Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hopscotch Highlight: Morning Brigade

Morning Brigade will perform at Deep South The Bar
on Friday, Sept. 6 at 12:00 am
Last week's piece on Sylvan Esso marked the first Hopscotch Highlight for this year's festival, it focused attention on a band that's still in its infancy but has covered an astounding amount of ground in the year that they've been together. This week's spotlight shines on a band in quite the similar situation. Morning Brigade is a bright young act based out of Chapel Hill that has blossomed from humble beginnings into a full blown sextet that straddles the fine line between simplistic structure and grandiose embellishments.

The band is comprised mostly of UNC students, ranging from a freshly graduated keyboardist to a handful of upperclassmen from various backgrounds. However, one would never know that this band has only been together for a few years, they're a passionate crew of musicians that have achieved a cohesiveness that takes years for many folks to craft.

Songwriter and vocalist Peter Vance constructs literary folk tunes that produce vivid images of the worlds inside of and around us. There's an equal amount of focus on internal struggles as there is on the beauty of nature and the hope for change. Tracks like "Rough Patch" equate eternal hardships with a patch of pesky weeds and a broken heart with a neglected garden. Vance's songwriting has an intrinsic quality about it that makes it easy to relate to, it's all filled with clearly personal moments but they've been shrouded with enough mystery for listeners to create their own interpretations. Just the way Vance intended. The songs are straightforward, driven by acoustic instrumentation and rooted in earthy undertones.

"Nobody might understand the context of the lyrics, but as long as it means something to them I consider it successful," Vance states. Vance speaks of a fixation with seasons, the band has been frequently described as "autumnal folk" and the description is perfectly apt. The arrangements are filled with brisk drumbeats and taut string lines that build heightened tensions while keyboardist Gabriel Reynolds helps the songs maintain a grounded melody. Tracks like "North Wind" serve as a brilliant display of this, Vance sings of the impending winter with a gushing sense of urgency while the massive wall of sound ebbs and flows with intensity. The vocals and instruments have a conversational tone, gorgeous vocal harmonies steal your attention one moment, but before you know it you're transfixed on the dazzling fanfare that's occurring underneath it all.

The equal attention to instrumental pomp and lyrical excellence is something that the band has been founded on since its inception. As Vance spoke of the band's beginnings, he mentions the struggle with coming up with a name, "some people suggested calling it Peter Vance & The Morning Brigade, which I was very opposed to. I don’t like to put myself as more or less important than the rest of the members." It's a subtle detail, but it speaks volumes on the relationship within this band. Though they began as a ragtag gang of musicians that met through open mics and friends of friends, they've become a powerful unit with potential to blossom into a truly special act.

The band recently packed tightly into a van to embark on their first east coast tour, which is quite the feat when you consider how snug of a fit that makes. But despite their close quarters, the band was received with open arms across the eastern seaboard. "It was such a relief to know we weren’t just good music in North Carolina," Vance says. "Lots of cool places have a lot of different music because of where they are and the context of what happens there.  When we were in Philadelphia, a guy said he drove an hour to see us. He heard about us online and that’s just…the amount of effort that somebody would go to to see us makes me want to keep chugging forward."

And chug forward they will. Though the band release their debut album last December, they've already begun recording their next full length effort. While their debut Above Our Heads was comprised mostly of songs that Vance had written before the band came together, their next album takes a more collaborative approach. "When it started I just had a file of songs that I had already written and finished," Vance says. "It was more of putting in these instruments how I imagined them sounding." But now the band takes a far different approach, allowing the music to guide itself as it will. "We have these six members who each play various roles and we have the ability to do very different things with what we have.  I don’t want the second album to be like the first album part 2. I want it to be a separate thing, so as a result I want to brand it a little differently."

With such talent already pouring from this young band, one can only expect wonderful things as they become more comfortable with their footing. Above Our Heads is already an album filled with lush arrangements and gorgeous production, but as they begin to explore more of their soundscape they'll naturally tread upon exciting new ground. They've been fine-tuning their performances with shows opening for Megafaun, performing at TEDxUNC and various other high-profile events in the Triangle, but Hopscotch will be arguably the band's biggest event yet. Though they've got stiff competition on Friday night, they'll be an act worth catching on Hopscotch weekend.

Morning Brigade performs at 12:00 am on Friday Night at Deep South The Bar

Morning Brigade Recommends: Saints Apollo at 9:00 pm on Saturday at Tir Na Nog & Prypyat at 10:00 pm on Friday at Deep South The Bar  

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