow out of the Armory’s membership was an instinctual one.

“Playing music is one of those things where before anything it’s a bond. You get comfortable with certain people, and Jack and I go way back,” Darden said. “And I’ve been meaning to play with Harrison for years. I really appreciated him with the Armory, with Matty Sheets, Come Hell or Highwater and all the bands he plays with.”

Their six-song debut EP, entitled Anti-Americana: Speaking to the Unconscious Mind of the Southwest is a pared-down, rock forward take on Israel Darling’s disquieted folk narratives, but it bears the added significance of being the first release on Backlot Records, the fledgling label that he and Barrow have started out of On Pop of the World that thus far has Barrow’s solo pseudonym Harry, hip-hop artist Daily Planet, Matty Sheets & the Blockheads and songwriter Julian Sizemore on its roster. Named for the gravely acreage at the studio’s Grove Street location, it is envisioned as a catapult for musicians that Darden says tend to be overlooked outside of their circles and for albums that might otherwise go unheard.

“You get all these great records around here and no one gets it pressed,” he said. “The farthest they go is getting played while hanging out at a party with your friends. People need to hear this stuff, because it’s amazing.”

Ameriglow will play their debut show and EP release party at the Flatiron this Friday with Black Santa and Dumpster.