Published on January 22nd, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Wild Fire: Columbia’s Burnt Books Releases a Smokin’ Debut Album
Columbia-based musician Troy Thames may come off in person as a mild-mannered dude with a jolly personality and a positive attitude, but on stage, he’s a ferocious drummer with the power, precision, and technique of a heavy metal titan. He’s musically flexible enough to handle the most straight-ahead, brain-dead sludge, break-neck grindcore, or complicated math-rock out there. He’s demonstrated as much as the tub-pounder in such acts as Thank God, Guyana Punchline, and Tunguska. Luckily, he’s settled into his ideal band situation with Burnt Books, a newly established five-piece with a dynamic style and a growly sound.
“I think Burnt Books is more organic than Thank God and some of my previous bands,” Thames says. “We’ve got four guys and one girl, and every has their own tastes in music. One of my favorite bands is Lagwagon of all things, you know?”
Thames spent time working and playing music in Charleston in the late 2000s before moving back to Columbia in 2010. Most of his Thank God bandmates were situated in the Midstate, too but after one of them moved out West to Oakland, the band fell apart.
Burnt Books started taking shape in 2011 when Thames hooked up with bassist Joey Parker and guitarists Chuck Sligh and Matt Thompson. After composing a loose set of song sketches, they met 19 year-old songwriter Zoe Lollis, a rookie musician who normally performed low-key acoustic shows around Columbia.
“We started writing songs, but we thought, ‘Man, none of us can sing. What are we going to do?’ We couldn’t think of the right person. Then we happened to go see a show where this younger girl, Zoe, was playing banjo and singing. Her voice was really unique. Plus, we thought it was brave for her to stand up and sing by herself like that. So we invited Zoe in.”
Once Lollis joined the lineup, the band recorded a short demo at a home studio and started sharing their new music with colleagues and friends.
“With the vocals, we’ve encouraged her to try to avoid doing the same thing twice,” Thames says. “These were the first songs she’d ever screamed over. But she also added some of her solo banjo-based songs to the set, too, so it really changes pace.”
Thames sent a copy to producer/musician Phillip Cope (singer/guitarist of Savannah band Kylesa). Cope was on tour at the time they sent him a demo, but he responded right away and told Thames he wanted to work with the band.
“Phil has likes the recordings of the bands I’ve been in, but he always felt like the drum sounds had been slighted — and I did, too,” Thames says. “I got excited about working with him because he knew what I wanted — something big and organic.”
There’s certainly a big, heavy thump in Burnt Books’ music, but it’s not all about traditional headbanging action or full-throttle thrash. There are unexpected twists and detours in the arrangements, and Lollis seems capable of spitting venom in one verse and whispering emotively in the next.
“Overall, we want to be melodic and make memorable songs,” Thames says. “We’re not trying to break new ground, but we’re also not trying to copy anybody. We want to write what feels natural. We add input to the riffs, and we start stacking things and adding new parts It creates something that’s a little weird. But it’s not unlistenable. Thank God was sometimes more like a math equation. Burnt Books is more about the songs.”
Thames and his bandmates entered the Jam Room in Columbia last summer with Cope at the helm. They recorded and mixed 10 tracks and assembled their self-titled debut full-length with help from At A Loss Recordings.
“In other bands, we didn’t have an outside perspective,” Thames says. “It was always five guys or so right by the mixing console saying, ‘I want more guitar’ or ‘I want more drums.’ We never had any guidance by a real producer. We trusted an expert like Phil Cope, and he made us feel comfortable with the process. He never tried to change the music; he simply encouraged us to play everything better along the way.”
At A Loss Recordings label released Burnt Books on CD and digitally on Jan. 29 (a limited-release vinyl version will be available soon).
Burnt Books kicked off a winter tour in support of the album with a hometown show on Dec. 12 at the New Brookland Tavern before traveling up the East Coast to New York and back through the Carolinas. The band headlines the Tin Roof on Fri. Jan. 25 and returns to the New Brookland Tavern on Sat. Jan. 26.
“We’re not really trying to put on a big, wild stage show,” Thames says of the band’s still-developing performance style. “It’s pretty natural. At times, it can get pretty intense. The guitarists can look pretty upset. Zoe puts her stuff out there for the world to hear. We’ve been told by friends that it doesn’t come across as contrived. I think it’s an honest performance — the kind that connects and builds community. I want to continue that vibe.”
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