Feature ExplorersClub(MatthewCarter)lead*

Published on January 29th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann


The Holy City Pop Show Celebrates Lowcountry Songcraft and More

Three independent Charleston bands with their own peculiar melodic leanings will marry elements of retro/traditional guitar pop, rock, and Americana when they join forces for the Holy City Pop show at the Charleston Music Hall. Designed to showcase some musicians and songwriters from different corners of the local scene, Holy City Pop will feature performances by the Explorers Club, Slow Runner, and the Luke Cunningham Band, plus an array of special guests.

The Explorers Club (pictured above) earned rave reviews locally and nationally last year for their studio album Grand Hotel (Rock Ridge Music), featuring the single “Run Run Run.” Guitarist/vocalist and co-songwriter Jason Brewer, singer/guitarist Dave Ellis, guitarist Justin James, keyboardist Paul Runyon, drummer Kyle Polk, and guests recorded the Bacharachian collection in L.A. with former Beach Boys producer Mark Linett. Their latest release is a soulful rendition of the 1967 Wildweeds tune “No Good To Cry,” recorded in Atlanta last fall with producer Matt Goldman.

Slow Runner is the long-running pop project conducted by singer, keyboardist, and main songwriter Michael Flynn and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaler, who also works as an engineer/producer downtown recording studio Hello Telescope. Slow Runner recently re-released their self-produced debut No Disassemble (recorded in 2003). The band’s latest releases include a trio of singles: “Fight Songs,” “XXX,” and “I Always Thought I Would Make You Happy.”

Slow Runner’s lineup will feature Flynn on keys and vocals, Josh Kaler on keys and guitars, Ron Wiltrout on marimba, Jack Burg on drums, Jonathan Gray on bass, and Clay White on trumpet.

Charleston-based songsmith Luke Cunningham fronted a S.C. pop-rock band called Part Time Heroes before going solo several years ago. In 2012, he released a collection of power-pop anthems, ballads, and country-tinged tunes titled Heart Pressure.

Cunningham currently leads the Luke Cunningham Band, a combo comprised of guitarist Micah Nichols, bassist Ethan Ricks (Crowfield), and drummer Ben Scott. They’ll welcome cellist Lonnie Root (Entropy Ensemble/Transiberian Orchestra) and vocalists Sarah Cole and singer/guitarist Tyler Mechem (Crowfield) as guests during their set.

Metronome Charleston caught up with all three acts the week before the show.


Slow Runner’s Josh Kaler and Michael Flynn (provided)

Metronome Charleston: What initially inspired this show to come together? What was the spark that fired up the Holy City Pop showcase?

Michael Flynn (Slow Runner): The Explorers Club are the masterminds. They asked and we jumped. Always fun to play with those guys, and we know Luke from way back in the day, so the collective nostalgia is thick and creamy, like a slow-moving river of sweet molasses.

Luke Cunningham: I was approached about doing the show by David Ellis of the Explorer’s Club. David and I have been friends for a while, and I think around Halloween he mentioned the idea to me, and we were immediately interested. As a local act, the honor of playing Charleston Music Hall — with it’s renown history, ambiance, and talented staff — was too awesome to pass up.

Jason Brewer (Explorers Club): Our newest member, [guitarist/bassist] Mike Rogers, mentioned he did work over at the Hall from time to time and was buddies with [Charleston Music Hall director] Charles Carmody. As a band, we approached him about getting a few other Charleston acts together for a big hoedown at the hall. Holy City Pop’s name originated in 2006 when we did a two day mega-fest that sold out at Cumberland’s when they were on King Street. It was one of the best local concerts of all time.

Metronome Charleston: In some ways, all three acts have plenty of musical elements in common, but in other ways, each individual act is very different than the others. What’s the musical common thread between the bands’s on the Holy City Pop bill?

Michael Flynn: Pretty sure we all love bacon. Sometimes I just want to punch Luke in the sternum really hard, but then I remember, “Oh yeah, he likes bacon too.” Also know what goes great on bacon? Molasses.

Luke Cunningham: I think the one common thread is Charleston, to be honest. Outside of that, there isn’t a ton in common — and that’s part of the appeal and reason we planned the bill this way. These bands and fan bases are so different, and that’s probably what’s most exciting to me. I don’t honestly think there’s one person in the audience who is saying “Oh, I get to see two of my fav bands tonight.” But, when they’re there to see whichever band they came to see, I guarantee they’ll walk away impressed by the two other acts and the other two acts will win a new fan or two in the process.

Jason Brewer: I think the common thread is that each act may have some common fans, but on the whole, they have diverse audiences. The thread here is that we all had the goal of reaching each others fans and turning as much of the diverse music culture in Charleston onto each act.


Luke Cunningham (provided)

Metronome Charleston: It seems like there’s a more active or collaborative “pop” movement happening in Charleston’s current band scene than just a few years ago. How would you describe the overall state of independent pop in the community these days?

Michael Flynn: I think the music world in general is just less pretentious and stylistically segregated. In a mere 20 years we’ve gone from “I can’t take R.E.M. seriously after that ‘Stand’ song” to “Yeah, I like ‘Call Me Maybe’, is that a problem? Come at me bro!” And that’s an improvement in my book.

Luke Cunningham: This town just might be the most close-knit and welcoming music town I’ve ever lived in, and I don’t think it was like that when I first came here years ago. If you’re good at what you do, if you’re humble, and if you’re a decent person, doors can and will swing wide open. And when they do, I’ve found you have to lean on others and let others lean on you. If you choose not to do so, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll eventually weed yourself out. Some of this town’s finest national musical ambassadors right now are bands like Needtobreathe, Shovels & Rope, and Darius Rucker. Is it a coincidence that these bands just happen be comprised of decent and virtuous people? Maybe. But I doubt it. Instead, I think it’s because Charleston’s music scene is a rare microcosm where music fans and local bands simply choose to honor and promote substance over style. It’s the way music should actually work in other places, and I’m damn proud it’s happening here.

Jason Brewer: It is looking good. Heyrocco, Brave Baby, and countless other great acts are popping up and doing some solid songs. Every now and then, they let the older-timers like Explorers Club shine the old lamp, but the future looks good for those guys.

Metronome Charleston: Does Charleston have a definable “pop” sound at the moment, or is it more of a cross-section of pop-minded/pop-inspired original music that involves other genres and sounds?

Michael Flynn: I’m probably too old to authoritatively answer that. For all I know, the kids these days are listening to Autotuned horses drowning in a river of sweet molasses. Here, I’ll try a “sideline reporter interviews sweaty athlete after game who just says all the right things” answer anyway: Charleston has always had such a close-knit, collaborative artistic community and I hope that never stops. Nailed it!

Luke Cunningham: I think the latter is true — and that’s some brilliant insight that I completely agree with, though, have sadly never really thought of. There are many of us artists/bands in this town who simply live by the “verse and the chorus” — it’s just that we all have different ways of finding our way in and out of them. A band like Dangermuffin navigates it organically. A band like ours weaves through it with vocal melody or a guitar lick. Someone like Slow Runner accomplishes it through brilliant sonic orchestration and/or Michael’s unique lyrical phrasing. I think the core of it all remains the same; it’s just the genre and players that dictate how it arrives and what it sounds like when it gets there.

Jason Brewer: No, not really. I feel like poppies music is sort of a novelty here. This show aims to push it more into the normal.

Metronome Charleston: What so you hope to accomplish at the Holy City Pop show?

Michael Flynn: Our number one goal for the show is to literally burn the building down using nothing but the power of song. So people should probably wear flame-retardant clothing and arrive early enough to scout out potential escape vectors, just in case, I mean when that happens. Secondary goals include making enough money from this one show to be set for life and walking away slowly without looking back as the venue is consumed in the aforementioned fiery inferno of pop greatness.

Luke Cunningham: I think those in attendance will see one hell of a show that displays the excitingly diverse music scene that is bubbling all around them — not to mention that there’s something exciting about three great acts bringing three very different styles of music and performing it in a unique theatre setting such as the Music Hall. We’ve invited special guest musicians and vocalists, and we’ll be showcasing some of the songs from the upcoming album which we resume recording on Feb 18. We’ve dedicated a lot of sweat and effort to making this show, unlike any of the others before it. We’re leaving it all on-stage, plain and simple.

Jason Brewer: We hope to bring hook filled sets from all bands and to focus on the songs. Our set will be an 18-piece band with full horns, extra singers, and other special guests. It’s our only planned Charleston performance of 2013, and this will be a one-time only performance from this formation of the Explorers Club Love and Harmony Orchestra.

The Holy City Pop concert at Charleston Music Hall includes performances by the Explorers Club, Slow Runner, and the Luke Cunningham Band at 7 p.m. on Sat. Feb. 2. Advance tickets are available for $13. Admission is $17 on the day of the show. Visit charlestonmusichall.com and facebook.com/holycitypop for more.

Top photo by Matthew Carter.







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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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