Roman Candle set to rocket to new heights with new release

by Ryan Snyder

Despite it’s eventual success, both critical and, to a milder extent, commercial, the distribution of Roman Candle’s ( debut album was fraught with discord from the outset. After recording Says Pop for one label in 2002 and signing with another the following year, strange business decisions led to the album landing on the musical equivalent of Major League Baseball’s disabled list. One Tommy John surgery conducted by esteemed songwriter and producer Chris Stamey later, and the Chapel Hill band was back to throwing fireballs. Re-released with the name The Wee Hours Revue in 2006, their debut material reclaimed whatever traction lost during the layoff and then some. Now, with another full-length release titled Oh Tall Tree in the Ear on the cusp, they’ve settled into the rarefied status of being veteran performers propelled by a serendipitously created type of organic appeal. In the midst of the band’s lengthiest and best-organized tour to date, singer and guitarist Skip Matheny doesn’t take the mere verbal assurance of the May 12 album drop for granted. Previous experiences have taught him that there are no guarantees after leaving the studio. “We’ve been looking over our shoulders since we finished recording,” he quipped. His wife and fellow band member Timshel Matheny shared his incredulity: “Don’t say anything yet until it actually comes out.” There was a kind of raillery in their hesitance, but the faith they’ve placed in their newest label, Carnival Music, is undeniable. They’re fully entrenched in their current tour, a co-bill with the Deep Vibration, and having a blast while doing it. And why not? They’re focusing primarily on the new material, which crowds have been devouring everywhere they play. “It’s always easier to go out and play a bunch of shows when your record’s out,” Skip said. “I’ve been getting a lot of people asking where they can get a certain song and I always have to tell them it won’t be out for a few weeks.” Most astute listeners will surmise that the near-assurance of the forthcoming album’s success is based largely on the band’s unmistakable talent, but ask Timshel, Skip or his younger brother, drummer Logan, and they’ll tell you that the support around them has been unbelievable. “[Stamey] has been a wonderful supporter and he’s such an artist in his own right,” Skip said. “Just by being around him, he’s taught us how to be loyal to the project that you’re working on.” They lend credit to not just Stamey, but country singer Thad Cockrell, who took every opportunity to endorse the band and introduce them to people who would become a part of their musical family. Among them was the new album’s future co-producer Jason Lehning. “We didn’t have any idea what kind of talking Thad had done about our band, but we met a bunch of new people and they all said, ‘Oh yeah, he’s has been talking our ear off about you guys,’” Skip said. “I joke with him and say we’ll pay him for everyone he’s introduced us to when we make any money. For now, we’ll just have him over for supper.” There’s a marked similarity in their Southern accents, singing and speaking voices, and downright folksy natures, and aside from drinking from the same river of classic Americana songwriting lore, that’s about where the comparisons end. Most might mistakenly attach the alt-country label to Roman Candle, but that’s merely the product of geocentric bias. “I know good alt-country bands and they’d get mad if we went around calling ourselves that,” Skip said. “We get labeled that when anyone outside of the South hears an accent, and they assume that’s what you’re shooting for.” The reality is, Skip, Timshel and Logan simply want to create the most meticulously-crafted songs possible. The explicit detail to be found in every track on Oh Tall Tree… is a testament to their inspired songwriting ethic, both in and out of the studio. Even the most minute detail is scrutinized, from the luminous warmth of Timshel’s Fender Rhodes to the urgency and excitement of Skip’s voice to the quirky sound experimentation littered throughout. “I think we’ll always have a love of seriously crafted songs no matter how they pop up,” Skip said. “It just so happens that some of the really good crafted songs are country songs.”

Roman Candle will perform at the Garage on Friday, May 8 at 9 p.m.