Traveling around the Southeast for football games that I didn’t watch back in college, I came across a few fairly promising bands at tailgates and frat parties. Some were boozy cover bands, others were probably too good to be playing for red-cup peppered crowds of chatty 20-somethings.
Futurebirds fit into the latter category, but when they were playing parties on campus at the University of Georgia about seven years ago, they had a unique ability to captivate even the wiliest crowd with their grungy brand of Americana.
Like several other prominent rock groups that found their footing in Athens, (Widespread Panic, R.E.M., The B-52’s), the college town quickly caught onto Futurebirds and rallied around them almost as much as the Bulldogs themselves. And when a trend is set at a big Southeastern college like UGA, it’s pretty much guaranteed to spread to other campuses around the region.
By that logic, you would think the hip college scene would be the ideal breeding ground for an up-and-coming band. But Thomas Johnson, a lead guitarist of Futurebirds, said it was a little more complicated.
Members of the six-piece band were students themselves at the time, so there was only a short window of a few years to be the cool guys on campus.
“It was really beneficial for us and definitely was a great place to be a young band. You kind of get to be a big fish in a small pond,” he said. “Because of the nature of the college scene, it doesn’t necessarily grow with you. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve found that some of the bigger cities are easier to cultivate a fan base in.”
The band members moved on from Athens just as their college friends had, ultimately settling in Atlanta, Savannah and Nashville. Post-college life meant they were able to tour more aggressively, and pretty soon, they were drawing substantial crowds in big cities including Chicago and New York.
Now, with three years on the road and three studio records behind them, Futurebirds is packing midsize venues all over the country, often grabbing the attention of big-name music blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum.
Even with small victories, the transition from college to adulthood isn’t easy for anybody, especially a group of young guys who spend most of their time in a tour bus. That’s where the inspiration for most of their new music came, which is abundant on the bands’ latest record, “Hotel Parties,” released about two months ago on the Los Angeles-based Easy Sound Recording Co. label.
In the years since college, they were faced with all the questions that plague any post-grad chasing their dreams: whether music is a sustainable career choice, whether they were actually good enough to stand out, whether it was worth risking relationships, money, security and everything else in between.
“The motif for the record is duality. The give and take of life,” Johnson said. “With a touring band, the home (versus) road theme comes to the forefront daily.”
One of the standout tracks on the new album, “Twentyseven” captures this coming-of-age mood perfectly.
“The song’s core message is that I never thought I’d still be hustling this hard at 27, and that without the relationship(s) that is my safety net, my saving grace, I’d be hard pressed to find the fortitude to continue,” Johnson said. “Point being, no one deserves anything, you get what you earn, and life tends to unfold at an unpredictable rate and without regard to any plans/ideas/conceptions you may have about it.”
For the fans that have grown into adults at the same time as Futurebirds, and even for young people who have never heard the band before, the message is reassuring. And the fact that they sound like a fuzzy, twangy cousin of Deer Tick doesn’t hurt, either. Catch this Southern-bred group at the Music Farm on Saturday with an opening set by the Charleston indie group, Hermits Victory, starting at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $13 at the door.