Some different skins for the Old Ceremony

by Ryan Snyder

The Old Ceremony will be performing at the Shakori Hills Festival in Chatham County on April 17 and at the Garage in Winston-Salem on May 15.

In case you couldn’talready gather it fromthe name of his band theOld Ceremony (,Django Haskins loves themusic of Leonard Cohen.Being a songwriter, he saysit’s hard not to fawn overhim. There’s never a syllablethat seems forced or outof place and everythingjust flows like water without ever sacrificingvital elements to make that happen. One linefrom the song “Democracy” that he holdsin particular esteem says, “I’m stubborn asthose garbage bags that time cannot decay/I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wildbouquet/ Democracy is coming to the USA.”“How do you even try to write a song afterhearing something like that?” Haskins asked. “You might as well write another ‘Louie,Louie’ and get it over with, because there’s nopoint at trying to beat him at his game.”Most lyricists might never approach thepoetic qualities of even Cohen’s mostmiddling work, but then again, mostlittle leaguers will never hit as manyhome runs as Albert Pujols. WhileFathead may not make life-sizedwall graphics of Cohen, Haskins’veneration takes on a more intangiblequality. Nearly four albums later,the Old Ceremony seem to be doingquite all right for themselves andthat much is apparent by their choicebilling at the upcoming Shakori HillsGrassroots Festival.Though they’re veterans of thefestival, their ascension to the Fridaylate-night slot on the main stage isevidence of both their increasing popularityand their ability to captivate audienceswith their unrestrained, yet highly evolvedapproach to indie-pop. While the festival’sfolk and country roots are ostensible, it plugsin as the sun sets and makes way for aneclectic and electric assortment. Even with the primo booking in a settingfavorable for gaining new fans, the OldCeremony still have a tough act to follow.They’ll be preceded by international starRachid Taha’s exhilarating fusion of rock,techno and Middle Eastern music, thoughHaskins says that picking up after amazingsets by other artists is a bit old hat to them.In fact, the only time he says he’s ever beennervous before a show was following ChuckBerry at a music festival in New Jersey. Still,he welcomed the challenge then and hewelcomes it this Friday night.“It’ll just kick us in the ass and we’ll take itup a notch,” he said.Though it might exasperate his fellow bandmembers from time to time, Django Haskinsusually can’t bring himself to put together aset list for a show without first taking a crowdassessment. With so many factors to considerbefore taking the stage, why not do a littleengineering? Audiences themselves can bejust as singular as each of the individuals ofwhich they are composed, he contends, andsuch details should not be overlooked. “I need to feel what the night is like,”Haskins said. “It’s a real intuitive thing, butthat’s the fun of it.”Through his band’s five years in existence,Haskins as built a diverse catalog of musicspread out over three albums, with a fourthin the works, which affords him a sort ofcreative elasticity to mold to his audiences’state of mind. The chamber pop of theOld Ceremony’s self-titled debut albumrepresentd to Haskins’ desire to break awayfrom the sound of the rock bands with whomhe previously performed. The follow-up OurOne Mistake represented more of a completeband effort and produced several crowdfavorites, while Haskins callsthe recent Walk On Thin Air theband’s most experimental to date.With help from producer ChrisStamey, formerly of the dBs, andmany others, Haskins says thealbum’s meticulous attention todetail produced a density thatacts as the perfect foil to theimmediacy of the Old Ceremony’sprevious work. With that behindthem, they’ve moved onto theirfourth album with yet anotherdivergent vision. The goal, he says, is to record thealbum in as few takes as possible,essentially creating an in-studiolive album. Haskins wants the album topossess the immaculate production values ofthe controlled studio environment, while alsohaving the urgency and spontaneity of theband’s live show. There’s a sort of undefinedenergy that he says the band exudes whenthey perform, though even he admitscapturing it will be difficult.“I suppose we could put in some fake crowdnoise and do a ‘Benny and the Jets’ type ofthing,” he jokes.Regardless of his current studio vision,Haskins is simply looking forward to steppinginto a slot at Shakori that was the scene of oneof his favorite festival memories. “I saw the Avett Brothers doing this spotwhile it was raining with the whole meadowfull of people,” he said. “You could see thereflection of the stage lights on the raincoming down while they were pouringtheir hearts out. It was a pretty magicalexperience.”