L Shape Lot no longer flying under the radar

by Ryan Snyder

Up last week, the coolest thing that L Shape Lot vocalist and guitarist Eric Miller said his band has ever done was open for Peter Frampton. Once. When put into perspective, that’s actually pretty cool. It’s probably a better story than most gig bands will ever come up with. Frampton is a legend, after all. As of now, however, Miller can do that one better. Last week, it was announced that the roots-country quartet out of Wilmington that he fronts was voted winners of FloydFest’s prestigious Under the Radar series, an attendee-voted honor that nets the band a return slot the following year on the Blue Ridge Virginia festival’s main stage.

“Excited doesn’t even touch it, man. To be chosen to win… that is just a huge honor,” Miller said. “We have been doing this for many years, and it’s nice to get a proverbial pat on the back.”

Miller has the open, friendly demeanor of a Southern beach bum that speaks to his years fronting the coastal band. “Many years” means just short of nine in total, mostly through various incarnations with Miller and drummer John Kovalski as the primaries. They’ve entertained sax and mandolin within their makeup for various durations and put out six records in total, but never really broken through the glass ceiling. Their philosophy on building a fan base has been a methodical one to say the least, opting for the tried-and-true approach of winning one fan over at a time via muscular live sets.

Their lineup has been stable over the past few years, however, and the current quartet definitely has a certain chemistry on stage that speaks to their time together. Alex Lanier blazes through scales like the wheels of an 18-wheeler spinning 2,000 RPMs down some backwoods highway. Kovalski’s punk background translates flawlessly to their amped-up country sound and with bassist Rick Williams, forms a sturdy rhythm section. It’s all buoyed by Miller’s voice, like a glass of bourbon with a stiff back and accented by the band’s meticulous four-part harmony.

When you break it down, they’re really the ideal festival band. They have a big sound propelled by inexorable live juice, yet the band’s aspirations to put down roots in the festival circuit are ironically dashed with a lack of experience as the justification. This unexpected triumph, however, sets the stage perfectly for their next move. With a road-tempered batch of songs in hand, the band plans to return to the studio this winter to record its fourth album with the core of the band.

It’s not the first time they’ve tried to lay them down, though. They went to the studio at the beginning of 2011 and got as far as one song before they realized that the material just wasn’t ready yet. So L Shape Lot did what they do best: played them out as often as possible until the songs took on lives of their own.

“The last time we recorded an album, we only played them live after we had them down,” Miller said. “And now they’re really not even the same songs anymore.”

That last album was their 2009 release Looks Like Snow, a lengthy release of gospel-laden, mid-tempo cuts and breakneck fingerpicking exercises that favored instrumental brawn over polish. The band had just dropped the mandolin from their arrangement and settled into a more electrified, less traditional sound and their foundation had yet to settle. Two years later with innumerable live shows under their belt, along with a affirmation that they are indeed on the right track, Miller says the band is taking a firm grip on the reigns of their future.

“We’re not reinventing sliced bread, we’re realists,” he said. But when those doors open I want to be prepared to walk through them.”

L Shape Lot will perform at the Garage on Friday with Johnson’s Crossroad.