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Published on November 28th, 2012 | by Ballard Lesemann

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Slow Runner’s Michael Flynn and Josh Kaler Go XXX and Beyond

Josh Kaler and Michael Flynn of Slow Runner (provided)

Josh Kaler and Michael Flynn of Slow Runner (provided)

Charleston-based indie-pop band Slow Runner have learned how to balance extracurricular musical projects, studio action, and road work. Singer, keyboardist, and main songwriter Michael Flynn and longtime collaborator Josh Kaler have plenty of extra familial and musical duties on their plates these days — maybe more this year than ever.

On top of his songwriting efforts, Flynn has a new addition to his family. Kaler carefully juggles his studio and performance schedule. When he’s not engineering or producing sessions in his downtown recording studio, Hello Telescope, he’s usually sitting in on guitar or drums or some other instrument with various pop/Americana touring bands.

“We’ve had to prioritize a few things in 2012,” says Kaler. “It seems like Slow Runner plays at least twice a year on Charleston, though. It’s not the number-one priority for me and Michael, but it’s always fun to promote and do a show, because they’re so rare. Slow Runner will always be our band that we’re both fully into, though.”

It’s been nearly eight months since Kaler and Flynn have performed as Slow Runner in town, but they’re due to hit the stage at the Circular Congregational Church on Sat. Dec. 1, though. Awendaw Green and Suncoast Production present the concert as part of their ongoing Charleston Listening Room series. Singer/songwriter Rachel Kate (a.k.a. Rachel Kate Gillon of the Local Honeys) will share the bill.

The Slow Runner roster will feature three frequent collaborators: drummer Jack Burg, percussionist Ron Wiltrout (on marimba, shakers, tambourine), and bassist/guitarist Jonathan Gray. Special guests include singer Cary Ann Hearst (of Shovels and Rope) and trumpeter Clay White (of the Explorers Club, Whisperjets).

Kaler and Flynn recently shined up a version of their self-produced debut album No Disassemble (recorded in 2003), and it’s due for rerelease this winter. A collection of remixes and renditions is in the works as well.

Hearst and bandmate/husband Michael Trent recently sat in on a Slow Runner recording session for “XXX,” one of three newly-released digital singles posted online for free this fall.

“We’re still making music and releasing singles,” Kaler says. “That’s our way of saying ‘We’re still alive!’ Last year, we just wanted to get out there as much as we could to promote [the full-length studio album] Damage Points. That was a great year, and we played more than we ever had. This year, we’re taking a little bit of a break. Michael had a kid, and I got busy doing studio sessions and working on the road with Dar Williams. It’s just when the planets align — that’s when we can combine our worlds to make it happen.”

“XXX” is a trippy, sexy, unsettling piece of work — an almost excruciatingly slow-moving tune in somber 6/8 time with a steamy undertone. Flynn sounds like he’s looking for the sign that says “eggs, eggs, eggs” (instead of “XXX”) as he sings the first verses. The chorus goes, “You’re just too beautiful … for ordinary sex.” Cary Ann Hearst chimes in with breathy harmonies on the second verse. There’s a booziness that builds up as more instruments like pedal steel, piano, and ukulele sneak into the mix. Kaler’s super-loose and slappy snare drum keeps the main beat.

“We basically recorded everything around Cary Ann’s voice,” Kaler says. “We pretty much scrapped all of the original instrumental tracks, but we kept the vocal and the click track and rebuilt it.”

“I Always Thought I Would Make You Happy” is much more sparse and atmospheric (check out the video clip below). Based on a low-tone drone (is it cello or mellotron … or didgeridoo?) and driven by a delicate chord progression on piano, Flynn sings of fond memories of happier times. Brushed cymbals and distant guitars rumble and clatter in the background.

“Textural production is kind of my M.O., you know?” Kaler says. “I love focusing on what’s going to be in the foreground, and then the background elements are the fun stuff. The extra vibe that you can put into a recording — that’s kind of what we’re into these days. I love it all.”

Slow Runner at the Pour House, 2011 (Ballard Lesemann)

Slow Runner at the Pour House, 2011 (Ballard Lesemann)

Slow Runner’s latest digital single, the synth-tinged “Fight Songs,” hit their website this week. Cleverly arranged, the medium/slow tempo allows for plenty of dynamic swells and extra space from verse to verse. It moves with a Coldplay/Radiohead modern-pop style, enhanced with handsome harmonies, jingly tambourine, and floppy Ringo Starr drum fills. Flynn’s sophisticated melodies twist and detour gracefully. Kaler’s echo-drenched guitar embellishments are the icing on top.

“These are tunes that we felt were too good to fall by the wayside,” Kaler says. “The songs ‘XXX’ and ‘Fight Songs’ came up right around the time Michael was working on Shiv/Mermaid era a few years ago [2007-’08] , and they just didn’t fit … or at least we weren’t mature enough to make them fit. Looking back, I think ‘XXX’ could have definitely been on Mermaids. The arrangement we had back then was kind of jazzy. It wasn’t as indie-sounding as what we just put out. We gave it a nice modern facelift, and it works.”

Slow Runner performs at the Circular Congregational Church (150 Meeting St.) at 7 p.m. on Sat. Dec. 1. Rachel Kate opens. Admission is $10 (all ages). Visit slowrunnermusic.com and awendawgreen.com for more.

 

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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.



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