Published on June 10th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Southern Femisphere Sets Up Residence with ‘Houses’
While some of them may not have mastered their individual instrumental techniques, in the short year-and-a-half of their budding musical careers, the four members of Charleston’s Southern Femisphere have developed a uniquely shoutadelic, guitar-driven style as a group.
“The first four songs I ever wrote on guitar came when I couldn’t even play chords,” says guitarist/drummer Kim Larson. “At first, we were kind of learning to play Weezer songs while we were learning our instruments. I’d played drums before, but never like that. Emily learned to play the bass by learning those Weezer songs, and we wanted it to be really good and tight. It was really fun.”
Yep, Southern Femisphere’s fist outing was in Jan. 2012 as one of several Weezer tribute acts on a showcase bill at the Tin Roof. Their set including nearly half of the Weezer’s “blue album” and half of Pinkerton. “The original idea was to have all-girl Weezer cover band called Sheezer,” says singer/bassist Emily Connor. “We even made a Sheezer logo. The all-guy version could have been called Heezer.”
The final lineup for the Weezer gig ended up being Larson (formerly of Oicho Kabu), Connor, guitarist Caroline de Golian, and drummer/guitarist Brett Nash, all mutual friends the local indie scene. Immediately after they successfully delivered their Weezer set on stage, they started working on original song ideas, a relatively new endeavor for Connor and de Golian. Within a few weeks, they could nervously handle a brief set of rapidly arranged originals.
“In the very beginning, the songs were written out of desperation,” says Nash, who also performs with a number of other Charleston-based bands, including the Boring Portals (with Connor), Company, and the Specs. “Last year, a member of the Future Island asked us to open for them at the Tin Roof with only a month out. I wrote the first few songs just so that we’d have some songs to lay at the show. From then on, it was more of a group effort. Usually, things work out where we all like it.”
Nash moved to town from Rock Hill several years ago. Larson came to town 11 years ago from northern Virginia to attend the College of Charleston, and she stayed in town after graduation. De Golian grew up downtown and landed back in Charleston in 2007 after a four-year stint in Atlanta. Connor grew up in Murrells Inlet and worked for two years in Los Angeles before recently returning to the Lowcountry.
All four bandmates like the fact that Southern Femisphere’s initial batch of songs were written under pressure. “We all started participating in the songwriting process shortly after that,” Larson says. “For me, it was much easier to play the guitar parts I wanted to play while I was learning to play the guitar. It came pretty naturally. I trust everyone in the band, so I feel like I can bring in an idea that might be kind of minimal or weird because I know that we make something good out of it.”
The group performs mostly on borrowed equipment at their early shows, but nowadays, with two mini albums and a national tour under their belts, they operate with an optimistic sense confidence and independence on newly acquired gear.
The last year has been particularly hectic for Southern Femisphere. Last summer, they recorded with local musician and engineer Harper Marchman-Jones (of Urban Praise Band, Clint4) and independently released a six-song debut mini album titled Unfurls Her Pluck. They also headlined several club shows and Girls Rock Charleston benefits, and toured from the Carolinas to New England and back.
Over the winter and spring, they worked up six new compositions, hooked up with Marchman-Jones for another session, and compiled the new stuff under the titled Houses, released on the Columbia-based indie Fork and Spoon Records.
Marchman-Jones tracked the basics at the band’s cramped North Charleston practice room and prepared the final mixes at his home facility. “Harper was super-patient with us,” Connor says of the engineer. “We did everything pretty much live, with us all in one room, or peeking in from the hallway. It was kind of difficult to recreate the energy that we have on stage — especially with the singing. Sometimes, we’d freak out and get upset, but he’d step in and calmly say, ‘Here’s what you gotta do.'”
The twisted rock sounds on Houses and Unfurls Her Pluck doesn’t sound much like Weezer or any other relatively straightforward indie/alternative rock from the last generation or two. It’s more moody and unpredictable … demented surf-rock toned with with a punky rawness and emotive delivery.
De Golian says the she her bandmates prefer to brainstorm on songs together, sharing sketches, rhythms, phrases, and lyrics openly. “It is really hard to write a part that you’re really attached to and contribute it the band,” says De Golian. “But letting the whole band have it is an interesting way to grow. That’s what we all would rather have happen. I want us to [continue to] challenge ourselves with songwriting like this through the rest if the year.”
For a lo-fi, low-budget production from a rookie band, Houses is surprisingly and effectively dynamic. Contradicting melodies and anxious call-and-response lines overlap from verses to chorus. Drums beats suddenly halt, dissipate, or haul ass into overdrive. Some of it seems chaotic and dissonant at first listen (think Sonic Youth-meets-Cake Like), but it makes its own sense with repeated listens.
“Some of us secretly want to be a post-rock band,” laughs Connor. “I’m not trying to denigrate my bass playing or anything, but some of it might come from the fact that I’m new at it. I’ve learned recently that other people write songs with chords and keys in mind, like, ‘Hey, play this in A-minor,’ but we don’t really do that.”
Nash agrees. “We don’t write in terms of keys and chord progressions at all,” he says. “A lot of it is like single-note things from the guitars and bass, and we take it from there.”
Southern Femisphere will celebrate the release of Houses with a free show at the Tattooed Moose on Tues. June 11. On the bill are Fork and Spoon labelmates Those Lavender Whales (from Columbia) and Mrs. Mars (newly arrived in town via Augusta, Ga.). Fork and Spoon officially releases Houses on July 2.
Southern Femisphere also has a two-week tour planned for late July, starting with a show at the Tin Roof on July 17 with Chemical Peel.
Top photo by Ballard Lesemann.
Click below for a sample of “Don’t Sleep” from the new album Houses.
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