Athenaeum alumni soldier on

by Jordan Green

‘I record all my shows and listen to ’em at night, see how I can improve.’

Mark Kano caresses the vocal from the stage at the Blind Tiger on a recent Thursday evening, his voice holding a pleasant gravelly keen, his skin tan and hair nicely tousled with the look of a mature actor who can still play a 17 year-old heartthrob. “You better slow down,” he sings. “They’re dragging your name all over town.” The young woman behind the bar

with a sweet face and longish, dirty blonde hair sings with him. She trains a meditative gaze on the stage between slinging Budweisers as Kano and partner Mike Garrigan trade songs, back each other on vocals and build a delicately structured latticework of instrumentation with acoustic guitars. Garrigan’s wife, Holly, sways in the middle of the audience, mouthing the lyrics to both men’s songs, a look of bliss crossed with pride transfixing her face.

There was a time when Kano and Garrigan’s band, Athenaeum, was a huge deal in North Carolina. Long beforeDaughtry became a household name, Athenaeum was a major-labelGreensboro band with mainstream promise that left a lasting body ofwork even while failing to make much of a dent on the charts. Theband’s occasional reunion shows attest to its fans’ abiding affection and the continuing interest of new listeners. Athenaeumwas signed to Atlantic Records from 1996 to 2001, and then the bottomdropped out of the music industry after the Sept. 11 attacks, resultingin Athenaeum getting dumped, along with Rod Stewart and Tori Amos.Garrigan had recently joined Athenaeum after his first band, Collapsis— signed to Universal — folded. It was heady stuff, but when the toughbreaks came Kano and Garrigan were seasoned enough to soldier on withnew projects. Garrigan, who despite his hairless pate,projects a dreamy yet steady look, dons a baseball cap as the two clearthe stage for headliners Civil Twilight, a South African band thatsounds like an update on Coldplay. “I’m going to grab my…” hesays, his voice trailing off. “I record all my shows and listen to ’emat night, see how I can improve.” The Garrigans have been building up astudio business over the past two years. Typically, asinger-songwriter will come in with some songs and an acoustic guitar,and Mike Garrigan will play the instruments for the additional tracksand hire a drummer to build a band sound around the raw compositions —a creative process not so different from Athenaeum’s. BothGarrigan and Kano are currently working on solo CDs. “Digitaldistribution is easy,” Kano says. “The problem is promotion, and thengetting people to buy it. I’m going to try to get as many TV and filmdeals as I can. Ultimately, the goal would be to get back on a majorlabel. It’s hard, but they are still signing people.” Of thetwo, Garrigan has been more prolific since Athenaeum stopped producingnew songs and recording. In addition to a live album entitled Live at the Evening Muse, Garrigan has released two seasonally themed albums. Working backwards, The Lessons of Autumn deals with a romantic breakup and The Promise of Summer celebrates the flush essence of being alive. The new album will be based on the theme of spring. “Thespring record has to do with examining childhood and recovering thatsense — when you’re a child, you have this simplicity. As an adult youlose sight of that sometimes…. I’ve been working on it too long. I’m aperfectionist. I’ve got to put my foot down, and get it out.”

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MarkKano and Mike Garrigan perform with Athenaeum at Amos’ Southend MusicHall, 1423 S. Tryon St., in Charlotte on Aug. 16. Call 704.377.6874 formore information.