Updated Fri, Jun 27, 2014 9:12 am
When Supernobody performed their first show at the 2013 Nelsonville Music Festival, they attracted a lot of attention: a supergroup made up of Athens music veterans, fronted by one of the area's most respected songwriters.
It also helped that they had a stunning debut album under their belts. Checkered Pastures, produced with Josh Antonuccio at 3 Elliott Studio, received rave reviews from local media and music fans alike.
One year later, the band is back with another collection of songs, Old Strange Power, recorded at Bernie Nau's Peachfork Studios in Pomeroy.
Since the dust had barely settled on the first album, some were surprised that another full-length had come along so soon--including the band themselves.
"We had no plans to go into the studio, but we were writing songs," said guitarist/singer/songwriter Mike Elliott. "We thought they were throwaways, but then took a liking to them, so we hooked up with Bernie."
The new songs and different studio environment also inspired a stylistic shift, with sounds harkening back to the "Me" Decade--albeit more CBGB punk than Studio 54 glitz.
"I wanted to make something that sounded a lot like '70s rock, since I had been listening to The Dead Boys and New York stuff. I wanted loud and fat rock music," said Elliott.
The change in sound was also a reflection of the time the band had spent together since forming in 2012.
"Checkered Pastures was more of a 'project' from the get-go, and not so much of a 'band' album," explained drummer Jack Hadley. "Basically, Mike had a bunch of songs he wanted to turn into a rock album, and graciously asked us all to come on board. You could almost say the band was formed to make that album. We recorded that after only playing together for four months or so."
Supernobody at the 2014 Nelsonville Music Festival (photo: Jasmine Beaubien/WOUB)
This time around, the group--which also includes bassist Matt Box, keyboardist Shannon Grogan and guitarist Chris Biester--was a cohesive unit, familiar with one another's playing from dozens of live shows. For Hadley, Old Strange Power is a natural progression from the first album.
"We knew the subtleties of the songs better, and how far to push the songs--and when not to. For me, the songs were more challenging, but they also felt more organic and natural. The music just sort of 'clicked' a little more this time around."
"Everyone jumped on the songs," agreed Elliott. "I try to present something that everyone will like. First, I need to like it. Once I like it, they tell me why they don't like it until we turn it into something that we all kind of like. These players, all flattery aside, can strive in very bizarre environments. They pretty much arrange the songs I present to make them more tolerable and fun for all of us to play."
Lyrically, Old Strange Power continues a theme established on Checkered Pastures: snapshots of Elliott's life, captured in song.
"I started this writing exercise. I wrote a song for every year between 1994 and 2007," he said. "The first half of the songs (which appeared on Checkered Pastures) happened to fall under the years I was moving around a lot. The second half (on Old Strange Power) fall under the later, lame years! Sedentary old man years! My good friend Leigh Haight listened to the new album and identified this process immediately...I was both impressed and horrified. These are, basically, two installations of nostalgic blurbs."
Recording the album's basic tracks took just two days, with guitar and vocal overdubs taking place over a few weeks.
"We had a game plan, which was to capture an awesome live performance," said Nau. "That said, a lot happened 'post,' so I would say the sound definitely evolved during the recording, mixing and mastering."
Both Elliott and Hadley credit Nau with shaping the sound of the album.
"We played the songs for Bernie; he snatched them from us and turned them into these perfect little gem things," said Elliott. "He really created the sound in the same way that Josh created the sound on the first record. We have had great experiences with both of our albums. I'm satisfied."
According to Hadley, the band knew recording at a different studio would change their sound.
"We basically wanted to give it a try and see what happened," he said. "Josh did a great job on the first album, and Bernie did a great job with this one, each in their own distinctive ways. For the area we live in, we're pretty lucky to have multiple options for great places to record. Each studio has their own merits and unique sound. And not just 3 Elliott and Peachfork; there's even more local studios to choose from. I would love to record something at all of them."
When told of the band's admiration for his work, Nau returned the compliment, crediting Elliott's songwriting and the group's chemistry for a job well done.
"The band was a joy to work with. When I did make a suggestion about tempos or some other aspect of the arrangement, each band member was always very receptive," he said. "I think Mike is a gifted songwriter; his chord progressions are interesting and the lyrics are smart, introspective and socially relevant without being too pointed. I'm a fan!"
Since Elliott is known for his prodigious ouput, a third Supernobody album seems inevitable. For now, though, Hadley seems content to enjoy Episode II of the band's trilogy.
"It's our second album, and--if I may be so bold--it's like our Empire Strikes Back: a little deeper, a little more thought-provoking, and a couple of unexpected twists and turns. I guess this means our next album will be all about Ewoks and father issues."