Greensboro’s LeBaron Prepare Full-Length Debut
Shoegaze-y four-piece makes music that blossoms in a studio setting
Clarity in music isn’t always a virtue. Sometimes a little murkiness and mud make all the crystal-clear moments stand out that much more in contrast. A flash of obscurity can make you pay more attention. LeBaron is a band that knows how to balance the extremes of sonic sludge and forceful body-blow low-end with up-front vocals and sometimes gleaming guitar sounds.
The Greensboro band is set to release Perfect Destroyers, their debut full-length. LeBaron made the vocals up-front on the record, a choice that’s both about studio engineering and aesthetics. Many bands making this kind of music would have shrouded the singing in a hazier wash of other sounds or submerged the vocals in the mix. I spoke with guitarist/singer Hanson King and drummer Owen Burd last week about the band and about how the songs take shape. LeBaron plays Thursday, April 20 as part of GSO Fest.
Burd and King have been making music together for about 10 years. They both have experience with engineering in the studio. And King ran Bit Heart, a small grass-roots label, for a while, as well. LeBaron took a kind of shape when their friend, bassist/vocalist Kate Weigand, wanted to start a new project about two years ago. Guitarist Matt Lovett adds another layer of fuzz and filigree to LeBaron’s sound.
“We just started bashing away writing some music,” says Burd. They trashed a lot of what they made and started over a bunch, but it all came together organically.
The layers of saturated and carefully overdriven guitar sounds, blankets of reverb, ripples of delay, and yawning pitch-sliding textures bring to mind bands that sometimes fall under the shoegaze tag, which is basically a swirl of psychedelic but abrasive post-punk and indie rock.
“A fair amount of my favorite music when I was a teenager was in fact what is considered shoegaze music — My Bloody Valentine records, Ride records, that type of thing,” says Burd. “That said, I don’t think that any of us, in any conscious way, really care about trying to recreate that. But it is certainly an influence.”
Distortion — controlled or not — and the physical force of sound waves can be as mesmerizing as virtuosity; patterns emerge that are like the patterns we hear in rhythms, harmonies and melodies. The textural patterns of a distorted guitar might have qualities of all three of those musical elements.
LeBaron play with all that, but it’s not just about the guitar. The vocals sometimes have a slight smudge, or a quiet echo that almost serves as a kind of staggered harmony, like on the song “Nowhere’s Static.” And then real actual vocal harmonies get added to the mix on the refrain. This is heavy-leaning music. Burd frequently avoids the predictability of a backbeat, and there’s plenty of odd-time asymmetry to this music, giving it a math-rock/prog vibe in places. They remind me of both Polvo and Soundgarden (minus the operatic screaming) in places. Sometimes LeBaron brings to mind the excellent and difficult-to-pigeonhole band Pretty Girls Make Graves who made music filled with raw emotion and strange jagged artiness.
There’s a muscularity to the songs on Perfect Destroyers that’s yet another kind of contrast within the music. Weigand’s songs, like “Owl, Moth, Cat, Crab,” create little hypnotic oases on the record. The shoegaze sensibility usually suggests dreamy abstraction, a willingness to get lost in a sonic fog. But LeBaron manage to create both the sort of warped surface appeal of distended signals and spiraling atmosphere while keeping sturdy drums and spotlit vocals piercing through it all. This isn’t accidental.
King says that, as someone who’s been making music and recordings for a while, he’s seen his share of projects that seemed to meet with bewilderment or frustration from people — critics, sometimes — who couldn’t understand or make out the vocals.
“I don’t know if I would call it maturity or a concession — but people like loud vocals, I get it,” says King.
There’s a song on the record called “Another Knife” that almost sounds like you could read it as a rocking riff on the state of people’s musical expectations. “They want something, something that’s trivial/That they can chew up and force down,” goes the memorable refrain.
It’s easy to get dazzled by the sound of the record and to focus solely on the textures, effects and dynamic contrasts of things, but King points out that these are songs. Part of the process of assembling the pieces might happen in the studio, aided by technology and group improvisation, but the writing is still a product of personal musical drive and spark.
“I think they come together in our brains first,” says King. “We’re writing the songs that are coming out of us. I’ll just wake up with a song in my head, and I’ve got to work it out. It’s the same way that Jackson Browne used to do it.”
It’s hard to know if King’s reference to Laurel Canyon singer/songwriters is taking the piss, or another pointed contrast. Or maybe it’s just that — these are songs are like every other song: they emerge in semi-mysterious ways, with a mix of nudging and sitting back and waiting.
The members of LeBaron want the music they’re making to be heard. They want it to be something that rewards repeated listenings. They want a listener to pay attention and catch new details over time.
“A record’s only good if you’re hearing new stuff on it,” says King. “If no one wants to listen to it, you’re doing something wrong.”
LeBaron play GSO Fest Thursday, April 20, at Hellraiser Haus. For more information visit gsofest.com.