Published on March 21st, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Yr Lad: Tales of Pop Creations and New Collaborations
It took a few years and a couple of band names and lineup adjustments, but Charleston-based, guitar-driven, ethereal pop-rock quartet Yr Lad (pronounced “Yer Lad”) finally landed in the right spot. Singer/guitarist Harper Marchman-Jones — one of several composers and lyricists in the group — was one of the original pop constructionists behind the project.
The Yr Lad story really begins with Marchman-Jones and a songwriting partnership he developed with longtime friend Andrae Raffield, who switched from viola and fiddle to electric guitar to accommodate their new song ideas. Both Charleston natives, they formed a group under the name Sir Greendown and explored various pop, rock, and orchestral soundscapes.
“We just kind of threw that together because we were hanging out, and we each had songs that we’d written and wanted to play them,” Marchman-Jones says of the early Sir Greendown days. “Andrae started playing guitar as a matter of necessity. He picked up the guitar on the spot and learned the ins-and-outs of the instrument as we went along.”
The oddly melodic, unusually arranged compositions of Sir Greendown foreshadowed the eclectic mix of styles in the music of Marchman-Jones’ later projects, including Urban Praise Band, which eventually became Yr Lad.
“When Andrae and I started playing, each of our songs had really specific elements from a musical perspective,” Marchman-Jones says. “I was and still am really interested in voice-leading and more extended harmonies — more so than you’d typically find in rock music. A lot of my songs make use of five, six, or seven chords. Andrae’s music was a bit more minimalistic. He was really into Philip Glass, and he was more interested in writing music that made an interesting use of different time signatures and the staging of different musical ideas. We were both interested in writing music that wasn’t necessarily addressing the same aesthetic concerns of your average rock band. I’ve since incorporated some of his writing strategies into the things that I write.”
Over the last year, Marchman-Jones and Sir Greendown drummer Wes Schneider stepped away from their previous experiments as they hooked up with guitarist/vocalist Zach Bodtorf and bassist/vocalist Casey Atwater, both of local band Firework Show.
“I first met Zach when he was working with Wes and [cellist/bassist] Diego Villena,” Marchman-Jones remembers. “They’d all worked together at Pecknel Music in West Ashley, and I’d hung out with them and talked about music and guitar stuff. When the personnel situation with Sir Greendown fell apart, Zach and Casey were obvious choices.”
A new sense of collaboration within a new musical partnership with the Firework Show guys appealed to Marchman-Jones. He looked forward to a vibrant exchange of ideas between everyone.
“I wanted to really try to bring what they had to offer musically into my songs,” Marchman-Jones says of Bodtorf and Atwater. “With Sir Greendown, I’d done a little bit of writing on my own and brought a few fully completed songs into the mix, but when I started played with Zach and Casey, I’d bring in new material that was early in the stage and kind of rough, and I’d seek their input. I tried to bring in as much as I could of what had to offer sonically. Those guys are not only really skilled musicians, chops-wise, but they’re also really creative and imaginative. We’ve been working a lot more collaborative than was case with Sir Greendown.”
As a four-piece, Marchman-Jones and his bandmates initially performed and recorded under the name Urban Praise Band, but that moniker was short-lived. “I think ‘Yr Lad’ is better than ‘Urban Praise Band,’ which didn’t really feel right for us — partly because it was misleading and partly because there are plenty of actual urban praise bands out there,” he says.
“Personality-wise, it’s the easiest band I’ve ever played in,” he adds. “Everybody is really laid-back and open to new ideas and criticism. There’s not a lot of butting heads. Everyone is just excited to be creating music.”
The odd new name comes from a chapbook of poetry by local writer Sara Peck titled Yr Lad, Bob.
“People don’t usually ask about the name, actually,” Marchman-Jones says. “British indie- and alt-rock is certainly a big part of my lexicon as a songwriter; there’s no doubt about that. That’s one of the reasons why I was so into the name. I also like the text lingo thing with the abbreviation because it reflects that we’re living in a very different era than it was during the Brit-rock days.”
There are hints of vintage folk-pop, ’80s/’90s British pop, and spiral-eyed Aussie garage-pop on Yr Lad’s newly released debut, a three-song EP titled Get Me Away From the Night that hit the street in January. The EP demonstrates their dexterity, subtle use of dynamics, and penchant for harmonic sophistication.
“We don’t really get many comparisons to other bands very often, which I guess is an interesting thing,” Marchman-Jones says. “We’re trying to sound like ourselves, so that’s good.”
It is tricky to tag these new tracks with simple comparisons. The arpegiated guitar jangle, quivering harmonies, and wandering musical detours of opening track “Astride the Leaf-Queen” recalls those of Big Star, early-era R.E.M., and the Syd-era Pink Floyd. “The Woods are Deeper,” the most mellow and dreamy of the three tracks, is a slow-rolling acoustic ballad with misty slide guitar work and elegant harmonies. The cheerful pop number “Sink” closes the EP with a jangle mix of acoustic and clean-tone electric guitar (think Fleetwood Mac-meets-Split Enz, hear the clip audio below), plus a tricky rhythm “turnaround” in 5/8 time signature.
“Recording Get Me Away From the Night was definitely a learning experience for me,” says Marchman-Jones, who engineered and produced the sessions at his own studio. “I really could ask for a better level of musicianship that I’m working with right now. Those guys are fantastic and they made the tracking of the songs a real joy. As the engineer, I think I was a little more exacting that perhaps I needed to be. We’re all happy with the way the EP turned out, but I think we’ll work with somebody else as a producer when we make the new full-length album — somebody who can evaluate the performances and give us some feedback. We don’t want to take five months to turn out three songs like we did with the EP.”
“It’s one thing to have a vision for the music you’re going to record and to see it through to perfection, but at this point for us, the prospect of working with someone else and maybe ending up with something unexpected is more exciting,” he adds.
Yr Lad’s upcoming show at the Tin Roof next week will feature a special guest guitarist filling in for Bodtorf, who can’t make it due to scheduling conflicts. The band already has a handful of fully arranged originals and several more that are coming together. They plan to start tracking them this spring. Stay tuned.
Yr Lad shares the stage with Johnny Delaware and Amigo at the Tin Roof on Thurs. March 27 at 9 p.m. Admission is $5. Visit facebook.com/yrlad for more.
* Top photo by Nina Garner.
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