There’s something to be said about Charleston’s music scene when you have three new, very different bands debuting records in the same week.
Sideshow Americans, a country-Americana group of seasoned Charleston musicians, are debuting their first EP at a release show Friday. Billie Fountain, moniker for the Charleston native Corey Webb, has created a follow-up to his first electronic record released earlier this year. And, Great Yankee, the first serious rock band for a group of guys in their early 20s, is celebrating its first EP this weekend as well.
Recently, this has become the norm for Charleston, signaling that the city’s music scene is not only diverse but expanding. In the past year alone, we’ve seen all sorts of releases from local artists, including The High Divers, Sol Driven Train, Brave Baby, SUSTO, Nivlac Rextab, and She Returns From War.
Three more promising acts who have spent the time, effort and serious cash to record albums, add their names to that growing list this weekend.
Don’t be fooled by the name. Although the four members of Sideshow Americans have been and continue to be involved in other bands in Charleston, their new collaboration is no side project.
“This is all of our No. 1 priority,” said singer/guitarist Dan Wright. “We are all pretty focused on taking this project as far (as) we can.”
Wright had been in Gaslight Street for many years before leaving the band this summer due to a part-time job that wouldn’t allow for extensive touring. Whitt Algar, the keys player in Gaslight Street, now plays stand-up bass in Sideshow Americans. The other half of the group is multi-instrumentalist Cory Jarrett and singer/guitarist Ryan Bonner, who’s mostly released albums as a solo artist.
On some gigs, they’ll play as a country string band, and on others, they’ll play electric with a drummer; “Kind of like the Avett Brothers,” Wright said.
The five-song EP, titled “Streetlights,” features Jack Friel of Guilt Ridden Troubador on drums. Local drummer Marshall Hudson (SUSTO, The Royal Tinfoil) will play with them for the album release show at The Royal American this weekend.
The five original songs were recorded locally at Fairweather Studios on Folly Road, and they were mixed by former Charleston musician Josh Kaler, who now runs a recording studio in Nashville.
“Streetlights,” while brief, is a polished composition of straight-ahead country tunes with layered guitars, organ chords, tight harmonies and a sharper country twang than any of the members’ previous efforts.
“We didn’t have the intention of making it sound country, it just kind of came out like that,” Wright explained. “And I think that, for us, it was just the most accessible vehicle to communicate the stories of the songs.”
Before the group even started writing music together, they held a series of lengthy meetings to discuss their past experiences in other local bands, what they wanted to do differently, and how they hoped to succeed with their new project.
“We have all done our fair share of touring,” Wright said, adding that they quickly decided a goal would be “getting away from just driving and driving and playing gigs just for the sake of saying you’re touring. ... That old mentality of just driving around burns you out and it’s hard to make money.”
Sideshow Americans will put more emphasis on writing as many compelling songs as possible, releasing videos on YouTube and judiciously selecting gigs.
“I think at some point if we are fortunate enough to find a decent booking agency and we can set up some short runs, we’re certainly going to do it,” Wright said. “We’re all committed. We all understand ... what it takes to be as successful as we can.”
Corey Webb isn’t technically a newcomer to Charleston’s music scene, but he certainly feels and sounds like one with his latest project, Billie Fountain.
Webb, now 27, grew up on Isle of Palms. After living in Vermont during his high school days, he returned to the Holy City to study music composition at the College of Charleston.
During college and for a time after, Webb performed around town as a acoustic folk singer. He left in mid-2013 to study contemporary studio production at a graduate program in London, where he fell in love with an entirely different style of music.
“I was surrounded by the richest electronic underground culture in the world,” Webb said, explaining that’s when he made the leap from solo acoustic to electronic dance music.
“I still had a focus on the songwriting, but now I could produce it in a whole different way. All the sudden, I didn’t need a guitar anymore and I could ... do everything with a keyboard and I started buying synthesizers and got really into gear and tech.”
He got a job as a DJ at a casino, but it didn’t pay enough to get him the work visa he’d need to stay in London after school. So after two and a half years learning how to produce and perform electronic music, he reluctantly returned to Charleston.
“I had spent so much time dissatisfied with the music scene (in Charleston), so when I came back, I was downtrodden and a bit depressed,” he said. “Then I started realizing that in the few years I was gone, the whole paradigm shifted big time. All the sudden, original music was being nurtured, and nurtured well. I was stunned by ... the whole community of artists here that I wasn’t aware of before I left.”
In London, he had started creating a musical alter-ego called Billie Fountain, who was more like a fantasy comic book character than a stage name, Webb explained.
“I never thought Charleston would be a comforting home for it. ... And all the sudden, everything was so much hipper and much more about the community of art that is being created here,” he said. “And I had all my old resources, so I was looking at everything through a new lens.”
Earlier this year, Webb pieced together a band with drummer and co-writer Chris Howell, guitarist Zach Bodtorf, synth player Ben Jacobs and bassist Casey Atwater. All the members have their own characters, and the music tells fantasy stories based in the fictional, darker version of Charleston, called Harleston.
With two degrees in composition and production under his belt, Webb is able to record and produce their music himself in his studio in West Ashley.
The debut EP was released in June, and this weekend, the follow-up will be released at their show at Woolfe Street Playhouse.
“I think our plan now is to release two or three songs every few months,” Webb said.
“I’m always trying to create new scenarios and characters and I just love the art of storytelling.”
While the group of 20-somethings have been playing around town as Great Yankee for a little more than a year, the debut of its first professional recording, “Loud Neighbors,” signals that the band is as serious as any of the other promising groups in Charleston’s burgeoning indie scene.
“We’re just having fun, but there is a serious aspect,” said singer/guitarist John Brooker. “We want to put out good music, and if we develop as a band and have opportunities to do a tour, we can do that.”
Brooker started the band with his friend and fellow guitarist Joe Fusco, and they added Ryan Alexander on bass and Stuart Gilreath on drums.
All of them share a passion for the music of Wilco, The National and The Strokes, which are clear influences in their music. The four songs on the latest album strike an impressive balance between dark, heavy punk rock and catchy, melodic indie music.
The four-song EP was recorded by local engineer Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman, who’s also responsible for the debut records by The High Divers, SUSTO and his own band, Brave Baby, among many others.
“I guess what I’m interested in is how (Great Yankee is) going to continue to grow,” Zimmerman said after working with the group. “Because they have John as sort of the baritone guy and then they’ve got Joe who’s got this raspy rock ‘n’ roll voice. They have this aspect of dualism within their writing and it’s going to be cool to see how they develop that.”
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.