Where musicians run the show
The Soundvent in Thomasville is rocking at full capacity on a recent Friday night, which means 99 people since the fire marshal placed the cap last year because the venue lacks a sprinkler system. As a result the music hall can no longer accommodate national touring acts. All the bands tonight hail from parts of North Carolina, and a spirit of comity prevails between them. Chris Southern, a stocky man with shorn hair and glasses, spots a music journalist in the alcove and immediately spreads the word among the bands. As the road manager for his son’s band, he helped bring opener Sound Syndrum onto the bill. A man who rarely misses the opportunity to seize the bull by the horns, he naturally shepherds his “boys” over to a couple tables for the first interview. The gathering includes bass player Michael Southern and guitarist Corey Oshin. They’re the only band on the bill that is actually from Thomasville tonight, which isn’t all that surprising considering that the Soundvent serves a regional base of bands and fans. They’re giddy as heck, and only a little put out by the minor setback of receiving a ceaseand-desist letter from another band called the Travisty, which forced them to change their name to Across My Eyes two days previously. “They did it as nicely as possible, but they were pretty douche-y,” Michael Southern says. Singer Jesse Hill appears and Chris Southern places his arm around the boy, and counsels, “Remember: Don’t say, ‘The Travisty.’ It’s ‘Across My Eyes.’” Chris Southern was responsible to recruiting Hill to the band. “Jesse was just walking through my backyard,” Chris Southern says, “and I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Picking on him. I said, ‘Do you sing?’ That’s how we found him.” Chris Southern took over as road manager in the early part of 2007, after he says his son’s former manager embezzled $800 the act had saved up, possibly to feed a cocaine habit, and broke up the band. Black 29 from Wilmington is onstage now, bedazzling hood-rats, clean-cut kids wearing Metallica shirts and young longhairs with punk-rock crunch, Iron Maiden-Judas Priest-nexus guitar pyrotechnics and Green Day-crossed-with-Sepultura vocals. Stalking the stage, they appear ready for world domination. “We’re going to hit it hard,” guitarist Derek Schmidt has said of the band’s touring plans. “It’s everybody’s dream to make it big, and the way to do it is to hit the road, eat ramen and McDonald’s.” During Black 29’s set, Across My Eyes’ Oshin is leaping against the bar in anticipation. “I’ve been waiting to play since seven o’clock,” he says. Jeannie Southern watches him with an expression that is a mixture of amusement and admiration.
“I’m like the band mom,” she says. “I’ve had ’em all stay over at my house, and I’ve fed ’em. They’re not really younguns, but they’re sort of younguns.” The parents of a Light Divided drummer Adam Smith are also present, keeping quiet counsel around the corner of the bar. It’s Smith who was responsible for booking the show, and he acknowledges that in a market where cover acts and karaoke drive higher alcohol sales than bands that write their own material, it’s something of a privilege for venues to entrust musicians with so much creative control. A Light Divided is a different animal from Across My Eyes in that it’s an amalgam of previous bands that shook out less committed members and merged into a more powerful and talented unit, something like a hard-rock guild. Smith, ironically enough, played in a band called Travesty, while singer Jaycee Clark and guitarist James Lewis come fromGraveyard Heart, and guitarist Eric Humiston and bassist Mike Underwoodmatriculated from Porno Red. A Light Divided might also be the mostcommitted to the do-it-yourself ethos of all the bands on the bill. Bythe time he was 13 Smith was loading equipment for a band called Mimic,whose members mentored him in the ethics of equitably compensatingeveryone for their labors, supporting other bands by sticking aroundfor their sets and generally putting common interests before individualattainment. “Venues like this are where you can go straightfrom the garage to the stage with your songs,” Smith says. “We neverwant to forget our roots. “We’re do it yourself to the core,”he later adds. “We do our own artwork, most of our own recording. We doour own promotion. That’s the only way to go, because this shit don’tpay.” Like Somewhere Else Tavern, its sister venue in Greensboro, theSoundvent boasts something a lot of Triad venues lack — a tangiblecommunity formed from the relationships forged between bands andaudience and a sense that anyone with enough passion can get onstageand rock. It’s Sound Syndrum’s first gig, and the audience is engaged,cheering wildly and clapping at the end of each song. Though lackingpolish, all the essentials are there: a crushing heavy metal rock androll sound, fronted by growled lyrics from singer Amanda Rhodes thatbelie her cheerful banter between songs. One of their fans,Mike Sledge, exhorts other members of the audience to dance, with mixedresults. “You guys got no heart,” he bellows. “You know I’m fromJersey. You guys are too scared to come up here. You ain’t got noheart.” The members of a Light Divided appear to be both moreseasoned and also more worldweary when they take the stage. Smithballasts the group with a steady thwack that anchors a grinding,madhouse groove. With Jaycee’s Clark’s bratty vocalizing at theforefront, the effect is proto-punk grafted onto metal. The musiccourses from the speakers with both seismic crunch and delicate melody.It’s heavy metal, but played in a spirit of sarcastic camaraderieinstead of cocky gamesmanship. Across My Eyes plays before aLight Divided, but its set marks the energetic peak of the evening.“You’re about to rock the fuck out,” Chris Southern promises. “I lovethese boys, man.” Michael Southern is quickly shirtless and stalkingthe stage with his cordless bass. From time to time he unexpectedlypops up behind a bank of amplifiers or some other remote outpost likethe character in Where’s Waldo. Plucking out monsterbass runs, he wears an expression that suggests he’s perpetually inmid-orgasm. Hill’s vocals ring with urgency, and two guitars and basscreate a tidal surge of riffage. The overall effect is heavyand ecstatic, as if Little Richard’s pulsating sexuality were marriedto Metallica’s brutal presicion.